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Extracting Value from New Technology May Mean Looking in Old Places

A critical competency of an effective loss prevention executive is the ability to apply innovative LP technology to help the retail organization better meet security and business challenges. But the dizzying number of options and new capabilities—and the speed at which they rush in—makes that no small challenge, one further complicated under the demand for faster growth and the accelerating speed of retail. Given that both the stakes and hurdles are high, it raises the question: What should have your attention?

The subject of working smarter with LP technology was addressed at the Retail Council of Canada’s (RCC) annual Loss Prevention Forum, held virtually April 12. Despite myriad new abilities that today’s tech can give retailers, there was strong suggestion that giving traditional LP tools a modern upgrade may be where the greatest value is.

Darrel Blackburn, asset protection director for the Rexall Pharmacy Group chain, said they’ve recently invested in a criminal intelligence SaaS platform that is helping them combat ORC, identify repeat offenders, and effectively liaison with law enforcement. But their focus has been on taking advantage of improvements in ‘traditional’ LP tools.

“We’ve taken on upgrading a majority of our CCTV systems to finally being hi-def, so that police see the value when we say, ‘come and look at this event,’ and we can show them video they can actually use for identification purposes, not just [a blur],” he said.

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Similarly, while Blackburn’s AP Team has for years made effective use of exception-based reporting, it recently invested in an upgrade to a more modern program “that is more adaptable to the business as we evolve,” and he’s seen other retailers taking advantage of this same modernization of an LP standby. “It ensures they have those core pieces of their business being monitored by a piece of technology and enables their teams to be more effective instead of sitting there data mining,” he said.

Sarah Edward, Canada region district asset protection manager for Nordstrom, made a similar point about today’s tech: Entirely new LP capabilities may not be what you need to be more effective; rather, it may be LP tools that do what previous versions did, only better. “It’s a lot of focus on upgrading current systems so that we have the better quality, and on it being more user-friendly, as well as being more accessible—moving toward having apps on mobile devices, for example.”

The panelists noted that the pandemic helped to reveal hidden value in existing technology solutions, with many retailers applying unused functions of their existing systems to new operational challenges, such as curbside pickup. It is a good reminder: When faced with a new challenge that demands LP’s involvement, you may already have the answer. “Work with your partner. They might have a solution that is not part of what you currently leverage but is already part of what you use,” advised Blackburn. “The partnership with your vendor is truly important in leveraging the technology.”

Edward echoed the point. “It is really important to utilize the technology that already exists,” she said. “If you can adapt it to fit a different part of the business, then you’re working smarter.”

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Upgrading traditional LP tools so they can work together is another source of value for LP, according to panelists. Compared to a decade ago, technology is better, more sophisticated, more narrowly tailored, and—importantly—can now be used to stitch various parts of the business together for more holistic solutions to problems. “An example would be connecting CCTV to exception-based reports, so that you can look at the point-of-sale transaction in conjunction with the video and it saves you from having to go to two separate systems and doing manual research,” said Edward.

There was also a suggestion that LP leaders should not be distracted by the new things that technology can do if there are advanced functions that have been around for a while that they’ve yet to exploit. Advanced video features like facial recognition can be great, but there is likely more value from remote viewing. “Some of my team would have to drive 12 hours from the base to a store each way, so being able to sit in their office and log in and leverage that technology is a massive win,” said Blackburn.

To Blackburn, extracting value from today’s technology centers around layering in those efficiencies. “It’s finding those tools that will help streamline those processes for your team, and that can be as simple as taking advantage of the evolution in audit software,” he said. It may not offer LP teams a new capability but transitioning from manual input and Excel spreadsheets to automated data collection can be a massive timesaver for LP departments. “The added benefit you get on top of that is the increased analytics, and the increased reporting that you had to do manually before, so it adds even more efficiencies as you go through the whole process.”

Technology offers numerous opportunities for LP teams to save time and reduce effort, but there are hurdles that executives should plan to jump over, panelists warned:

  1. Reach out. You can make it a lot harder on yourself if you don’t involve the right internal stakeholders, said Blackburn, citing the example of remote video surveillance. “Involve your IT department because there might be roadblocks that you’re not aware of, be it through your infrastructure, or your security controls, which are going to cause you to do a whole lot of work you probably could have avoided. The lesson? Technology’s ability to save LP teams time and effort can be undercut by failing to involve up front all the players involved.
  2. Don’t buy and move on. Technology isn’t something that retail AP teams simply purchase, it’s a program they need to implement. Blackburn, for example, said that after two years with their new exception-based reporting system, they’re at the point he expected to reach at six months. When you go from a manual system to something with so many options, “you can go down the rabbit hole and get lost on what your actual focus was,” he warned. The lesson? Don’t underestimate the change management component to new technology solutions.
  3. Try before you buy. It is more challenging to get buy-in from organization leaders when a technology doesn’t have a track record, but it’s also “a lot easier to sell technology that’s been out there a while,” said Edward. So, doing a pilot can be a win-win for both retailer and vendor, Blackburn suggested. “At the end of the day, it’s in their best interest to help you get the information to prove the ROI so they can then present something similar to others.” The lesson? If you want to be an early adopter of a technology, seek out a partner who will do a trial with you—you have some leverage.

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