Innovating for Now and Next

There’s No Shortage of Problems to Solve

Narrative shifts, a global pandemic, near-total integration of technology and real-time wants, and access into our everyday lives is helping drive emerging issues and threats like never before. New technologies, new methods, and new ideas have brought significant change to retailing and how we protect and enable retail enterprises.

With overwhelming amounts of theft, fraud, and violence daily affecting our people and places, new versions of these crimes are coming on the scene like viral adaptations. All this means our innovation for the current and upcoming challenges is paramount.

A key point about innovation: what we’re really trying to do is bring some more creativity and process to problem-solving. Innovation isn’t just about looking into the future. The bottom line is innovation is not just about the latest technology—it’s about finding new ways to do important things better.

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A Process

As crime increasingly affects people and places across the country, retail loss prevention and asset protection professionals, solution providers, law enforcement agencies, and others are accelerating and driving change, pioneering creative ideas, adapting to changing contexts, and incorporating insights from practitioners and partners. These innovations are shaping people and place protection with improved and emerging technologies that support new operational concepts, enabling interventions and relationships that keep society safe.

It’s always good to use a logical action outline to organize how we strive to get something done that incorporates real-world and representative information that is also sequential to avoid leaving good stuff out. One way to look at innovative thinking is to include context like why this is a problem, has it really increased or critically changed, or what you and others are currently doing about it.

Next you should properly diagnose the problem within that context—who, what, when, where, why, and how. It’s also important to identify two to three critical problem dynamics, such as what’s enabling the problem, like how the offenders are accessing key data or interior spaces, that if you could affect them, the problem should be substantively reduced.

Next, propose some logical countermeasures to affect the identified weak points. Now you use testing to eliminate bad ideas, while finding ways to make bad ideas better or make good ones great. You’re also finding how these solution sets positively and negatively affect your business, how to best execute them, and how they might perform in the real world. Once your testing isolates some impactful solutions, you’re ready to deploy.

Making Good Innovation Even Better

We all know the number and rapid transition of our theft, fraud, and violence problems is almost overwhelming. We’re forced to triage, to prioritize, and usually to fight with aging tools and small teams. One way to enhance problem-solving capability—maybe even super-size it—is to create or engage in innovation networks. We always incorporate our operator, merchant, IT, logistics, and other partners, but leveraging other experts outside the corporate boundaries can enable more and faster problem-solving.

An example close to home for almost seventy major US retail corporations is the Loss Prevention Research Council’s (LPRC) Innovate program, which pulls together top innovators from thirty US retail chains alongside researchers and technology partners monthly to stand up realistic use cases, then propose needed sensors and protective measures along the pathways offenders take to start research and development (R&D).

Beyond this type of network, LPRC, the University of Florida, other universities, Retail Industry Leaders Association, National Retail Federation, Food Marketing Institute, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Loss Prevention Foundation, realistic labs, field stations, visual mapping, data modeling, offender, employee, and customer interviews, and more are creating competitive and cooperative approaches to solving supply chain losses, in-store theft events, fraud attempts, aggressive street behavior, fear of crime by women, active assailant, and critical online offender chatter to name a few use cases.

Regardless of your in-house or networked innovation program, the people you use, the process, and the places you test in should enable incremental breakthroughs and improvements and should use small tests and experiments to help determine if the new options you generate are really working, are cost-effective, and what else might be needed.

Going Forward

Asset protection is about keeping people and places safe. It’s about creating security and stability so the people and the overall enterprise can thrive. According to Accenture, the pace of technology is accelerating faster than ever. New devices and services seem to appear every day. We can now order anything, anywhere—from groceries to software to a ride from a stranger—using only a phone. We can reach anyone—or millions of people—in an instant. And all this capability is good and, of course, is daily turned against us as well.

We’ve talked about how protective innovations can be new concepts, new methods, or new or repurposed tools. Our view is that critical innovations will better safeguard the vulnerable because they enable retailer and law enforcement partners to:

  • More rapidly detect and define problematic people, schemes, and enablers for decision-making.
  • More effectively and precisely affect these red or bad actors, causing them to be deterred, desist, or displaced reducing people and place harm. Regardless, they’re better documented for stronger prosecution cases.
  • Create overall safer stores, DCs, and office environments.

To illustrate, the following are some innovation examples that continue to be improved through systematic and breakthrough R&D.

Integrated Sensors to Increase and Speed Up Situational Awareness. Knowing a threat is on the way or already present is vital to reducing theft and other crimes. In crime and loss prevention, guesswork, memory, and luck are welcome, but not enough. Asset protection can’t be everywhere and pick up on everything. Constantly improving Internet of Things (IoT) and stand-alone or online smart sensors can be there when needed. Detecting a posted threat, pointing out a possible bad actor based on their clothing, facial, or other bio features, sensing a known offender’s digital signature, or picking out threatening sounds and speech in a noisy background could be lifesavers for vulnerable employees and shoppers.

Smart sensors—including low light detection and ranging (LiDAR), infrared (IR), radar, microphones, cameras, antennae, or license plate recognition (LPR)—can be improved using rapidly evolving artificial intelligence (AI) to find critical signals out of all the noise. They can overcome fatigued or overwhelmed eyes, ears, and brains, and can be used to compile many different types of information to help AP professionals do their jobs faster and more effectively. Examples include:

  • Listening for metal banging,
  • Glass breaking,
  • Tires screeching,
  • Screaming,
  • Gunshots,
  • Auto-stream video,
  • Flagging vehicle make, model, color, damage, and license plates,
  • Auto-scan databases,
  • Provide overhead video feeds (aerial and ceiling downward), and
  • Go on virtual patrol.

All these contribute to unprecedented situational awareness and understanding in busy and changing environments. These capabilities can provide the raw data that more detailed analytics can use to likely enhance efficiencies and expedite investigations. Most importantly, these technologies can help law enforcement and retail investigators be in the right place, at the right time.

Digital Connection Technologies to Improve Place Safety. New technologies can help guide action in the world. Advances in 5G communication, circuitry miniaturization, and extended (augmented and virtual) reality allow people to sense and decide in new ways, and are connecting sensors at higher speeds, which can be critical in life safety. 5G for example is allowing more data from more sources to flow more rapidly both locally and to and from the cloud.

Employees, visitors, and law enforcement can even join high-speed networks to provide more real-time insights and learn where and when not to go during a critical incident via their smart devices and body-worn cameras.

Using Data to Enhance Protection. There is no data shortage. We may not always have the data we need in a usable format, but there’s so much data being accumulated that could be leveraged to reduce problems and save lives. As before mentioned, AI holds great promise for AP to find what they need and when they need it across distributed data sets. AI is allowing medical practitioners to rapidly scan millions of documents to find critical patient or research information they couldn’t possibly do on their own.

Machine learning will be key to future organized retail crime and internal investigations, to audits, and to helping find disparate employee behavioral red flags before they can harm someone. Police around the world are using AI to find trafficked and missing people, to solve cold cases, and to dispatch officers to crime spots before the crime gets out of control.

While respecting individual and group freedoms, LP will use AI to mine data for opportunities to create safer and more efficient places.

The LPRC’s Innovate program pulls together top innovators from thirty US retail chains alongside researchers and technology partners monthly to stand up realistic use cases, then propose needed sensors and protective measures along the pathways offenders take to start R&D.

Evidence-Based Means Rigorously Testing Before Deploying. People need protection, and they deserve the best we can provide, but hastily drawn up or un-tested solutions might not work or might even make things worse. Benchmarking on others can provide great insights, but unless those you’re basing your actions on thoroughly tested their solutions, you could be creating real problems or wasting important capital.

It’s important to sketch the mechanics of how you think something works to affect the offender. We call this the “mechanism of action” as with a medical treatment. But the point is to think and draw up how you anticipate the deployed solution working to slow the bad guy down.

Next, you test this hypothesis. Trial the concept in a place where you can measure how well it works without creating too much risk exposure. Always remember though, it’s not what we do, it’s all about how we do it. What should the camera look like? Should it have a light on it? Where do you place it? How many might be needed to create the desired effect? These questions all describe countermeasure dosing. And dosing is everything. Countless good countermeasures have been abandoned simply because of how they were deployed, whereas a few tweaks might have made a total difference in the testing or field outcomes.

Go online to learn more about how to improve your test. We suggest you go way beyond Six Sigma and other efficiency methods as those can lack scientific rigor, create arbitrary sampling and testing protocols, and were designed to take errors out of manufacturing processes rather than assess how well protection interventions work in the real world to change offender decisions.

Create Stronger and Longer Lasting Local Networks. As mentioned before, good networks can make more and better things happen. And the same holds up when innovating better place protection. Most bad things that happen in a store, for example, rarely started or will end there. Offenders tend to victimize targets in or near their routine activity pathways, creating opportunities to create data partners around your store of interest, since offenders’ actions affect other retailers, criminal justice systems, stolen good fences, off-premises sensors, and more.

The LPRC lab at the University of Florida in Gainesville tests and evaluates numerous technologies and strategies to reduce retailers losses as well as improve sales and customer service.

Proactive police and retailers tend to be interested in sharing offender and other crime intelligence, participating in area crime mapping exercises, and providing needed prosecution evidence when available. Organized Retail Crime Associations and other data sharing platforms, public CCTV and LPR sources, local government, and chamber of commerce organizations can sometimes be leveraged to provide support. But these outcomes are improved when relationships are built and lead to enduring partnerships built on shared values and objectives.

The same holds true of course within a store’s employee base. Innovation should include cross-company and local community partnerships as these are often the real sensors and place guardians.

Go Forth and Innovate

Change is inevitable and happening every day. All loss prevention and asset protection teams can take proactive steps to prepare for the future, even if the “future” is now. Everyone can and should help problem-solve and contribute to the process and partnerships that will help make this all happen when or even before it’s needed.

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