The retail industry in South Africa has made extensive use of CCTV technologies for some time in an effort to reduce shrinkage.
However, while CCTV has made a difference and provided organisations with functionality they never had before, the limitations of analog systems have always hindered the optimal rollout of surveillance solutions.
Fortunately, these limitations are changing quickly with the increased adoption of digital and IP (Internet Protocol) surveillance solutions, according to Bryan McDermott, business development manager at i to i technologies' retail division. The emergence of digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras has opened a new world of surveillance and security to retail businesses.
"There are, unfortunately, still two hindrances to the total adoption and rollout of IP-based digital surveillance solutions in retail," says McDermott. "The one is the price of IP cameras, which, while decreasing all the time are still much more expensive than CCTV systems; and the second is the cost and resultant scarcity of bandwidth in South Africa - IP-based systems take up network resources that companies prefer to use for business transactions."
Another benefit of IP surveillance is that video footage is stored in digital format, which means it is easy to search for something and find it immediately. There is no more fast-forward or rewinding to do. IP also allows people to view and control video footage on their PCs, wherever they may be as long as they are connected to the network - and in some cases even over the Internet.
"The emergence of the DVR also assists in the transition to IP technologies by allowing companies to plan a steady transition from analog to IP surveillance that provides them with the benefits of IP without requiring them to spend a fortune by replacing everything at once," adds McDermott. "We can now record the video from traditional CCTV cameras onto a DVR, which converts the images into digital format and can then provide IP video to users over a corporate network. This allows companies to take immediate advantage of digital technologies while making full use of their old equipment."
Manage by exception
Of course, simply recording hours upon hours of video footage is of limited value for retailers. Unless there are people monitoring all the video feeds all the time, an expensive option, it is extremely difficult to catch security breaches in realtime. With IP the scenario changes.
Because IP technologies are so much more flexible, McDermott says companies can start to manage by exception. In other words, leave the IP surveillance systems to operate independently until some exception event happens, which will cause security staff to examine the video at the time of the incident.
McDermott offers a point-of-sale (POS) example to explain. "POS is one of the areas where theft often happens in the retail market. Monitoring every POS station via IP video in realtime is not a viable option because of the high bandwidth and resource costs. What companies can do, however, is to monitor their POS systems for certain events, such as refunds, trigger an alarm that will bring the footage of that particular station up onto a security employees' screen. If security notices that a refund is given while there are no customers at the POS point, for example, action can be taken."
This also works in hindsight. At the end of the month, a retailer can mine its millions of POS transactions for the month, reporting all refunds given during that time. If some employees are seen to be giving more than the average number of refunds over that period, the times of the refunds can be downloaded along with the digital video of that POS station. Once again, anomalies can be found and action taken. The action taken may simply be improved training, but this will only be determined once the performance of the employees has been monitored.
In a similar fashion, IP surveillance can also be used to monitor the retail supply chain. Goods often 'vanish' en route from the manufacturer to the store and IP cameras can play an important role here. A truck's door may even be a trigger - an IP camera in the truck will only be started when the door is opened, providing proof of what was added or removed.
"The bottom line for retailers is that IP surveillance is not an option," concludes McDermott. "The benefits IP technologies offer in terms of flexibility and usability will make a dramatic impact on shrinkage control. And while the costs of IP cameras are still too high, transitional technologies are making the benefits of IP available to companies while allowing them to make maximum use of their older CCTV installations without the limitations."
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