Advances in video technology to increase efficiencies and reduce operating risks

May 2008 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

In today's economy, security has just as much to do with the bottom line as it does with protecting people, information and assets. Most businesses have some type of security infrastructure in place and would like to leverage that investment. With the growth of digital video and other modern technologies, that challenge can now be met.

Advances in video technology have expanded its capabilities from typical closed circuit television and video recording security with limited capability to applications that can enhance virtually every aspect of a business - from security to operations and risk management.

Using technology to increase ROI and reduce operating risks

In the past, a video system was used mostly as a practical security tool to minimise losses from theft or vandalism. Today, with advances in technology, video has been turned into an operations tool that can help businesses across all sectors address productivity, logistics and workplace safety. It has also migrated into a risk management tool to help mitigate such issues as premises liability, workplace violence and harassment. By moving into these areas, video technology has become an important way for companies to help reduce costs and reap an improved return on their investment.

Brian McDermott, retail business development manager at i to i technologies, says that by adding video analytics to existing CCTV systems in a retail environment for example, an old, and often outdated, crime deterrent device can be transformed into an intelligent tool capable of making judgements and storing information. The analytics and algorithms allow cameras to monitor and track human behaviour and recognise suspicious activities so personnel can be automatically alerted to potential risks when detected.

"CCTV cameras can also be linked to other elements of the shop set-up, such as point of sale equipment. This means that every time a void or a refund is processed by a cashier, a camera will automatically focus on that specific till and record the event," he says.

"In addition, intelligent CCTV systems can monitor and track customer behaviour. This data can provide information such as how long an average customer spends in each section of the store. Merchandising strategies can then be rearranged for maximum impact."

Intelligent CCTV systems therefore play a major role in monitoring employee productivity, keeping a lid on shrinkage, compliance and exception reporting. Imagine a retailer whose point-of-sale reporting software is combined with video images of a fraudulent transaction. Or, a burglar alarm system that supplies data that a backdoor was opened at an unauthorised time combined with video showing who opened the door and what activity occurred.

Keith Alexander, executive: risk management for the Spar Group and member of the CGC Crime Prevention Programme, says that the improved image capability of digital video also has a role to play in reducing operating risk. He says that quality, high-definition CCTV cameras have helped to increase convictions in the retail sector in recent times.

"The old systems that recorded onto VHS had poor quality visuals that were often not good enough to convict perpetrators, but the cameras available now have super quality visuals and good evidential value," says Alexander.

"In 2007, a police unit in Germiston arrested 85 suspects using CCTV footage during a crackdown and of these 85, 80 are in custody last time I checked."

Compliance to safety and security policies/procedures

However, as any business will tell you, improving ROI is not the only challenge they face. Ensuring compliance to critical company policies and procedures that are core to a specific business' success and ensuring that staff - and customers - are safe is an equally important issue. Improved video technology has a significant role to play in this regard as well.

In the mining sector for example, security technology is coming into its own as a force for safety.

"Turnkey security installations are designed to minimise risk with the aim of preventing an accident or crime before it even occurs," says Ian Downie, key account manager and mining expert at i to i technologies.

"The dangers facing this industry are threefold," says Downie. "Firstly, the underground environment is, by its nature, unstable and vulnerable. Surveillance equipment can, however, make a difference by making sure that only authorised parties are in access restricted areas (ie, in sensitive or unstable areas) and by detecting any instances of miner negligence - thereby ensuring that safety protocols are followed at all times.

"Secondly, faulty equipment and machinery can pose a real threat to workers' lives. Surveillance systems can automatically detect when equipment stops working, sounding an alarm in the central control room. This early warning system can help to prevent serious accidents," explains Downie.

The third threat to miners' safety comes in the form of armed robbery on mines. This is where access control, CCTV surveillance, perimeter security and alarms can make a real difference in preventing an intrusion onto the mine.

Reduction of physical guard services

In addition to playing a proactive role in protecting people, assets and information more effectively, modern surveillance technology also has a positive spin off of reducing guard services. Guards are often seen as a necessary business expense as previously there have been few other options. Video technology now offers an alternative.

Mining company Rockwell Diamonds, for example, was motivated to go the surveillance route in 2007 partly because of a lack of skilled resources.

Glenn Norton, minerals resource manager at Rockwell, says that the investment in technology made sound business sense and was driven on the one hand by the need to improve security processes on its mines and on the other by a lack of skilled people to fill this role.

"There is a skills shortage in South Africa, qualified people are difficult to find so we decided to move away from the human element as much as possible and to manage the company with few, highly trained and motivated managers and employees working in combination with technology that provides a complete security efficiency solution," says Norton.

2010 and beyond

Developments in digital technology are rapidly impacting on how video and other security technologies are deployed. As video technology evolves, and as integration of previously disparate systems becomes increasingly viable, so potential business solutions expand from security into broader operational and risk management applications. It is for this reason that no modern security installation is these days complete without CCTV surveillance.

CCTV surveillance has a role to play in all sorts of environments from retail to mining and property. For example, it will play a major role in keeping the players, spectators and various personnel safe and secure at all times during the high-profile Football World Cup when it comes to South Africa in 2010.

The CCTV system being deployed will draw on all available new technology and will include various different types of cameras. The surveillance system being installed is a complete IP-based (Internet Protocol) solution, making it easy to manage and more reliable than traditional CCTV systems, as all the cameras are connected on a network and footage is stored in a digital format.

Whichever environment a business is operating in, critical to the success of effective systems integration is the choice of the right partner to deliver the skills required for system design and set up, as well as to establish the most appropriate auditing, monitoring and reporting procedures to best leverage investment and maximise return on investment.

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