Guest Column | June 12, 2013

How To Build A Powerful, Budget-Friendly Surveillance System For SMB Retailers

By Jumbi Edulbehram, Next Level Security Systems

Today, there’s no doubt that video surveillance is moving to IP networks for a number of reasons such as superior image quality from IP cameras, ability to easily integrate video with other systems such as access control, the need for accessing video from remote locations and the added value from video analytics.

The move to IP video systems creates a huge opportunity for IT integrators.  Being knowledgeable about networking, IT integrators are ideally positioned to provide IP video systems to their SMB retail customers…but the question is what type of system is ideally suited to this market segment?  Here are some guidelines and suggestions:

  1. Cost:  Goes without saying that SMB retailers are cost conscious.  Integrators should make sure that the system is not only budget friendly to purchase, but also cost effective to install, and easy to support and maintain over 5-6 years; i.e., it’s important to calculate the total cost of ownership rather than just the cost of the hardware and software.  Given the cost constraints, it’s best to go with systems that do not have additional charges such as  ‘licensing’ fees per channel of video or fees for integration.
  1. Ease of use:  The system has to be extremely easy to use and should not require much training.  Typically, store personnel that use the system, typically have a host of other responsibilities, so they don’t have much time for training.  Also, due to employee turnover, new employees may have start using the system at short notice.
  1. Level of integration:  All key functionality that is required for the application should be integrated in the solution and the user should not have to spend additional money integrating and supporting different applications such as video analytics.
  1. Integration with POS:  Integrating the video system with POS allows retailers to see video clips of POS transactions, which is useful for detecting internal shrinkage (employee theft) through cash shortage, returns fraud, sweet-hearting, etc.  Hence the system should have the capability of integrating with different POS systems.
  1. Intelligence: Increasingly retailers want to be able to use their video surveillance systems for more than just security and loss prevention.  They want to get additional value out of it by using video analytics for customer counts, customers trajectories and dwell times in particular areas of the store.  So the video surveillance system should have video analytics built in, increasing its value and makes it easier to sell.
  1. Remote access and centralized management: Retailers can lower costs of store personnel and travel if the video systems are remotely accessible.  Some retailers, especially those with a large number of stores, want to be able to access, operate and manage their store video systems from a central location.  Some systems have ‘remote clients’ with reduced functionality compared to the application in the stores, which leads to confusion and inefficiency.  A browser-based interface to the system is the best option since it gives the end user freedom to access the system securely from any computer anywhere on the network, or even remotely over the Internet. 
  1. Mobility: The ability of store and corporate personnel to access the video system on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is quickly becoming a requirement.  If video and data can be instantly accessed on mobile devices the appropriate personnel can be instantly alerted on incidents allowing them to take action quickly.  Rather than having to go to a computer to look at video, mobile devices enable store personnel to quickly access live and stored video from any camera in the store.  To enable this functionality, the video system should be accompanied by applications for smartphones and tablets.

An integrated appliance running an embedded operating system, which has the features listed above is the most suitable platform for a SMB retail application.  A general-purpose Windows-based computer running the video surveillance application is less desirable because:

  • It could be used to run other applications that may affect the performance of the video surveillance application
  • It poses security risks on the customer’s network.  If the IT department is responsible for the security of the computer, the integrator would have to constantly assure that the video surveillance application is unaffected by ‘security patches’.

From the networking perspective, experience has shown that having the video system on its own separate network is a good practice.  That way, video does not interfere with other applications in the store that use the network.

For remote access to the system, it’s important to ensure IT security.  The best practice is to not require any open network ports from the outside…it’s preferable to open ports from the inside and to ensure that all video and data are encrypted.

In summary, an intelligent, browser-based appliance that is easy to install and use is the best solution for SMB retailers.