By Larry Chay
Remember those old Ginzu knife commercials where the spokesman would say, “But wait. There’s more?” The same could be said about today’s IP video systems. Sure, they can do basic monitoring to help you with loss prevention. But because they’re intelligent computers they also provide insight into other facets of your business – from operations and marketing to merchandising, employee training and more – to help you improve your bottom line.
Eliminating barriers to adoption
But is IP video really practical for small businesses – especially those with limited technical know-how and tight budgets? Absolutely. Especially in recent years, many of the barriers to adoption by small businesses have fallen by the wayside.
With every succeeding generation, IP video technology has become more powerful and cheaper to own than the previous one. What was once only affordable to large enterprise installations is now a viable option for small camera count environments. With every succeeding generation IP video technology has also become more intuitive to operate. Pull-down menus, simple icons and point-and-click operations help novice users quickly gain proficiency.
To further simplify operations and reduce cost, small businesses can opt for a hosted video solution to eliminate a hefty upfront capital investment. Under this operating model, all that’s needed onsite are the video cameras. Instead of storing the video on the property, it’s streamed to the cloud over the internet and housed in a highly secure data center operated by a service provider. The business owner and other authorized users can access the video remotely anytime through a customized, secure web portal created by the host provider. This shifts monitoring from a capital expense to an operating expense and puts the onus on the host provider to maintain the hardware and software, manage system upgrades and perform regular health checks on system components.
More than a one-trick pony
But the real value proposition is versatility. While the initial impetus for installing IP video monitoring might be to deter theft and prosecute offenders, the technology can also play a valuable role in improving day-to-day operations.
Employee accountability. As a busy owner, it’s not always possible to be on site all the time. IP video cameras allow you to remotely monitor your business in real time while on vacation or out running errands. It’s a great way to confirm that your employees are doing their jobs even when you’re not physically present. When employees know that “the boss is watching,” they tend to be more productive because they know they can be held accountable. The cameras also provide evidence of wrong processes or bad behaviors that owners can use to quickly isolate and correct issues before they become habit. The cameras also visually verify that the cashier gave a customer the correct change or delivered the actual product or service ordered. This can be invaluable in helping the business owner avoid misunderstandings that might lose a customer’s goodwill and generate bad publicity.
Customer behavior. With the addition of analytic software, video cameras can give business owners greater insight into customer behavior. Measuring the amount of time a customer browses a display (dwell time) or loiters in a certain vicinity can alert staff to a sales opportunity or potential criminal activity. People counting can help business owners identify peak traffic hours and schedule staff accordingly.
Marketing and merchandising. Heat mapping of foot traffic can be used to optimize floor layouts or determine if signage or external advertising is drawing customers to specific merchandise displays and converting interest into sales. The immediate feedback on the effectiveness of marketing and merchandising strategies can help owners decide whether to drop or revamp programs that aren’t generating sufficient return on investment.
Vendor accountability. Video monitoring enables business owners to verify the accuracy of deliveries and shelf stocking. Archived video provides the crucial forensic evidence for reconciling invoices with inventory levels and successfully contesting deliveries that come up short.
Liability. Slip and fall type lawsuits cost businesses millions of dollars a year in the form of insurance premiums. Video monitoring can also help small businesses curtail frivolous lawsuits and limit liability. Reviewing a video recording of an accident often reveals uncontestable proof of what actually happened. In some cases, being able to identify people in proximity to the incident may reveal accomplices to the attempted fraud.
Optimizing resource usage
Because most small businesses have limited internet bandwidth, today’s IP video systems optimize bandwidth consumption to prevent bottlenecks and performance degradation of other mission-critical traffic on the network, such as processing credit card transactions. There are a number of highly efficient compression technologies such as H.264 and H.265 that can substantially reduce video bandwidth consumption and storage requirements. In addition, there are surveillance-specific compression algorithms that prioritize streaming and storage decisions based on the information-rich areas within the camera’s field of view.
Big benefits for small business
With the barriers of cost and complexity no longer an issue, small business can now reap the same benefits from IP video monitoring technology that larger business do. In addition to loss prevention and asset protection, IP video affords small businesses the opportunity to more closely scrutinize other aspects of their operations and discover ways to improve day-to-day activity and the bottom line.
This article originally appeared on the Comcast Business Community.