The recent arrest of several fraudsters who were part of a ring that ripped off several Florida Wal-Marts to the tune of about $8 million showed video surveillance at its best, as law enforcement was able to review store video footage and identify the culprits. New advances in IP-based digital video surveillance cameras, recorders, and analysis software from some prominent IT vendors, including Cisco Systems and IBM, promise to help retailers and other businesses put the kibosh on theft before the crooks even make their getaway.
IBM on Wednesday introduced its Smart Surveillance System, a bundle of digital video technologies straight out of the company's T.J. Watson Research Center that integrates analytical capabilities into camera, radar, chemical-sensor, and audio surveillance systems so they can detect suspicious activity and send up red flags when necessary. With Smart Surveillance, a truck parked in the wrong area of an airport, an airline passenger attempting to enter through an exit corridor, or a customer removing an item from a shelf and walking past the cashier line would all initiate pages, text messages, and other security alerts.
Smart Surveillance is part of IBM's new digital video surveillance services available through the company's Global Technology Services division. Smart Surveillance offers security pros the capability to carry out data analysis of video sequences either in real time or from recordings with the help of IBM BladeCenter or System x servers, storage devices, and Tivoli Storage Manager for automating data backup and restore functions.
Companies in general, and retailers specifically, have come to grips with the fact that much of the theft of their merchandise, referred to as "shrinkage," is committed or facilitated by their own employees, said Jeanne Jang, IBM's global lead for digital video surveillance in the company's Security and Privacy Services practice, in an interview. "With digital video surveillance, we can put in a system at the check-out counter that would capture images in real time," she said. One camera can focus on the checkout line, while another camera would be installed about a foot off the ground to make sure no one is rolling through the checkout line without paying for merchandise -- boxes of diapers or bottled water -- stored under the shopping cart's basket. If the camera detects an item under the shopping card, the cashier would not be able to close out the order until that cashier either rang up any items detected by the camera or let the system know that the alert was a false positive because there was nothing under the cart.
That's a message sure to resonate with large retailers who deal with high volumes and low margins. Now that all of Pathmark Co.'s 141 supermarkets in the Northeast have moved to digital video surveillance equipment, the company is looking to use this new technology to benefit the business in as many ways as possible. This goes even beyond watching the register lines and exits for shoplifters, with the hope that digital video surveillance will help manage staff and better understand customer behavior. This includes better understanding what percentage of shoppers actually make purchases and why this conversion rate is higher or lower at different store locations.
Pedro Ramos, Pathmark's assistant VP of loss prevention, has seen IBM's Smart Surveillance technology up close. "What I'm looking for could include help with operational efficiency, merchandising, or market research," he said in an interview. "It could create a fountain of new ideas out of an existing technology."
By watching and analyzing how customers move through its stores, Pathmark will be able to tailor the layout of its aisles in individual stores and determine where traffic is heaviest, so that sale or promotional items can be positioned there. "It can provide some real tangible information that we don't know today," said Ramos, adding that some Pathmark locations have begun testing Smart Surveillance, although rollout dates haven't been set.
Cisco's designs on the digital video surveillance market makes it an interesting space to watch, Pathmark's Ramos said, adding, "The fact that there's interest from another large player in the IT space proves that in the very near future video will play a much more significant role in retail."
Continuing to build on top of last year's Sypixx acquisition, Cisco on Tuesday introduced a new IP surveillance camera, a video recording and storage platform, and version 5.0 of Cisco Stream Manager video surveillance software, which lets security pros manage multiple IP-based cameras and provides controls over who can access video surveillance system devices. Cisco's new camera can work wired or wirelessly and can encrypt the data it stores and sends. Stream Manager is currently available while the camera and Cisco Services Platform for Scalable Mass Storage will ship by the end of May.
The vast majority of video recorders in use today, about 70%, are analog, while 99% of cameras are analog, said Mark Farino, general manager of Cisco's Converged Security Infrastructure Business Unit, in an interview. "Customers want to unlock access to their video surveillance information and provide greater access to it," he adds.
Global revenue from video surveillance cameras will grow to more than $9 billion by 2011, with a compound annual growth rate of 13%, up from $4.9 billion in 2006, according to a January report from IT market research firm iSuppli. The greatest challenge to this growth isn't the need for such technology but rather the typically conservative view that some security departments have taken with regard to technology investments and their lack of experience working with IT and networking technologies. The surveillance market is moving into the networked video surveillance, characterized by IP cameras, IP video servers, and networked video recorders, iSuppli VP of multimedia content and services Mark Kirstein wrote in his report.
Companies with a pedigree in the digital video surveillance market have for a while expected all-around tech companies like Cisco and IBM to identify their market as a growth opportunity. "The technology around video has progressed enough to the point where people can do things they couldn't do before," Steve Goldberg, CEO and president of Vidient Systems Inc., said in an interview. Vidient was spun out of NEC's Computer Vision Labs in 2004.
In June Vidient will release its IVR2400 intelligent video router, which ships with a Stream Processing Inc. Storm-1 processor and includes Vidient's own SmartCatch Analytics 3.0 software already loaded, marking the first time Vidient has preloaded its analytics software onto an endpoint device. Version 3.0 improves on previous versions' ability to accurately count people or objects passing through a video frame and can work with cameras that pan, tilt, and zoom, thanks to faster processor speeds. The movement of such cameras has provided difficulty for analysis software in the past because it changes the angle at which objects are viewed.
Vidient also is partnering with Amag Technology, a maker of security management systems, to give companies a way to centralize control all of this digital video equipment, including cameras, recorders, and software. Amag's Symmetry Video, when integrated with Vidient SmartCatch 3.0 behavior recognition and video analytics software, can be programmed to recognize suspicious events so security guards and personnel know the difference between a person crossing a secured parking lot or a trash can being blown by the wind.
In addition to faster processor speeds and more intuitive software, companies will need greater storage capacity. To that end, CoVi Technologies and Seagate Technology on Tuesday introduced a distributed media manager for CoVi's Crystal HD high-definition video surveillance system. The CoVi DMM-2100 and DMM-1100 series distributed media managers now feature Seagate SV35 Series 500 and 750 GB disk drives. With the addition of significantly higher storage capacities, CoVi's video surveillance system enables the recording and playback of higher-quality video at higher frame rates.
The goal of all this is to get companies and government installations to move to digital video surveillance at a faster rate. Now that networks have become ubiquitous, and the technology to take advantage of digital video is coming to market in droves, there's little excuse for not taking a look.