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Retailers are no longer just window shopping for IP

Compared to other end-user vertical markets, such as transportation, government and education, retail has been a cautious adopter, moving away from DVRs to IP-based video management systems.

August 10, 2011  By  Rob Colman

One of the main reasons explaining this late adoption is that retailers are cost-sensitive private companies that do not have access to outside security funding like some of the other verticals mentioned above. Furthermore, most retailers already have a huge investment in existing analogue technology and the costs to pull new cable, and then purchase cameras, servers, switches, and the VMS becomes significant, especially when you multiply those costs over dozens, hundreds or thousands of stores. You can see that this represents a substantial investment and therefore there needs to be a compelling reason to make that change. However, as the costs have come down significantly in the last few years, more and more retailers are turning to their integrators for IP-based systems, not only big box national retailers, but also small regional retailers with a few stores.

That being said, it is important to analyze what the right IP video offering is, based on the retailer’s security goals. In my opinion, one of the main determining factors is the size of the retailer and whether they have multiple locations. If it is a small business with one location, with requirements for less than 16 cameras and no plans to expand to other sites, an NVR with basic functionality will probably be sufficient. There are several manufacturers offering mini-NVRs that take up a small amount of space compared to many older DVRs, freeing up valuable backstore real-estate. Even for small retailers, it is important to have the ability to select best-of-breed cameras and to have the flexibility to change cameras as new retail-focused models come out, such as new mini domes, bullet cameras and covert cameras. It is thus important to select an open-architecture NVR that is compatible with IP cameras from several manufacturers. Another big differentiator from DVRs to NVRs and VMSs is the ability to upgrade the onboard software to add new cameras and features, but again this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, so it is an important question to ask of your vendor.

Larger retailers that have multiple locations are really the ones that will benefit the most from selecting an IP system. The first advantage is that enterprise-class VMSs can be spread over multiple sites for local recording and viewing, but can be simultaneously centrally managed. The scalability of enterprise-class VMSs is something that no DVR can compare to. I am aware of several retailers that have centrally-managed systems that spread over hundreds of sites for thousands of cameras, all being seamlessly centrally managed. This means loss prevention teams can audit several stores simultaneously, without ever having to log on to each individual location. For example, if they get wind that an organized theft ring is working in an area, their investigation can be easily managed for multiple locations simultaneously.

Another key feature that was available on most of the DVRs, and that has been enhanced by some enterprise-class VMSs, is point-of-sales (POS) integration. What was once basic video overlay with DVRs are now fluid and user-friendly integrations that allow for advanced search capability of POS transactions and alarms based on critical events. For example, a colleague of mine forgot a shopping bag as he left the cash register of a store. Upon return, the security officer went to the back room, looked up his receipt number, instantly called up the associated video and saw that his bag was accidentally given to the next customer. This is a fairly innocent example, but POS integration could also be used to run reports across several stores searching for suspicious activity, such as quickly calling up video for transactions done on a credit card that was reported stolen.


Just like any other vertical market, every retailer is unique, but the good news is that by picking the right VMS or NVR, you can select a solution that will be able to support your future growth, more than any DVR ever could

Steve Bocking can be reached at sbocking@genetec.com

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