The security cameras themselves have become more sophisticated. They are smaller and produce clearer images. Some are wireless and can be put almost anywhere.
But the real technological advances have happened behind the cameras.
The biggest change in surveillance systems has been the change from analog systems, using videotape, to storing images digitally, on computers.
And the change is happening fast.
The Panasonic WV-CW244F security camera.
“Although no hard data is available on the percentage of retailers currently employing digital systems, I believe the majority of new equipment purchases employ some form of digital technology, which provides the building blocks for a digital platform,” said Frank Abram, vice president of Panasonic Security Systems.
At its most basic, a digital system could be a few cameras connected to a personal computer. Even this basic configuration has big advantages, the biggest being that nobody has to mess with VCR tapes. Nobody has to remember to change them. A digital system will save as many images as it is given room for on a computer. A user can choose to save individual images and the system can be programmed to keep recording, writing over the oldest images first, whenever it reaches its capacity.
And no one has to search through videotapes manually when there’s an incident. A user can enter the date and time of the incident and find the corresponding video instantly. Retailers say that difference is like the difference between getting to a favorite song on a music CD and trying to fast-forward to a song on a tape. It’s a difference that can sometimes be measured in hours.
But these improvements are just the beginning.
Digital camera systems can be networked with a store’s point-of-sale (POS) system. With a camera trained on the check-out, a retailer can get a video of employees ringing sales that shows exactly what they are ringing into the POS system superimposed along the bottom of the image. Such a system can be set to automatically generate exception reports — in some cases, with the actual video clip automatically attached.
Indeed, some systems can send video images wirelessly and in real time to a store manager’s personal digital assistant (PDA). “Wireless PDA delivery of alerts and digital video will be an integral component of the store of the future,” said Thomas Dinkel, chief operating officer of Mirasys Communications, Inc., a company that specializes in systems that link data and video.
And the newest digital systems can more easily send video images over the Internet. These video images can be sent in real time. When used by a security service, this capability can allow emergency responders, such as firefighters, see what is happening as an alarm sounds. ADT, the largest electronic security services company in the country, can use its surveillance equipment to give employees “video escorts.” That is, the ADT staff can watch, via their surveillance cameras, as employees walk to their cars at night.
ADT has also begun offering “video audit programs,” where the company will use its surveillance equipment to check that a store is being run properly by its employees. For instance, the system can watch to see that the store is opened on time or that employees who are supposed to be working are present. ADT can provide its retailer clients with reports complete with video clips.
Many surveillance equipment companies are unveiling products that use the latest technologies. Sony, for instance, is offering complete network-based, internet-protocol (IP) systems, including four cameras, a network video recorder and software, at prices starting at $7,800. JVC Professional Products recently introduced two new cameras and a digital recorder/web server meant to be the basis of a complete yet cost-effective IP surveillance system.
Last month, D-Link, a communications and connectivity company, introduced two Internet cameras, the DCS-5300, with a suggested retail price of $349, and the wireless DCS-5300W, with a suggested retail price of $449. These cameras are equipped with their own web server, IP address, e-mail and monitoring software. Users can view their live video over the Internet and can control the cameras’ movements, using a regular web browser.
Panasonic, meanwhile, has introduced a whole line of products, including, most recently, three vandal-proof cameras that can be used in either analog or digital systems. “We recognize that the migration to a digital networked operating platform is more than just a technology issue, it is a budget issue,” said Panasonic’s Abram. “[Our line] enables users to make the transition to a digital platform at their own pace while assuring that their present day investments can play a role in future system expansion.”
The future of surveillance — and a retail operation’s ability to keep its stores, employees and products safe — is looking brighter than ever.