Adding value to defeat the ‘grudge purchase’
Modern security solutions offer a high degree of flexibility with regard to additional benefits. For installers and integrators, this allows the creation of systems which add value for the user. Because of this, it is possible to identify tangible returns on investment for those investing in bespoke solutions. The use of captured data for business intelligence purposes is one example of how systems can remove the ‘grudge purchase’ element.
With today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, most security systems are capable of delivering a wide range of benefits alongside the protection of people, property and premises. Advanced processing, software-based architecture and bespoke design considerations allow the creation of solutions that provide both security and business efficiencies. For installers and integrators, and for the end-users who are their customers, technology has never been so flexible.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the provision of security systems. The first is that the end-user will often be willing to make a larger investment in a security system if it offers them additional benefits, such as business efficiencies. The second is that users often consider security to be a grudge purchase, and subsequently view price as more important than features and functions. Interestingly, there is truth in both of these points of view.
The ‘traditional’ selling message for a security system is based upon the solution informing the customer (or another agency) when an incident occurs. Putting that into black and white, the customer is making an investment in technology which will inform them that they have become a victim! Such a system does not carry a high value proposition, and if sold in this way it is easy to see why some users will minimise their investment. Of course, such thinking ignores many of the advances and developments of recent years. Today’s security systems are capable of so much more.
Many installers and integrators who have focused their business approach on the delivery of added value have a very different sales message. Their focus is on the creation of a proactive solution which can be used to detect, prevent and deter incidents. The flexibility inherent in modern security systems is exploited to ensure the earliest possible detection and notification of violations. However, added to this is a layer of extra functionality which specifically enhances business efficiencies.
It is these efficiencies in the everyday working life of the customer which justifies an additional level of investment. It is a rare end-user that, when asked if they would like to add business organisational efficiencies, replies in the negative. If these additional benefits are not offered due to concerns over a ‘grudge purchase’ mentality, then the value proposition does not increase.
Admittedly there will always be some customers who are looking for the lowest price, but many will happily increase their budget if additional benefits are on offer. Installers and integrators need to remember that the security systems industry is very insular. The ‘outside world’ has a view of what is possible from security technology, and this is usually based upon personal experience. If an end user has only ever been ‘sold’ reactive systems, they will not be aware of how the available technology can be used to add value.
Of course, there is a degree of balance which must be observed. At its core, the system offered by an installer or integrator will predominantly be deployed for security purposes. Whilst the various business intelligence options will add value, if they introduce a compromise to site security the system fundamentally loses much appeal for the customer.
Security systems are, at their most basic, robust and resilient data collection and analytic tools. The various field devices collect real-time status information about the site. Cameras capture video information displaying motion and activity in a protected area, detection devices similarly sense and track targets, access control systems gather information about entry and exit transactions as well as occupancy information, analytics report on a very wide range of rule violations, etc.. The system then takes this collected data, processes it against a range of criteria, and reports any exceptions.
With very basic systems (including those using older technologies) the reported exceptions are usually limited to one of two outcomes: alarm or no alarm. Effectively, the collected data either results in an activation or is discarded. The systems are not designed to use the gathered data for any other purposes. Also, when systems are unset, all data is generally ignored and discarded. This means that status information which could be utilised for other purposes is lost.
When systems are set, typically outside of operational hours for a business or organisation, security is the primary concern. It is worth noting that when a business is closed, intelligence-based data is usually of less use. Obviously this fits very well with ensuring that business intelligence processes do not interfere with overall security performance. However, when systems are unset or during periods when a lower degree of security resources are required, the system’s data gathering capabilities can be deployed for other purposes.
Business intelligence has a number of operational similarities with security. Devices capture real-time site status data which is then analysed, and if predefined criteria are met, an action is triggered. The relevant data can be captured by cameras, sensors, access control and transactional systems, video or audio analytics, detectors and a whole range of other devices. This information enables the creation of a situational profile.
Analysis of this profile allows the system to determine whether predefined circumstances exist (in effect, a cause), and if it does an appropriate action can be triggered (an effect). As such, the relationship is very similar to rules-based security systems using logical relationships to determine violations and subsequent actions. It is this similarity in the ‘cause and effect’ programming which allows security systems to additionally offer credible and efficient business intelligence.
It is interesting that many experts in the field of business intelligence cite cases where complex solutions virtually automate an entire element (and sometimes the core element) of a business’ or organisation’s operation. Whilst such systems do exist and can be created using security technology as the base platform, they don’t make up the largest part of security-based business intelligence.
Where a business needs to automate processes or procedures in order to be efficient, they will typically have a dedicated system to achieve this. Technology advances fastest where there is a significant business case for its use; the odds of a security system solving a problem that experts in a specific industrial sector could not address are minimal. However, often there may be a number of fairly insignificant tasks which do not justify the deployment of a dedicated system, but which can be addressed as an additional benefit by the security solution.
A great example of this can be found by looking at the retail sector, often quoted as significant customer for business intelligence solutions. It must be remembered that many of the larger chain retailers have already invested in business intelligence systems from retail specialist manufacturers. These are very much based upon transactional data. The solutions include diverse functions such as stock management, revenue trends, staffing information and a host of other retail-specific functions. In-store systems will report into the central business intelligence system, allowing dedicated staff (usually at a central location such as a head office) to manage day-to-day operations.
If a security system is to add further business intelligence information such as footfall heat mapping or people counting, the relevant data must be able to be automatically exported in a format that can work with the main intelligence system. Staff tasked with the management of retail operations will not log into a security system to extract the data. However, this does not mean that security-based business intelligence functionality will not appeal to retailers.
Simple operations involving site management will not be supported by such retail-specific solutions. For example, a camera overlooking a loading bay could be used to open service area gates when delivery lorries arrive. The use of logical rules would also allow such a setup to identify when the loading area was full, and via digital signage could direct other HGVs arriving on site to a holding area. Cameras with age and gender recognition could be used to trigger specific advertising appropriate to shoppers, but would be deployed for security when the site is closed.
Of course, where retailers do not already use a centralised business intelligence system, the additional flexibility of core business-based analytics within a camera, encoder or VMS solution will add value. This is especially true for SME businesses.
The scope of intelligence
Some installers and integrators have a misapprehension that business intelligence must be complex, costly to implement and requires integration with a number of non-security systems. Whilst it is true that some business intelligence systems will meet all these criteria, most solutions will be very simple and easier to implement than many might think.
Just as a security system can use a basic detection event to trigger a simple action (for example, a motion detector switching on a light when movement is sensed) or a more complicated set of triggers linked by logical relationships (such as separate IVA rules being triggered within a time window to instigate actions based upon very specific site status conditions), business intelligence can also be very varied. Indeed, using a basic PIR to switch on a light could be deemed as business intelligence if its purpose is not security!
When considering business intelligence, the current ‘darlings’ of many manufacturers are people counting, queue management and heat mapping. Whilst these functions can offer valuable data to retail-based end-users, they are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential opportunities. Additionally, whilst the retail sector is often quoted as being the most obvious market for business intelligence, such thinking merely serves to blinker installers and integrators from the true scope offered by the technology.
Business intelligence can be applied in any situation where data gathered by the security system can be used to automatically trigger a business-related action. Remember that these might not be related to a company’s core operations. For example, a retailer would see queue management as something relevant to its central business, but alerting a warehouse manager when a loading bay is empty still represents added value for many.
Considering more simplistic implementations, this might be switching lighting or other devices on or off, assisting in power management, controlling gates or barriers, notifying events to relevant staff via SMS or email, displaying advertising or appropriate digital signage, triggering audio announcements, etc..
All of these examples would be easy to implement using standard security equipment, and would be well within the skills-set of any competent installer or integrator.
Even as an additional layer of complexity is added, the actual implementation of business intelligence does not get more difficult. For example, many ‘open platform’ cameras allow the addition of applications to enhance functionality. If such a camera was installed to capture footage of traffic through a gateway, the operation of a gate or barrier could be simply linked to an ANPR app. This would allow a user to ‘white list’ all company vehicles, delivering automated access during working hours. It would also be simple to add an SMS notification to a member of the management team if recognised vehicles attempted access outside of working hours.
Even when a business intelligence system may appear to be complex, quite often its basis will be standard security systems. One example is a solution used in airports. This makes use of standard video cameras, basic facial recognition software and a report generation interface. Cameras are located at various locations throughout the air-side spaces at the site. The cameras capture images of people as they disembark from arriving planes. From these, a number of biometric templates are generated.
These templates are then used to identify the randomly selected individuals at various points throughout the airport such as passport control, baggage reclaim and the customs hall. The collected data is then used to generate reports which indicate how long it takes passengers to travel through the airport. Prior to the system being implemented, staff would be deployed with manually operated counting devices. Whilst this would generate occupancy figures, it was impossible to use the data to assess waiting times and passenger flow.
The only part of the system which needed to be ‘custom-built’ for the application was a simple software element that transferred log data to a standard spreadsheet.
Business intelligence systems can be complex solutions requring bespoke software and a wide range of specialist devices integrated to a host of diverse systems. However, such solutions will be unusual and will typically be built by experts within an industrial or commercial sector. As such, it is unlikely that businesses and organisations will try to adapt security solutions to do the same job.
Despite this, many of the more marginal everyday tasks that can easily be addressed by security-based systems will still add significant value for the user. If resources are required to carry out tasks, then efficiencies can be created for the customer.
The primary purpose of a security system will remain as security; any captured data not associated with this is typically discarded. When creating a smarter solution with the user’s business or organisation in mind, an innovative installer or integrator will invariably find ways of using it to add value.
It is a rare customer who will not be interested in using their security investment to enhance business efficiencies.