TechDecisions Managing Editor Jonathan Blackwood spoke with Steven White, Corporate VP, Business Development for Vector Security about how advanced analytics can help in the physical security space.
JB: What kind of data should be captured for analysis in the physical security space?
SW: Consider one of the most common physical security systems: the intrusion alarm. These systems are designed to detect and report activity – such as the opening of a door, or activity in an area. Traditionally, the entire system is dedicated to one basic function: sounding an alarm when that activity is unauthorized. The migration of these systems onto networks, however, is helping to change the paradigm – and systems today have the potential to deliver valuable data for everything from policy compliance and safety, to energy savings.
Video systems layer on recording and more advanced activity detection through the use of analytics – but still, a significant portion of their value can be unrealized if the data is not captured and correlated with sources of information.
JB: How do we capture that data?
SW: Most systems are good at capturing data, fewer are good at aggregating data, and fewer still are good at analyzing that data to make it relevant and actionable. Often the key lies not in deciding how to capture the raw bits of information, but rather, what business problems need to be solved – working backward from the required output to determine the inputs and processing needed. Sometimes, there are multiple methods, with varying degrees of accuracy that need to be considered as well. The cost for 99.9% accuracy may be several times the cost of capturing data with 96% accuracy. Which is the right decision?
A practical example would be an initiative to ensure that receiving dock doors remain closed as much as possible – whether for security, energy savings, etc… Understanding the objective and desired ROI, we can work backward to determine whether video analytics, dedicated sensors, or per-door control systems are the best choice. These three options have dramatically different costs associated with them, so it is critical to tackle the problem in this way.
JB: What kinds are platforms are out there for analysis in the physical security space?
SW: I have seen effective analysis performed using a wide range of tools. Simple, ad-hoc analysis can easily be done using database functions – or even a spreadsheet program. When you want to automate analysis, it is important to look at the capabilities of systems you have first, such as the automation platform used by your alarm central monitoring station, and the federation or cloud services offered by video management platforms. If your needs are complex – for example, if you need to bring in data from an ERP system and multiple vendor platforms, you will likely want to engage a partner in the data analytics space. It is best to consult in-house stakeholders, trusted partners and even outside consultants as part of the decision-making process.
JB: How can we use analysis of this data to help bolster physical security?
SW: Two examples are enforcing policy compliance, and identifying suspicious activities and trends. Bad habits can creep into any environment – employees might leave the safe open throughout the day, or fail to arm the system perimeter when staying late. Without data analysis, small policy violations can easily go unnoticed until an incident occurs. A loss prevention executive I know tells a story about one of his favorite strategies: looking at stores that consistently open early or close late. Even if only by a few minutes, such a pattern by the same employee told the investigator that there was good chance theft was occurring – and many prosecutions later, this remains one of the key exception reports used by his team.
JB: How can organizations get started introducing analytics into their security space? Is just a security installer enough, or will they need to partner with other companies to realize their vision?
SW: It depends on their level of experience and their access to experts who can help build strategies – including development of an acceptable ROI. Business analytics can encompass so many things today – from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth data gathering, to RFID, people counting and POS transaction data. Some technologies and data analytics will be completely useless for one business, and invaluable to another, so it is important to work with partners you trust. A common example is “heat mapping” active areas in a scene using video analytics. Yes, you can ascertain the areas where people loiter, shop, or just dwell longer than others – but you must be in a position to use that information to build better floorplans, sell more products, or make a location more secure.
JB: How difficult is the process of introducing analytics? From setting up sensors to incorporating an analytics platform, what is the process like?
SW: When the goals are well defined, the process is similar to many other technology rollouts. Most solutions will leverage network connectivity for data collection, so be sure IT is involved from the outset. Beyond that, try to limit the number of technical personnel required per location – if one qualified company can build and execute the plan, it will usually mean lower costs and fewer problems.
JB: Are there different tiers of analytics, such as simple, moderate, and complicated? Can an organization utilize “a little” analytics as opposed to analyzing everything?
SW: Absolutely. Reinforcing the idea that the best programs are built with goals in mind, the right solution may be a video analytic added to an existing video management system for little more than the cost of the software license. Layering on complex analytics to solve simple problems is reserved for those with unlimited budgets – and I don’t know many companies like that.
JB: What kind of ongoing training will be needed? Can a current employee be trained to utilize an analytics platform, or should they expect to hire an expert?
SW:It depends on the system. Ideally, analytics deliver information in a way that your existing teams can benefit and take action with little or no training. More complex systems – especially those that offer a high degree of customization, will require training and perhaps dedicated personnel.
JB: What is the ROI on introducing analytics into a physical security system?
SW: It is always unique to the business. Sometimes, a more subjective result – perhaps a 20% increase in safety policy compliance – is sufficient to justify a program. Other times, hard dollar results such as energy savings are required.