March 28, 2001, 12:00 AM

Keeping an eye on things the web way lets retailers know who’s minding the shop

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In addition, Pappillon was happy to let a third-party company manage the video system. Akhavan says the company tried managing a video system itself, but found it too cumbersome. The problem was that with a videotape system, the company shouldn’t trust an employee to change the tape. But having someone travel from store to store just to change the tapes is inefficient and expensive. On top of it, the videotape system was not an efficient way to monitor employees’ activity, because someone had to rewind the tape and watch it if management suspected an employee of wrongdoing. “We spent a lot of money putting in video and after a while we just gave up on it,” Akhavan says. Furthermore, “With streaming video, the quality has been much better.”



Multiply and prosper



Parker says the shift to MPEG-4 technology is very promising for Eyecast, as is a deal that Eyecast has with Sony for Sony to be a re-seller of the Eyecast technology. Sony will sell its cameras to retailers with the notation, “Powered by Eyecast.” Eyecast also has partnerships with Sensormatic and SecurityLink. Among Eyecast’s clients are Sunglass Hut, Panda Express and shopping center developer General Growth Properties.


The company already is in its second generation of product, notes Andrew Johnson, vice president and principal analyst with Gartner/Dataquest, and its cameras have recently increased their capacity from one frame a second to five and can handle as many as 30. “One frame a second is good enough for security, but not for doing market research or for management purposes,” Johnson says. “They seem to be on the leading edge of technology.”


To some, this whole approach may seem similar to webcams, which are small web-linked monitors that send moving images to a web site. But Tobin says webcam technology is not suitable for the uses that Eyecast is targeting. Webcams are not scalable, cannot be controlled remotely and cannot pan, zoom or scan, Tobin says.



Security vs. marketing



Any company wanting to tap into the market for web-based video used for management purposes faces a number of challenges in the marketplace. For one thing, there are already as many as 7 million cameras placed by security companies. And while those companies know security and don’t know marketing, Johnson thinks they won’t simply watch someone use the cameras for marketing, then add security applications. “Some of the dealers will surely gain the capability to sell to marketing organizations,” he says.


In fact, BroadWare and iMonitoring will be selling through security dealers. “Enabling security dealers to offer value-added services for management purposes is very attractive,” says Ray Kaupp, BroadWare’s vice president of marketing. BroadWare is well aware that security dealers may not know how to sell the other applications of the video system and so is preparing sales material that the dealer’s sale reps can use when pitching the system’s benefits outside of the security uses.


Furthermore, there are all kinds of companies that provide online information to retailers and other businesses, such as live monitoring of heating-ventilating-air conditioning or of other building automation systems. “How long will these big companies that put in HVAC systems sit by and not want a piece of this market?” says Ortega’s Stoker.


The advantage that Ortega brings to a system is that it links into other building systems, he says. “We deal not just with the video but we talk to other systems as well,” he says.


Johnson also envisions tension between a retailer’s security staff and the marketing staff. For one thing, there’s sure to be some turf jealousies. For another, he argues, security managers may oppose having too many people know where the cameras are located, how they work, when they’re turned on and off. “Part of a good security system is that it’s not fully understood by everybody,” Johnson says.



The camera never sleeps



Like any other new technology, though, this requires that a retailer make changes in business procedures. And until the technology is more widespread, no one knows what those changes might entail. “It’s tough to anticipate all the factors that go into something like this,” Parker says, “the set-up, deployment, training support, having somebody inside to work all this stuff.”



While some have raised privacy as an issue with these cameras, industry observers downplay those concerns. For one thing, retailers tell their employees that the camera never sleeps. And as for customers who are caught on video: “Most people can relate to being in a retail situation where the service is atrocious,” Johnson says. “Most people think, If the person who owned this store only knew what was going on. Now they can know.” l

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