Cashing In On Hosted Video

How a Texas loan company cut capital expenses and streamlined surveillance operations with hosted video.

The individual cash pay-outs might be small, but for Texas Title Loans—a chain of 14 short-term loan shops stretching from Dallas to San Antonio—keeping an eye on the till was creating big problems.

“We originally had a DVR-based analog solution in each of our 14 stores,” said Mark Autrey, project manager for Texas Title Loans LLC. “But each system was basically standalone. So, if an incident occurred at any location, it got to be a real challenge for corporate to extract the pertinent video.”

On top of its problems related to extracting video from the DVRs, if a location lost power, the company would have to contact the vendor, who would go to the location and manually reset the DVRs and security cameras, adding cost and operational delays. This lack of central control left company executives vulnerable to coverage blackouts. Poor image quality inherent with their analog video was yet another major issue.

However, because they needed only two cameras in each store, IP video appeared to be a costly proposition compared to their analog system—despite the additional benefits they’d receive.

That perception immediately changed when ASG Security, a national systems integrator and service provider of electronic security solutions, arrived with a hosted video proposal.

“Going the hosted video route just made economic sense for us,” Autrey said. “Leasing the hardware and running surveillance- as-a-service meant that someone else was responsible if something went terribly wrong with the equipment. If we did it all ourselves, we’d not only have to shoulder the capital expense of all that equipment but we’d also be forced to hire two more full-time IT people to handle the workload.”

Set to record 24/7, the video streams over the network to ASG’s secure data center. Through ASG’s hosted video platform, authorized Texas Title Loans users can view the video live or retrieve archived footage from their desktops or mobile devices using a password-protected Web portal. What’s more, the new fixednetwork cameras came with embedded microphones and audio features, giving staff at headquarters the ability to both see and hear activity at each store and establish recorded proof in the hesaid, she-said battle that is sometimes initiated by loan customers.

The portal also enables corporate IT staff to troubleshoot easily and reset cameras remotely from hundreds of miles away, minimizing any surveillance downtime and service costs. If needed, both ASG and Texas Title Loans can use the portal to modify an individual camera’s resolution or frame rate. The volume on a camera’s microphone can even be adjusted remotely.

The fixed monthly service model has saved Texas Title Loans significant upfront costs for technology and—perhaps more importantly— improved support services and response time, both of which go toward enhancing the company’s overall security operations. “Opting for a fixed monthly service was simply more cost effective,” Autrey said.

Out with the Old Analog, In with the New Host

Installation was more rapid than it had been with the legacy analog system because the new digital cameras arrived at the site preconfigured to automatically communicate with the ASG server. ASG simply disconnected the old analog cameras, mounted the new digital cameras, plugged in the Ethernet cabling and clicked the connection button on the back of the devices to auto-enable the secure link with ASG’s servers.

“In our old system, we had to manually route each camera to a specific endpoint in the server at our corporate headquarters,” Autrey said. “We had a lot of issues with feeds getting jumbled. This new one-click connection eliminated a lot of painstaking configuration, which made the switchover go a lot faster than we had hoped.”

Because the DSL line linking each office to the Internet also serves as the pipeline for the VoIP phone system and desktop computing, Autrey worked closely with ASG and the camera technical support team to calibrate resolutions and frame rates that wouldn’t clog the network bandwidth.

“Each storefront is less than 800 square feet, about the size a large master bedroom,” Autrey said. “So, going with 640x480 (VGA) resolution gave us more than sufficient image clarity for our needs. If we were constantly moving cash over the counter like a bank or grocery store, we would probably need a higher frame rate to catch the quick slip. But, given that each store generally handles only two or three transactions a day, three to five frames per second works well for us.”

ASG installed two fixed-network cameras at each store to cover the desk area and cash drawer as well as the front door. Because the cameras record digitally, Autrey finds that compared to the old analog system the image and audio quality in both live view and playback provide a wealth of detail previously absent from the company’s surveillance solution.

“The search mechanism is a whole lot easier now,” Autrey said. “Instead of literally sifting through hours of video on a DVR, we can pull up clips for the exact window of time we want to review. The preview screen lets us pinpoint the precise point in time when an object like a cash drawer went missing. It’s very efficient.”

Because Texas Title Loans proactively reviews the video on a daily bases, the company currently stores video for 72 hours on the ASG server. After that, the data is automatically overwritten. If a clip of an incident needs to be saved longer, Autrey will download it onto his desktop for more permanent archiving.

Three Systems in One: Loss Prevention, Workplace Safety and Revenue Building

“Even though the hosted video storage is hundreds of miles away, if ever a store was robbed we could grab the video in an instant and immediately email the clip to the police detectives investigating the incident,” Autrey said.

Because the hosted video solution is easy for Texas Title Loans to operate, managers have found more uses for the system than originally anticipated. Initially, the cameras were installed to provide safety and security for employees in the event of an unhappy customer or a robbery. Now that it has cameras equipped with microphones, the company also uses the surveillance system to monitor the quality of service during phone calls and face-toface interactions with customers.

Autrey says that knowing the store is under surveillance has helped the company nip employee petty theft in the bud, as well. The footage also has helped corporate uncover the root of high turnover at one of its stores and take corrective action.

“The video has become a real tool for us,” Autrey said. “Not only has it helped us maintain a consistently safe and supportive work environment at every store in the chain, but it’s helped us identify employees who could use some mentoring on closing the deal.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Security Today.


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