more than analytics - small business owners took for tools to improve productivity

More Than Analytics

Small business owners look for tools to improve productivity

More Than AnalyticsIt is common sense that high-end fashion boutiques need security cameras. Like any brick-and-mortar business, and particularly one with exclusive items, it’s critical to reduce shrink and manage liability. Security cameras help keep customers safe by deterring violent criminals and minimizing the likelihood of employee theft or fraud.

It may be less than obvious to small business owners that surveillance video also contains valuable business intelligence that may improve their businesses. Although video analytics have been around for years in various forms, they haven’t always been easy to use, or economical, at least not for a small business owner.

That’s what Steve Russell, founder and CEO of Prism Skylabs, had in mind when he started the company. As the former founder and CEO of 3VR, Russell knows about surveillance and analytics.

“There is powerful information hidden within video, but extracting and understanding it can be difficult and time-consuming,” Russell said. “Prism excels at distilling important insights and presenting them in ways that are visually stunning and easy to understand.”

Once a business downloads Prism’s cloud-based service, the tool automatically identifies and connects with the existing video cameras and video management systems in the store. The service helps businesses of all sizes, such as retailers, grocers and restaurants, easily run a suite of analytics. For example, business owners can measure customer counts, dwell time and movement. Beyond that, they can measure product lift, understand long-term trends and estimate crowd size in any location or environment. Rather than creating data reports and spreadsheets that can be difficult to understand, Prism Skylabs does something completely different: it creates visualizations of the data that can be understood by anyone—whether the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the owner of a mom-and-pop grocery store.

Just ask Sunhee Moon, fashion designer, small business owner and store manager for her eponymous boutique women’s clothing stores in San Francisco.

Better than Video

For a small business owner like Moon, who is busy running her stores, managing inventory, designing clothing and purchasing fabric, there’s no time to watch video. But as a savvy business owner, she’s always on the look-out for new tools to help manage her stores.

“I heard about Prism from my neighbor, and I was instantly intrigued,” she said.

With Prism’s software, she found answers to key questions: “Was the store open on time?” or “Is the store clean?” But that’s not all. Even more powerful data is hidden within the pixels and streams. Moon can answer questions like: “What products do customers pick up the most?” “How long are people waiting on line?” “Which area of the store do customers prefer to spend time in?”

“I use the software every day,” Moon said. “I use it to help me determine where I should put my displays and merchandise; I use it to make sure my staffing levels are perfect; and I use it to make sure my store looks great when I am on the road.”

Moon is one of the software developer’s earliest customers and staunchest advocates.

“It’s an incredible tool,” she said. “I used to have no idea about which side of the store my customers preferred or how many people were in my store at any given time. I now get the information I need to better run my business. Their reports, all of which use aggregate data and protect the privacy of my customers, really help me out.”

“Prism is about getting insights to the people who need them whenever wherever they are,” said Russell. “We’ve built an application powerful enough for business owners to answer important questions, but also simple and mobile enough for everyday use by their teams.”

Immediate Setup

As a cloud service, the software solution can be up and running in minutes, a valuable feature for small business owners. No expensive truck pulls in or tricky integrations are required. Prism runs on Linux, Mac and Windows, and on 3VR, Exacq and Milestone products.

“It took me about 20 minutes to get it working,” Moon said. “I downloaded the software and it automatically found the cameras in my store. It took me a couple of hours to really understand all the features, but once I got going, it changed the way I run my business.”

Business owners are now able to remotely look into their stores—in real-time— from wherever they are and on virtually any device. Owners can zoom in on any aisle, shelf, display or store and view enhanced, detailed images from a smartphone, laptop or tablet.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Moon said. “I no longer have to be inside one of my stores to ensure that everything looks right. I call my employees and talk about our displays and mannequins, all of which I can see on my iPad. Then I use the analytics to understand customer patterns and trends, and talk with my employees about how to best arrange our merchandise.”

How it Works

From a security or loss prevention perspective, images and data are stored in the cloud for any length of time. It is a redundant archive for DVRs, cameras and hard drives that can only hold so much information or could be broken, stolen or destroyed.

Rather than streaming video, Prism creates visualizations and storyboards of customer activity and uses HDR-style technology, such as noise reduction, dynamic range adjustment and super resolution, to create the best possible image from the existing infrastructure. Through computer vision and computational photography, customers and employees can be removed from these images to give retailers like Moon uninhibited and privacy-protected remote access to their merchandise.

“There’s a lot of new technology coming out for retailers, and no one knows what things are going to be like in the next couple of years,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Security Today.

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