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Unlocking the potential of video surveillance data for retailers

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Companies worldwide, including retailers, record millions of hours of video footage at their stores every single minute. In fact, video surveillance data is one of the most significant drivers of the explosive growth in global datasphere.
However, many of the companies struggle to understand how they can apply it to do more for their business. In an age when data is fast becoming the lifeblood of the business world, retailers are intuitively aware of the great potential surveillance data holds for them, but they lack an understanding of exactly how to tap into that potential.
Part of the reason for this is that the nature of video surveillance has changed in recent years. Once regarded as an isolated, security-specific function, surveillance today is more properly understood to be a source for maintaining business continuity. Traditionally, video has helped support safety and security measures, and has also provided a layer of accountability and insurance. Transformed by mobility, the cloud and big data, video surveillance data is booming, and can now serve as a strategic system for business outcomes that go beyond addressing only security needs.
For example, a surveillance camera at a retail store can be a great tool that provides images that can be turned into measurable and actionable insights that help retailers reduce waste, enable stores to better manage stock levels and help drive better sales.
In order to reap the full benefits of video surveillance data, retailers must accurately plan and architect their storage systems to accommodate current and future growth, along with potential future uses for the data. At the heart of this planning are three fundamental questions to address:
– Where can I store digital video surveillance data?
– How can I cost-effectively store it for an indeterminate amount of time?
– How can I ensure the right people from across the company have access when they need it?
This shift from a one-size-fits-all, set-it-and-leave-it proposition to a model that accounts for data growth and subsequent requirements requires a radically different approach to video surveillance storage. The right storage architecture must be tuned to the specific business needs it is addressing, both today and in the future.
So what are the best practices to address the efficient storage challenge of video surveillance data?
Let’s begin with the good news. Similar challenges have been tackled in other arenas, including traditional IT data centers. In these settings, data is the primary driver for how everything is architected, designed and operated. The primary goal is to store data effectively and efficiently while protecting it.
The same holds true now with video surveillance data. Best practices from the data center arena demonstrate how the right architectural planning can enable retailers to accommodate data growth and still access what they need, and when they need it. The right architecture can also help turn video into a value engine for new business opportunities, like helping ensure the efficient operational flow of people and products, and informing more direct and tailored marketing and sales efforts.
Following are some of the key steps that can help achieve this:-
Expect growth, and plan to accommodate it
Three factors are driving today’s video surveillance data growth: The number of cameras used and the type of cameras used, along with requirements pertaining to how long retailers must retain data collected by those cameras. Specifically, technology trends are reducing the costs of camera technology, leveling the playing field and making it possible for retailers to incorporate more high-quality cameras into their surveillance systems. These higher-quality cameras, in turn, generate more data to manage. This, coupled with the fact that retention requirements—largely driven by regulations, insurance needs and other legal implications—are shifting from weeks to years, means retailers must balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s anticipated growth.
Retailers can successfully achieve this balance by establishing a growth model for video data and choosing a storage system that meets their current needs and can easily scale to accommodate future growth. Key things to look for in systems meeting these requirements include technology architectures that enable them to start with the smallest possible system without sacrificing on features, and ones that are built to take advantage of hard drive innovations and allow for the seamless addition of incremental storage technology as needed.
Anticipate every situation—including when things go wrong
The shifting use of video surveillance and its ability to maintain business continuity means video surveillance systems must remain highly available to record and capture data. However, system growth increases the number of moving parts and the potential for associated devices, like hard drives, to fail. Retailers can minimize risk by treating their video data as the final measure of security, and planning everything around it. Making data the focus can ensure that one can continue to record and access surveillance data, even when components fail.
Organizations should seek out systems designed to not only anticipate failures, but also to quickly recover from them if they occur, and include features like proactive failure detection, fast failure recovery and preemptive fixes to assure data availability. Systems designed with data as the central focus can handle component failures without video loss and are also able to recover fast from one failure before a second one can occur.
Plan for the longevity of data
Regardless of retention requirements associated with video surveillance policies, retailers should account for the possibility that they must retain at least some video data for years. To prepare, one should adopt a multi-tiered storage architecture so not all data is stored in one highly-available, high-performance, cost-intensive tier. A hierarchical storage system that moves older video data to a lower-cost storage tier is ideal for handling video archiving.
Adopt an Open Architecture
As technology continues to evolve, retailers should adopt an open architecture featuring a modular design. This will enable them to easily update individual parts in line with future technology trends without significantly disrupting the system’s overall architecture. For example, hard drive technology advances increase capacity and drive down the cost of drives. Changes in cameras and video management software may increase bandwidth needs of storage. A storage system must take advantage of these advances without requiring wholesale hardware replacement every time things change and evolve.
We have already seen video surveillance evolve from an isolated application to one that can contribute to a retailer’s bottom line with the right architectural support and planning. What the future holds beyond this evolution is anyone’s guess, but retailers can set themselves up for continued benefits by adopting a storage system that supports the open and seamless interface for data access needs of future applications, such as artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. Ultimately, having a plan for all data uses—including the non-traditional surveillance uses— can potentially help retailers squeeze as much value out of their data as possible.

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