THE MAGAZINE

New Solutions to Old Problems

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

Before the pilot began, the loss prevention team brought in representatives from T-Mobile’s enterprise information technology group “because we knew this was going to be set on our network and required bandwidth,” says Davis. Loss prevention also brought in members of the physical security team, who had been responsible for loss prevention before the creation of Davis’s unit.

 
“We made it a multifunctional team working along with people from 3VR so that we could make this a successful pilot and not a half-effort set up for failure. We wanted to ensure that everyone’s concerns were met,” he states.
 
The types of deployments were varied to collect the most information about how the system would function in various settings. For example, at one location, the system was installed with megapixel cameras to see if that technology would allow for fewer cameras in stores. At another location, it was integrated with the store’s POS exception-reporting system to see how the two technologies functioned in tandem.
 
Making sure that T-Mobile’s network security was protected was also important. “Because we do collect such a massive amount of customer data, we’re very concerned that it is controlled and accessible only to people with the proper business need to access it,” Davis states. The system gives administrators the ability to strictly control who can access it.
 
Additionally, “It has a logging feature for every box so that I can see who made any changes or how long they were on it and what they did with the video they were looking at—for example, recorded it or took snapshots,” he says.
 
Davis says that during the pilot, IT issues such as network up-time were carefully monitored. Within the entire pilot, there was no time that the boxes were not feeding data to the company, he states. Another issue was that if this success were replicated across all T-Mobile stores, a disk failure would not interrupt video recording. That was good for the sake of uninterrupted surveillance but it also had a financial benefit—it meant fewer emergency technician repair calls, which would lead to an impressive cost savings.
 
“With the DVR that we had been using, if there was a disk failure, someone needed to be on site as soon as possible to replace the hard drive. Until that was done, there was no video captured—you were blind,” Davis explains. “The 3VR boxes have two disks, independent of each other, recording the same information. So, if there is a failure of one disk, the same information is being recorded on the second disk. The chance of a dual disk failure in one box at the same time is unlikely, so getting a technician there right away is not such a pressing issue.”
 
The system also has a proactive health alert. “If there’s a change in the box or an event within the box that may compromise its capability of functioning, it generates a message automatically,” says Davis. For instance, if a camera is accidentally unplugged, the system sends T-Mobile’s enterprise security operations center a message saying the camera has been down since a certain time. “They go in remotely through the network and identify if it’s something they can correct. If they can, they do; if not, they generate a service ticket,” he explains.
 
The pilot, which ended in June, was so successful that the company chose to incorporate the 3VR system into all new stores as well as to add it to existing stores in higher-risk markets.
 
By the time the pilot ended in June, the team had gained some valuable insight about incidents and those who commit them. For example, security found that it is not unusual for “a person who commits fraud against us to also be a customer legitimately, on other accounts,” explains Davis.
 
He found that during forensic reviews of faces from other store locations, the face from the incident being investigated would come up again, tied to another transaction on another account. “So, now, I have gone from having no idea who this person was and no capability of ever identifying him to finding out not only who he is, but I also have all his contact, transaction, and other information—everything that I would need to take [the incident] to law enforcement,” Davis notes.
 
Since being installed more widely, the 3VR system has also proved its worth in burglary and robbery cases. It has long been known that criminals often case a store before the actual break-in or hold-up. With that in mind, the loss prevention team can review the faces of people in the store within the days before an incident to compare them to faces from the event.
 
And again, Davis explains, “It’s not unheard of that the person is a customer. He may have made a payment on his account or someone else’s account,” for instance, and thereby have tied himself to information that allows his identity to be known.
Cost-effectiveness. Davis says that as a result of using the system, research time for loss events “dropped considerably.”
 
As an example, he discusses the frequent theft of demonstration phones from store sales floors. Before the system was in place, it took field investigators an average of 45 to 90 minutes to retrieve the video data of the incident. Using the 3VR, search time dropped to 15 to 30 minutes.
 
Another cost-effective aspect of the project was that the use of megapixel cameras would allow the system to function at peak performance using fewer cameras. “If we can cover a store with five megapixel cameras instead of 12 to 15 analog cameras, the cost of peripheral hardware that the box uses can also be cut,” Davis says.
 
Most recently, return on investment is being further improved by finding nonsecurity uses that allow other groups within T-Mobile to benefit from the system. One example is its built-in people-counting capability. Davis says this saves the company from spending “thousands per store,” to have a system of counting customer traffic. The 3VR system can do that while carrying out its security function.
 
At the time of this interview, testing was being conducted to make sure that the 3VR system worked as efficiently as other people-counting systems. Davis states, “Right now, we’re seeing accuracy within 2 percent.”
 
T-Mobile is also exploring the possibility of using the system to provide the company with data on how long customers wait in line and how they interact with the demo equipment. “For example, how long does someone look at a Blackberry versus a Samsung,” explains Davis.
 
“We’ll work with 3VR to define custom analytics that are going to add value for the nonsecurity parts of the business. The more groups inside T-Mobile that get value out of the box, the lower the return-on-investment threshold is for each group involved,” notes Davis. And that helps make the case for approving the security purchase.

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