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December 23, 2020

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Safety solutions to thrive in the face of COVID and beyond

Kevin Waterhouse of VCA Technology argues that, while focusing on safeguarding people here and now, companies can choose technologies that also enable them to unlock business success in the long run.

Few businesses were prepared for this year’s events; none could have predicted them. The sudden restrictions enforced to contain the spread of coronavirus meant companies had to pivot, almost overnight, to new strategies, meaning major shifts in terms of operations and people management. Offices switched to working from home, stores and banks ramped up their digital offering, and essential business premises that remained open embraced new technologies to ensure operations continued efficiently and safely. The strain was undoubtedly significant on health and safety teams, responsible for keeping workplaces secure as they sought to drive business continuity amid the pandemic.

Of course, such an immediate shift meant businesses had to find and implement practical solutions quickly, with the main focus being addressing pressing issues in the here and now. That being said, in our view, this is a short-sighted approach. Choosing new technologies with only current challenges in mind is not the best way to determine investments amid the economic downturn – new projects should be chosen considering short-and long-term ROI. While focusing on safeguarding customers and employees in the current circumstances is obviously vital, companies should choose technologies that also enable them to unlock business success in the long run.

Thermal imaging booms

Coronavirus Thermal ImagingThis summer, as some lockdown restrictions were lifted, businesses sought ways to reopen their premises to stoke revenues. One solution that stood out to many was thermal imaging. The value of the technology in terms of safeguarding health and safety, in light of the virus, was clear: it helps to monitor people’s temperature as they approach an entrance to an office or commercial location, barring them from entering, should their temperature be higher than normal, thereby preventing infections at their premises.

While this might seem like a good initial investment to companies hoping to maintain staff wellbeing and return to some form of business as usual – whether it be with restrictions lifting, or during lockdown for essential locations – this technology doesn’t necessarily unlock long-term value. While thermal imaging is great to keep out potentially infected employees or customers, it’s also inaccurate, and relies on someone infected running a temperature, which they may not be. It relies on a perfect set of circumstances and, in our view, could prove to be an unfruitful investment over time, as it doesn’t help address other equally important problems: like where infected people have been, how close people within a space are, or how many people are on premises.

The question is: are there technologies that not only require minimal investment, but can provide enhanced business intelligence too – not just now, but also moving forward into the long-term? The answer is yes – and it’s the humble CCTV.

The value of pose estimation

Many are unaware that video analytics can add great value to businesses – now and beyond the current situation. For example, pose estimation, also known as skeletal analysis, can map people’s position in a way that is unique to everyone, meaning it can track on-prem movements with utmost accuracy. For starters, it can detect incidents, which often take place in warehouses or stores where large objects are lifted and carried from one key location to another, enabling managers to address these immediately, and provide prompt support to injured staff.

When surveillance is enhanced by video analytics, it can also monitor customer behaviour, in a privacy-compliant manner, and uncover valuable business intelligence. For example, it can allow retailers to know in which areas of a store customers dwell the most, it can alert them of long queues so they know to deploy more staff at cash registers; or spot suspicious behaviour that could betray shoplifting. At a time where businesses are striving to make up for a challenging year, particularly from a profit perspective, a technology that can combine safety with business value represents a hugely handy ally.

Stopping the spread, if infections do get in

Looking to the future doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t do their best to prevent customers and employees from contracting COVID-19 today. We’ve talked about how thermal can in some instances detect a temperature and stop an infected person entering. But many carrying the disease will not be running a fever, so other preventative measures are vital in limiting a potential spread. The name of the game is occupancy management. Pose estimation can take people counting to unparalleled levels of accuracy in the first instance, enabling only a limited number of people in a space at once, thereby making it easier to contain infections. Alerts and alarms can be set up to advise operators when maximum capacity is approaching, helping to stem the flow of ingress and egress.

Think of supermarkets where, regardless of COVID-19 restrictions, staff and customers simply have to  go to procure essential goods. Think of warehouses, the backbone of retail and the very reason businesses can continue to operate during this challenging time. In these and more business locations, video analytics, turbo-charged by skeletal analysis, can help health and safety leads make sure people keep a safe distance. The tool can also generate alerts when staff leave their assigned area, which could mean they are in close proximity with others, presenting virus-related risks. It’s apparent that with one simple vehicle, video surveillance, companies can look to address a series of challenges, from keeping people safe, to streamlining operations and discovering useful information to improve sales. Crucially, deciding between this sort of investment and one that only tackles one obstacle – i.e. keeping potentially infected individuals out – could make or break an organisation’s success in today’s testing climate.

It’s nearly impossible to predict what the business world has in store and, in particular, what companies will need in months and years to come, in terms of health and safety. This uncertainty, however, makes one thing crystal clear: flexibility and optimisation will determine winners and losers. Those who implement solutions that help iron out more issues than one, streamlining security and unlocking business intelligence, are those who will thrive during the pandemic and beyond.

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