By Mike Keenan, Managing Director, Retail Loss Prevention, TAL Global
The effective utilization of technology, both software and hardware, is essential to the success of every retail loss prevention leader. However, it is important to understand that technology, like anything, is only as good as how it is utilized. Technology is an enabler that impacts all areas of your responsibility. It includes everything starting with all company data bases and hardware and ending with LP specific technology. It enables you and your teams to work smarter, faster, and more efficiently. It offers the tools you need to capture and analyze data throughout the entire retail business. It has the capability to record video in all of your business locations, provide alarm protection to all of your facilities, protect your merchandise with EAS and RFID, track your incidents and investigations, identify fraud and cash losses, and track customer behaviors like purchases and returns. It can help you keep your stores and facilities safe and, when disasters strike, to determine the status of your employees and facilities. Virtually every type of data can be captured, monitored and analyzed.
Technology is truly amazing, except that, at the end of the day, it is only a tool.
Therefore, as an LP leader, how do you identify and utilize the right technology for your company? I recommend three things.
First, understand your business. I believe that you need to fully understand your company's business model and the current technologies it uses. This will require meeting with different business leaders throughout the company, especially with all areas of IT. These leaders will give you a solid understanding of the way the business works and the technologies that support it. As part of this process, I recommend that you make the effort to personally use the technologies. For example, there is nothing better than ringing transactions in a store or filling online orders in a distribution center to understand how a technology actually works. This will give you much better understanding of how the company operates as you move to the next step.
Second, determine your loss prevention strategy. Many LP leaders take existing LP technology and built their strategies around them. I believe that you should identify your strategy first and then find the technology that enables you to execute your strategy. Although most technology is similar, such as, cameras, exception reporting, video analytics, EAS, RFID and alarm systems, an effort should be made to find the technology that fits best with your strategy and is compatible with your company's business model and IT systems.
Third, in order to determine the best LP technology to fit your strategy, learn as much as you can about retail LP technology. It is important to understand what technology is out there and how it works. What software systems (e.g. exception reporting, case management, video analytics, etc.) and what types of hardware (e.g. cameras, NVRs, alarms, EAS, RFID, etc.) are currently available? How is data and video captured and stored (e.g. cloud, servers, etc.)? How is data and video retrieved and formatted? By learning what’s available, you can find the best fit for your strategy and your company.
How do you learn about available LP software and hardware? Vendors. We have an industry that is supported by hundreds of vendors who all have software and hardware designed to help you execute your LP strategies. You don’t have to be an expert yourself on all of these technologies. Every one of them will provide you with a detailed demo of their product(s). Take the time to go through those demos. I guarantee that you will learn something from each of them. Include key business partners in the demos, most importantly, IT. For example, it does you no good to look at software that requires access to the company network that IT will not grant access due to bandwidth limitations. However, by learning about the software, you may decide that the potential LP value is worth making a business case to increase the bandwidth or to be prepared to roll it out when the company increases their bandwidth during a future expansion.
A great venue for learning about new and existing technologies and their application are retail conferences specifically in the exhibit areas. Both vendors and practitioners attend these events and impart valuable insights. It also gives you the opportunity to compare technologies side by side. In order to maximize the benefit of a conference, I recommend looking at as many technologies as possible that interest you. If you identify a technology that you think might fit your strategy, you can follow up with the vendor later and get an in depth look at their product(s).
As LP continues to evolve as an industry, technology is essential to that evolution. Make sure you are keeping up with technology by creating effective partnerships with vendors. The right match of strategy and technology is a win-win for both you and the vendor. Plus, share your strategic vision and ideas with your trusted vendor partners, as the next new LP technology could be born from that partnership.