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EXCLUSIVE: Paul Smith upgrades IP video

By Retail Technology | Friday February 14 2014

British fashion designer updates surveillance and security systems across its UK and international store estate to boost loss prevention and operations management

Paul Smith is deploying new internet protocol (IP) based video technologies across its entire store estate, as part of the UK-based retailer’s first, comprehensive, estate-wide IT refresh.

The fashion designer brand, which has a retail presence in 35 countries and 24 stores in the UK, is using Milestone XProtect Corporate open platform IP video management software together with XProtect Smart Client and Axis network cameras.

The new IP video system is initially being used for loss prevention. But once it has gone fully live by the end of 2015, Paul Smith also plans to use it to provide business intelligence (BI) information to retail operations management. 

Global migration to IP video 

Paul Smith is an early adopter of IP and cloud-based services. For example, in 2001 it was the first large UK-based company to migrate to IP telephony – installing a companywide Cisco IP Telephony (IPT) network. Having embraced the latest IT management approaches, including use of open architected systems and Microsoft-based systems, the company has been able to maintain a relatively small network services team of less than 20 people, despite very rapid growth. 

This approach means that when new IT challenges present themselves Lee Bingham, Paul Smith head of IT, looks for standards-based technologies that are capable of scaling quickly and effectively. He specifies that new systems and services must also last a minimum of 10 years, because he simply does not have the manpower or budget to support continual upgrades and renewal of devices and software. 

Paul Smith’s legacy CCTV estate had grown organically as the group expanded around the world. When the IT department was asked to take over running Paul Smith’s CCTV systems, Bingham insisted that it must be moved to IP video and be visible on the corporate network. “If it’s not IP then it’s not IT,” he said, “and therefore it made no sense to move its management from our facilities management team over to the IT department unless the CCTV system was going to be accessible on the network by authorised managers from their desktops.”

The company backed the IT department’s three-year CCTV to IP video surveillance global migration plan. Based on Milestone XProtect Corporate management software, as well as Axis network cameras and video encoders, the installation and networking of the new system is being carried out as part of a global IT infrastructure upgrade, along with new electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
Video system requirements 

Paul Smith’s CCTV estate had grown in a piecemeal way as new stores were fitted out over the last 20 years. Local security installers had been hired to fit low-cost and standalone CCTV systems. There was no standard blueprint and no maintenance agreements were put in place to keep the systems working effectively after installation. So failure rates were high. Many cameras never performed properly and video recordings were often too poor to use for evidential purposes. It was also slow and difficult to move video recordings back to Paul Smith’s administrative headquarters for post-event analysis. 

The Paul Smith facilities management department, as well as its store managers and loss prevention team, had become unconvinced of the value of in-store surveillance to reduce shoplifting and stock shrinkage. So the Paul Smith IT department researched the market, looking for robust, scalable IP video hardware and software. 

After a comprehensive evaluation process, the retailer chose to work with Milestone and Axis. A plan was also agreed for the IT department to take over maintenance of the existing legacy CCTV equipment until the IT and IP video upgrade could be completed. Axis video encoders were also selected to bring some CCTV cameras onto the corporate network where there was an urgent requirement ahead of the full IT and IP video upgrade. 

Bingham commented: “The fact that Milestone XProtect is built on an open platform architecture using Microsoft Active Directory makes rapid roll out, as well as cost effective maintenance and support, possible. Selecting of Milestone XProtect enables us to migrate the whole CCTV estate onto a single platform and establish uniformity and consistency. 

“Our objective, as soon as the new Milestone-based video systems have been rolled out globally, will be to build on this investment by extending its value beyond loss prevention. We plan to work closely with our retail management team to explore the power of the new IP video system – potentially deploying techniques such as facial recognition, heat mapping and dwell-time analytics that enable us to better understand and serve our customers.”

Providing platform for growth

He added: “From an IT management perspective Milestone XProtect fits our model perfectly. The open platform allows us to scale rapidly and add new services once all the cameras and servers have been installed, configured and networked globally. We can control which managers can see cameras from which stores through our standard technologies such as Microsoft Active Directory. This means we can ensure our UK retail territory manager can see all the cameras in all the UK stores. Area Managers can see cameras in the stores they look after and so on, right down to individual store managers, who can log on via Milestone XProtect Smart Client from their store PC and view the cameras that are deployed store-wide.

“We can now log in via the Milestone Smart Client front-end and retrieve live and recorded video from all those cameras anywhere in the world. If there is a problem we can generally fix it via the network from Nottingham without getting on an aeroplane. This saves management time and reduces our company’s carbon footprint. 

“Right now the system is only used if there is a known security incident. But in the future we expect different managers in specialist areas like visual merchandising will want to proactively access the cameras to view stores to assess whether agreed store layouts are being observed and whether they are working well for customers. When we get to this stage there will be a higher demand for mobile device access to video, which Milestone Mobile can provide.”

Loss prevention in action 

Just days after the Milestone system was installed in Paul Smith’s new store in Beak Street, London, there was a case of someone buying goods with a fraudulent US-based credit card. Bingham said: “Because the credit card was not chip & PIN compatible, they were able to complete the transaction. 

"But when we were alerted by the bank that this was fraudulent we were able to go to XProtect and quickly retrieve HD [high definition] quality images identifying the suspect and showing the fraudulent transaction in progress, including detail of the relevant receipt onscreen. This irrefutable evidence was passed to the authorities for prosecution.

“Incidents like this are helping the IT department justify the case for continued investment to senior management. Every year between now and the end of 2015 we’re aiming to refresh at least 15 existing stores, as well as manage installations in up to five new stores.”

Once the new IP video system is fully implemented Paul Smith will have a cost effective platform for integrating facial recognition capability into its operations. “Applications like this could be uploaded to local cameras or servers to monitor facial reaction to customers’ interactions with new merchandise or staff,” Bingham suggested. Facial recognition could also be used to detect and alert store managers if known shoplifters enter the store. 

“We see specific value in knowing our best customers wherever we are serving them,” he added. “We want our best online customers to be recognised as such when they come into store. There would be some logic in being able to integrate our CRM [customer relationship management] system with an IP video-based facial recognition system to ensure high value customers have the best possible experience instore. 

“You have to remember that it is five times more expensive to attract a new customer than retain an existing one. It is worth investing to ensure that customers get a seamless, high quality experience when they make trips to one of our stores.”

Bingham concluded: “We know video analytics can be used to study how customers walk through a store. Heat mapping and dwell-time analytics software could be used to analyse which displays are working best to attract and retain shoppers. Software can analyse dwell-time alongside images of customers actually picking up products and putting them in their baskets. Managers can use this business intelligence to investigate further and make improvements. It is this sort of capability that we will be looking to offer to Paul Smith managers in the coming years.”

Technical specifications


Milestone XProtect Corporate VMS sits on an HP Proliant DL380e Gen8 server, which holds up to 12TB of data, allowing for 30 days of 15 frames per second HDTV images collected on motion. Live and recorded video images can be viewed from each store’s PC, which runs all key instore applications. 

The typical Paul Smith store is fitted with a PC, IP telephony, 2 switches, a voice gateway, a CCTV server and eight to 12 AXIS M3014 720P POE Mini Dome Network Cameras. AXIS M3005-V Fixed Dome Network Cameras are being fitted in some outlets’ storerooms to monitor stock movements. Authorised management access to live and recorded video is via Milestone XProtect Smart Client. 

Paul Smith’s store estate IT upgrade includes a move from a CAT 5 to a CAT 7 Ethernet cabling infrastructure using the latest Cisco networking infrastructure and a BT multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) IP virtual private network (VPN). This delivers 10GB per second connections to all store-based desktops as well as providing IP-based voice, video and data services via a mixture of private and public cloud infrastructure. 

Lee Hayden, managing director of Paul Smith’s video system installer and Milestone partner, A1 Data Communications, reported: “Paul Smith is using us for all installations around the world to ensure total installation consistency and quality, so that if there are problems on any sites they can be managed more easily from its IT headquarters in Nottingham. We are roughly a third of the way through implementing IP video through all stores and the benefits are already starting to flow in.”

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