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Essential Services for Essential Businesses
Technologies IT and Loss Prevention Leaders Should be Adopting or Evaluating
As essential services businesses continue to operate throughout the global health crisis, they are bracing for an expected increase in IT and physical security challenges. Operations, IT and asset protection professionals are charged with finding ways to leverage current and emerging technologies to secure and scale their operations. Especially in our current climate, they are being asked to identify and evaluate the key technologies that will help them stay connected and protected and that make the most sense to integrate into their operations.
Already stretched, as they deal with smaller teams and tighter budgets, it’s hard for these industry professionals to properly stay on top of all the latest advancements. A managed service provider can act as an extension of the team to help assess needs and evaluate new technologies to see if they would be the right fit. They can also use experience gained by working with a number of similar clients to customize a bundled solution that’s most appropriate for a specific situation.
Managed service providers such as Interface are keeping a close watch on the various technologies that are continuously developing as well as those that are emerging. More than ever, we are talking to customers to find out which technologies they are already using and which ones they are beginning to adopt. Here’s a look at a few of those standout technologies — including Interactive Video Monitoring, new applications for Artificial Intelligence, 4G/5G/wireless WAN, SD-WAN, and Voice Over IP with remote collaboration.
Interactive Monitoring systems directly address safety and security concerns for employees and customers. These systems, which offer live video and two-way audio, have been critical for many businesses and are gaining considerable momentum. For businesses that are either lightly staffed or have no security guard, a virtual guard solution offers safety at a fraction of the cost of a live, on-premises resource. For many essential businesses that are still open and operating throughout the pandemic, this solution provides a security team that can see, hear and communicate with employees in a store, restaurant or other business. In some of the newer applications, the voice down feature provides the ability to not only make public announcements during store openings, closings or cash drops but can also address social distancing, food safety compliance and crime prevention. Employees also have the ability to trigger an alarm if they see something suspicious or have an emergency and get an immediate response from a live person who can assess the situation and safely intervene.
Throughout the day, remote intervention specialists can conduct virtual guard tours by tapping into live audio and video feeds to check the premises, similar to what an on-premises security guard would do. Once complete, the specialist might then ask the location if all is well and seek an affirmative response from the employees. The purpose of this is three-fold. It lets customers know there’s a security presence watching over the location and provides them with peace of mind. It also alerts potential shoplifters and other threat actors that they are being watched. Finally, it provides the employees of the store with a sense of security knowing that they are not alone.
Many businesses that are still operating are also offering new and/or alternative services such as curbside pickup. They are looking to expand their current security solutions to go beyond what’s inside their location to also cover areas just outside their doors. The right partner can help evaluate current systems and provide recommendations on how to expand coverage to protect human and other assets in new ways to cover those new needs.
Something we’re often asked about is how artificial intelligence applications can be leveraged to make business processes more effective. We have been testing out some really great facial recognition technology that has the potential to be a game changer. Businesses can marry facial recognition technology with video monitoring to enable new applications such as people counting at stores. While stores are under mandatory capacity constraints, this could be used to create alerts around exceeding capacity without manually counting people with a clicker at the door. With a camera pointing out and another pointing in, we can subtract those leaving from those entering to get a net number of people in the store. Facial recognition offers a much more accurate way to count people than many alternative solutions on the market.
The same technology can be used to thwart shoplifters by creating alerts that are tied to specific suspect faces based on previous issues. If a person with a tagged face is identified as they enter a store, an immediate alert can be provided to a monitoring center for quick intervention. As described earlier, making an announcement when that suspected shoplifter enters is a great way to let that person know they are being watched and that will likely change their behavior. While this technology has the potential to really enhance the security space, it also triggers significant questions over privacy concerns and requires restrictions on storing and handling a facial image, so caution is also urged.
In the networking space, let’s start by taking a look at 4G/5G/wireless WAN. This is an area that addresses some real pain points for many businesses. Operations and IT professionals are trying to help their businesses get enough bandwidth to run more applications over their network and enable seamless performance. Terrestrial broadband connections are often expensive or not available. 4G LTE is a right here, right now technology that works very well as a fixed location broadband service. While 5G is being deployed by the big three carriers, they are initially focused on dense cities and mobile customers, and not yet on fixed location broadband solutions. 5G has some technological challenges with signal reception inside buildings that are still being resolved. With that said, 5G isn’t quite ready yet, but we’re keeping our eyes on it because of its great potential. Meanwhile, we provide thousands of locations with dual 4G LTE connections where all store applications rely on that connection—even VoIP— and performance and reliability have been excellent.
One caution with wireless is that the wireless carriers offer the service as a metered plan or with caveats on their “unlimited” plans. We look forward to truly unlimited wireless plans! For now, the key is to be smart with what’s being deployed, and which applications are appropriate. For example, a business offering guest Wi-Fi might want to avoid a metered use 4G/5G connection which can get very expensive very quickly. One strategy we recommend that solves the bandwidth challenge is to combine 4G with cable or high-speed DSL, using 4G as a backup or for business-critical applications, and running the bandwidth intensive applications on the terrestrial circuit with some intelligent routing.
Something else on our radar that’s becoming increasingly important across a variety of businesses, are pop-up networks. They’re innovative new ways of doing business for workforces in the field or temporary locations and are pushing for secure and easy to deploy connectivity that can be remotely monitored and managed. Interface has strategic partnerships with both Cradlepoint and Fortinet, as well as various wireless carriers, to deliver a fully managed wireless service to businesses. Look out for more exciting announcements and promotions in the upcoming months!
Another technology that is gaining a lot of attention is SD-WAN. Many IT leaders have either already adopted it or are in the process of evaluating the various offerings. Since many of the SD-WAN solutions can be rather pricey, it’s smart to ask such questions as, what does SD-WAN mean for a typical business that is on a tight budget? Generally, stores, restaurants and businesses require a cost-effective network connection that’s high speed, reliable and works well with critical applications. To address that, we offer a cost-effective and secure version of SD-WAN that can be customized with features that IT leaders can build on and that is very focused on those goals. Interface partners with Fortinet on its secure and scalable SD-WAN technology. Interface can fully manage the equipment including routers/firewalls and switches and works closely with each customer to ensure that their specific requirements have been met and applications are managed properly.
Voice over IP
If an enterprise has not yet converted to Voice over IP, it should certainly look into doing so. VoIP solutions deliver simple, powerful and cost-effective calling services for distributed enterprises. We partner with Star2Star and can provision VoIP services with our fully managed network solutions or over an enterprise’s existing network. Our service is bundled with unlimited local calling, free long distance on network, four-digit enterprise-wide dialing and voicemail and ‘find-me-follow-me’ to make it easy to be contacted no matter where you are physically.
Those who have already converted to the solution are really benefiting from our cloud-based auto attendant. The value here is that when someone calls a store or business, the phone is not actually ringing at the location. It’s ringing a cloud-based auto attendant which presents the caller with clear options from there. For instance, if the caller is looking for directions or for business hours, there’s no need for the call to be transferred to the store or business location. Those kinds of questions can be answered with a recording. If the customer really wants to speak directly with someone at the location, there’s an option for them to transfer. By doing this correctly, businesses can reduce between 50 to 60 percent of the calls that come in. And while there is some management involved, such as updating information like store or business hours, the customers that we’ve deployed it for absolutely love it, especially when they’ve asked us to manage and maintain the information as it changes throughout the year.
Customers also appreciate the ability to define ring groups and call flows that can be used to dial specific phones in a specific order or in response to different conditions. If no one is available to take the call in a store, for example, after a certain number of rings, the call can automatically be routed to a call center to be handled by the next available agent. Or it could be routed to a cell phone. Or to another store. There are many possibilities. Additionally, there are business continuity/disaster recovery options for VoIP that, in the event of a disaster, can reroute calls from one location to another all from a cloud-based console. Finally, we can provide detailed reporting on call activity across all your locations which is something that was impossible to do with legacy systems.
There are many other interesting emerging technologies on the horizon. Some we haven’t covered yet but look forward to announcing soon such as wristband wearable monitoring systems with audio/photo clips or cameras that can detect people with fevers. We already have some of these in our labs being studied, tested and assessed. Here, we’ve looked at a number of technologies that have been making serious inroads in various businesses and are currently being deployed. Many are directly making a difference in our current climate. A managed service provider such as Interface, with years of deep networking and security expertise, can help business, IT and security professionals make the right choices when deciding which technologies are ripe for deployment. We then work closely with them to design, integrate and support custom solutions to meet their unique challenges.