SURVEILLANCE is a staple of retailers who struggle to rationalise the paradox of securing large retail outlets holding huge quantities of stock that must always be accessible to the hands of thousands of shoppers every day. The nature of the retail business is such that CCTV, as well as acting as a deterrent, must be a capable investigative tool for security and safety purposes and it must be easy to manage and agnostic to future developments in surveillance and IP technology.
There are other unique characteristics of many retail stores that pose a challenge and these may include legacy cabling or a store fitout designed to maximise product display, not to allow clear lines of sight. Stock picking times are another nightmare for any surveillance system with narrow aisles filled with towers of cartons as stock pickers reload shelves periodically obscuring the views of poorly placed cameras.
A defining aspect of the installation Top Performance undertook for Champions IGA in Victoria wasn’t just that it covered 2 stores in different locations, there are also hybrid considerations. The new store at Whittlesea is full IP, while the store at Kangaroo Flat combines existing analogue cameras with encoders, networked storage and an IP-based video management system so as to leverage existing investment while enhancing system functionality.
According to Champion IGA’s Jai Munday, the purpose of the solution was multifarious. The system needed to offer better performance, greater reliability and to be future proof.
“At Whittlesea we needed a solution that was expandable without replacing the central DVR every time we added a camera or 2,” explains Munday. “We also needed better image clarity than the normal systems we use not just for theft prevention but also for customer and staff safety. The clarity of the HD IP cameras also allows us to reduce the number of cameras we would have needed based on the analogue systems we have used in the past.
“Meanwhile, at Kangaroo Flat our analogue DVR had failed and we wanted a solution, like Whittlesea, that ensured we weren’t locked into a proprietary system we were also replacing when we needed to upgrade the cameras there.
“By replacing the DVR with and IP-based server and analogue-to-IP encoders we are half way there without the expense of replacing the entire system. We can also start natively adding IP cameras immediately or replace the analogue ones with IP as they fail.”
In terms of the selection process, Munday says the solution and camera chosen was suggested by Lan1 and this was then investigated by the Champions IGA IT Team and sample footage viewed to ensure the solution was right for the job. The final signoff was made by Champions IGA’s CEO.
Meanwhile, Lan 1’s Basil Delimitros says the system design was a joint effort between Champions IGA, Top Performance and Lan 1.
“Champions IGA and Top Performance worked on camera placement and business requirement, while the Lan 1 team designed the network infrastructure, recording server and user access system,” Delimitros explains.
“Camera positioning was selected on the original drawings for the site and final positions and camera selection were settled upon site inspection by Champions IGA and Top Performance when cabling was installed.
“Once the initial system introduction and demonstration was done and a review of previous customer experience was completed, the Champions IGA team were happy for Top Performance/Lan1 to lead the system development and implementation.”
Importantly, pre-configuration for both sites was conducted at the Lan 1 premises. This is another key element of this installation and it was clever work from Lan 1.
“The systems were built, documented and tested prior to going on site,” says Delimitros. “This was done to minimise the amount of time required onsite.
The IGA solution
Bear in mind at this juncture that all network components of this solution are installed on subnets on Cat-6 cable that can be accessed by authorised workstations located on the general data network. But before we start on the network aspects of this solution, let’s pick through the front end of the system, starting with the hybrid solution at Kangaroo Flat.
At the beginning of the Champions IGA project the Kangaroo Flat sites was not being considered for an upgrade to Milestone and server-based recording. But a sudden failure of the original DVR meant that the mixture of analogue cameras from multiple manufacturers was no longer being recorded and could not be managed.
“The Milestone and Axis system was introduced because the original DVR had failed and a replacement system was needed urgently,” says Delimitros. “The plan in the future is to upgrade these to IP and high resolution cameras and the new IP system allows us to do this at a moment’s notice.”
In terms of system layout the 32 analogue cameras jump onto the network via Axis M7010 16 channel encoders. These cameras are recording to a Dell server with 4TB of storage running the Milestone XProtect Express platform. Cameras can be viewed either directly on the server, or from a workstation within the LAN environment.
Things are different over at Whittlesea, which was a green field site with 35 Axis cameras covering a range of applications in the store, at entry points and in the more challenging environment of the underground carpark.
Handling aisles and internal areas are Axis M3004 cameras, while Axis P3354 cameras take care of the entry points. Parking duties are supported by the vandal proof Axis P3364.
All the Axis cameras were supplied to Top Performance through Lan 1 and there was a selection process that involved some objective testing to ensure the best cameras were chosen for the job.
“The Axis cameras were selected by Champions IGA after reviewing the market and conducting some testing,” Delimitros explains. “They are very happy with the end result, particularly with the internal M3004 cameras. These are producing fantastic images and don’t suffer the ‘white out’ effect a lot of entry level cameras display when faced with intense reflections off the white floors of supermarkets.”
Taking care of Ethernet at Whittlesea is an Alcatel Lucent PoE switch. There’s a 6TB Dell server at Whittlesea handling storage and management duties via Milestone XProtect and again images can be viewed on a monitor at the server or across the LAN on an authorised workstation. There are also display monitors located at entrances of the store.
While image streams from both sites are recorded locally, they can also be viewed at the Champions IGA head office in Bendigo using Milestone XProtect. According to Delimitros, Milestone XProtect platform was selected because it is an IT friendly system in that there is no extraordinary network settings to factor into the design, simplicity of the licensing and ease of use.
“From the Bendigo head office, the same client software, XProtect SmartClient allows the user to dial into any of the locations to view image streams live or to review and extract footage. This is a real timesaver compared to the antiquated analogue systems of the past,” he explains.
Important, too, the system design implemented at these 2 stores means it can be implemented across the group in the future.
Despite the complexity of the sites, which include their large size and the challenges of installing hardware in a busy retail environment, Jim Giantsios, communications consultant for Top Performance says there were no standout difficulties.
“No problems were encountered with the installation because we followed a methodical plan,” Giantsios explains. “Systems were tested at Lan 1 prior to being delivered on site so that it became a plug and play affair once we were in the stores.
“Although the IP CCTV system is independent of the company network, the IT team provide the network interconnect to allow remote site access and we worked with the IT manager of Champions IGA throughout the installation process.”
Excluding the cablers who also did the camera fit-off, Giantsios says only 2 techs were involved in installing this solution. These included Lan 1’s technical team member who handled the pre-configuration work and a Top Performance tech who handled on-site installation.
Both sites were relatively simple installations, according to Giantsios. He says that excluding fit off and cabling works, each system took approximately 8 working hours in the office with a further 3 hours on-site to commission the system.
“The Kangaroo Flat site had no cameras to add as we were using the existing analogues while Whittlesea was a fresh installation with new IP cameras. In fact, pre-site installation of the Milestone system on the servers combined with camera licensing and set up of the video recording properties took the majority of the time required during commissioning.”
Surveillance is a complex logistical operation with a busy retail environment to deal with. As a rule some careful planning is involved in getting systems installed. But Giantsios says the installation team was very fortunate at both sites.
“Whittlesea was a new site so we were able to commission the site with no created downtime,” he says. “At Kangaroo Flat on the other hand, we planned to cut over early in the morning and the new system simply worked.”
Meanwhile, Delimitros says there was never any doubt that the system could be finished in time.
“We had no doubts,” he says. “This was well planned from beginning to end and follow up visits are scheduled only to review the system performance and maintain the ‘high touch’ support that Champions IGA has enjoyed in the past.”
One of the great things about an IP system is that it’s virtually future-proof and this means that camera upgrades can be made at any time to existing network infrastructure. It’s clear that for Champions IGA this open architecture was a key consideration and that Lan 1 and Total Performance has delivered in spades.
“Adding cameras to the system is now done by a factor of one rather than a factor of 16,” Delimitros says, referring to the former need to replace an entire DVR in the event of failure. “These IP systems we’ve deployed have an allowance for growth, but the software platform through the Software Upgrade Plan (SUP) also allow for latest updates, features and the latest cameras to be added to the system.”
The system will be maintained by the Champions IGA IT team, however, software updates and additional camera requirements will be managed by Top Performance
It’s clear that this installation was simplified by pre-commissioning work handled by Lan 1, with commissioning and installation be relatively simple processes that show the growing maturity of IP video surveillance solutions.
Final say on a system like this should always go to the end user and it’s clear the new system benefits the end user most in its operational capability. For many in the electronic security industry it’s been so long since we drove an analogue-based CCTV solution managed by a VCR style VCR we’ve forgotten how labour intensive the process can be.
According to Champions IGA’s Jai Munday the biggest difference in the system, aside from much improved camera performance, is that staff managing the system no longer have to trek to the network room and sit in front of the DVR to view footage. Instead store managers handle the system using a smart client on their own workstations. It sounds like a small thing but this ability to access a system’s full functionality on a network connected workstation is the heart and soul of IP video surveillance.
Product installed by Total Performance for Champions IGA includes:
* 35 Axis M3004, P3354 and P3364 cameras (Whittlesea)
* Milestone XProtect Express
* Dell servers
* Alcatel Lucent PoE switch
* Axis M7010 16 channel encoders (Kangaroo Flat)