Video Analytics Reincarnated

By Christina Volpe, Associate Editor | March 03, 2010

If you were to ask a hospitality executive to define the function of video surveillance systems in this industry, it is highly likely that he or she will automatically associate it with preserving site security. Although it is true that this technology is historically synonymous with premises monitoring and safety, new uses have been quickly cropping up in hospitality over the past few years. Thanks to spill-over from military and government agencies, video surveillance systems in hospitality are becoming more and more sophisticated through the integration of analytic applications that turn traditional video into uber intelligence gathers. Restaurant operators, for example, have been leveraging video analytics to crack down on losses accrued at the point of sale (POS) through integrated solutions that provide detailed POS transactions with irrefutable video surveillance evidence. On the lodging front, video analytics is now a front line weapon to counteract the struggles associated with optimizing labor, customer service and more.

"The safety features are all great, and that is what analytics was deigned for, but it didn't really give us a ton of a return on investment," says Dean McBride, VP of enterprise security for Harrah's Entertainment. "Our culture is created around a service profits chain which means that if we have loyal employees who have great customer service, we then have that with customers. Now we can use the same technology to tell us when service is breaking down."

Military applications with a hospitality spin
Thanks to an ongoing partnership with Cisco (www.cisco.com), Harrah's (www.harrahs.com) is taking military video analytics applications and revamping them to fit the needs of a number of its properties. Perimeter lines, which can be made directional, become a perfect tool for counting foot traffic especially when it comes to gauging the success of new slot machines, says McBride.  

"We can obviously count how many times the [slot machine] handle was pulled, but what we don't know is how many people walked past it and grabbed their attention. When we have an underperforming point in our casino it is tough to figure out what is wrong. Maybe we bought the wrong slot machine; it might be a flat traffic flow. There is no real answer unless analytics is applied. You can count how many people walk by and how many change direction."

In addition to the perimeter line, a loitering function (which was originally designed for riot control) can now be used at the cashier cage as a way to count not only heads, but to determine service needs and accurately analyze traffic trends in real-time. McBride recalls a situation in which video analytics helped Harrah's to identify a break in service at one of its properties.

"Our whole world is built on Friday to Saturday. Every Wednesday at three [o'clock] we saw a break in business, and for some odd reason we had a very large peak. And we wouldn't have known that [without analytics]." A similar application can be applied at restaurant buffet lines to determine service levels. "We now know that if the line gets too long, it sends a text page to the manager saying that we have reached a perimeter and they need to add a new cashier."

Additional uses
While the use of video analytics to maintain service levels and gauge slot machine placement were born out of creative applications, other areas of use are pretty straight forward. In jurisdictions that require Harrah's to take a headcount, it can be very time and labor intensive to carry this out manually. Enter video analytics. "It saves us a ton on money and labor."

Although not currently in use at any of the Harrah's casinos in this capacity, McBride notes that video analytics can be helpful when used to measure audience movement following a show. "You can actually use analytics to count directionally how many head to gamble. We can compare a Willie Nelson concert to a comedian and find out which one in our guest set entices more people to stay and gamble than to leave for the night."
 

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