Using automation for workspace management and safety is not just about easing the transition out of lockdown – it’s about creating sustainable solutions for a new landscape.

The big challenges that security, facilities and operations managers are facing now are also an opportunity to improve processes and infrastructure in a way that delivers long term benefits.

Managing building occupancy, and the flow of people within buildings, is now a top priority.

Proven technologies already deployed

We already have proven technologies that allow organisations to adapt rapidly to this new imperative. And not only that, they deliver benefits of greater efficiency, tighter security, and a more pleasant environment, in addition to a more impressive experience for site visitors and employees.

Before the pandemic many of these solutions, offering a wider range of integrated tools and functions, had already been adopted, trialled and developed in the hospitality sector, in healthcare and manufacturing and in mixed-use developments such as skyscrapers combining office spaces with residential, retail and leisure.

Now, they have exciting potential for wider application everywhere from corporate offices to industrial and logistics sites.

Integrated security solutions

Integrated solutions are being used remotely to monitor, review and control events on site and this is freeing up security and FM managers from the need to always work from control rooms and offices. These tools are already available and allow core operations to be handled more flexibly. Although they are not new, in the current environment managers are finding more ambitious and confident ways to use them – in much the same way as organisations have discovered the real value of video conferencing.

Integrating systems and controlling functions and components remotely allows operations to continue unhindered even when managers can’t be on site, either because they are self-isolating, or because staggered shift patterns are necessary to avoid breaching site occupancy requirements. One obvious example: security control rooms can quickly become overcrowded if managers, shift supervisors and officers are all on site together. And in the future, when such restrictions aren’t necessary, this remote working capability will continue to add considerable value in terms of flexibility, efficiency and 24/7 oversight.

Video management software and operational efficiency

Better use is also now being made of VMS, with users setting up event alerts and configuring those sometimes-forgotten onboard analytics to receive push notifications not just to client software but to mobile apps too.

And AI video is already proving its worth in new ways, whether that’s onboard cameras or via VMS, that can be easily integrated into existing security management platforms. AI tools allow users to classify people and objects, helping them detect and then identify an event or threat, while filtering out video noise.  This gives control room operators the ability to proactively focus on responding to suspicious behaviour such as loitering, and pre-empting theft and other criminal activity as well ensuring they rapidly react and investigate real incidents and emergencies.

In our previous blog, we talked about the use of simple onboard analytics for people counting, heatmapping, and queue management, tools that are helping with occupancy density and supporting social distancing. In retail settings, these are not just being used for operational efficiency but also to lessen the negative impact on the customer experience – for example by providing AV screens showing wait times and safety information, as well as instore promotional messages.

Transforming the retail experience

But until recently, big data intelligence was the paragon of major supermarket chains with expert statisticians crunching vast amounts of consumer data gathered through sophisticated point of sale systems and loyalty card schemes.

Today smaller retailers of every kind can benefit from the power of AI video to experiment, modernize, and transform the retail experience without complex set ups, expensive hardware, or direct customer interaction.

Just a handful of cameras can now provide store managers and their marketing teams with a wealth of intelligence including dwell time, directional footfall, facial recognition, body language, and other behavioural analysis. And when used in combination with point of sale transactions, weather data and Wi-Fi, retailers can gain a deeper understanding of customer expectations beyond improving a store layouts, enhancing promotional displays or reducing queues at cash desks, but turning the customer journey into an authentic experience or a shopping mall into a true destination.

Bricks and mortar retail was already under pressure from e-commerce, but following the Covid-19 pandemic there is further pressure to attract consumers away from the convenience and relative safety of shopping online in their homes.  So, it’s especially important that retailers evaluate technology that will not only help them reopen in line with health and safety guidelines, but look for scalable solutions that will continue to deliver a return on experience (ROX) well into the future. And with shopping centres and high streets the heart and soul of many communities, there is intense interest and readily available support from surveillance vendors to help them to survive and prosper.

IP Audio and AV

PA systems and AV are also proving their worth in the retail sector in the fight to reduce the risk of infection and adhere with safety. Supermarkets have led the way with live and recorded public announcements such as information on stock levels or purchasing limits.  Similarly, AV displays at entrances are being connected to people counting systems that act as a traffic lights prompting customers when it’s safe to enter while providing them with real-time waiting times and safety messages.

Yet, overall, these are used in isolation, quite often because the PA systems use old analogue technology. A shift IP audio today could mean a prudent move for immediate requirements and longer terms benefits.  IP audio devices can be integrated into a security management platform, which makes them far more efficient and flexible. For example, when occupancy exceeds a certain limit the system could trigger a specific audio clip or automatically display messages around a store or mall.  Alerts can be triggered using virtual line cross to ask customers use hand sanitizer before using toilets or before entering specific areas such as fresh food aisles.

The same approach can be applied in many different settings, for example to encourage the use of hand sanitizer in reception lobbies or before entering meeting rooms, or to inform visitors about new Covid-secure restrictions – and in the future, after pandemic conditions are eased, this same IP audio infrastructure can be put to other uses to improve the customer or visitor experience with background music or safety, security or customer service.

Streamlining visitor management

The latest visitor management solutions are also helping businesses automate human processes and provide a practical solution to scheduling who arrives on their sites and when. Arrival authorisations can be easily set up and automated to help with staggered working times, and to reduce crowding and queuing.

In high rise settings this can help reduce pressure on elevators, with authorization codes allowing priority user groups to be established depending on location, time of day, risk factors, etc.

And the same technology is helping organisations manage more mobile workforces, allowing a more flexible mix of work locations to be used – with staff able to move between home working and multiple office locations.

In this time of change, visitor management solutions that leverage mobile apps are also helping maintain security, eliminating human contact with surfaces and alleviating human interaction with security personnel.

And with working patterns changing and a focus on hygiene and safety there’s greater potential for security breaches. So, access control and site management need to be robust as well as flexible, with functions that make it easy for ID’s and work permits to be verified, and audit trails of individual movements through different access zones to be checked.

Change is happening fast, but technology is evolving faster

In the last few months, all businesses been affected in varying degrees by the Covid-19 pandemic with some even upturned completely with entire shutdowns. Yet security and FM managers have been moving quickly to adapt and continue to do so as they begin the arduous task of safely reopening and welcoming staff and customers back to their premises.

So, it’s more important than ever that organisations focus on innovative technologies, that won’t just help them adhere to immediate safety and hygiene measures but have the flexibility and scalability that will pay dividends in the new economic landscape that comes next.