At BJ’s Wholesale Club, maintaining a safe and secure environment is of utmost importance — both for our employees and our customers. In order to meet future development plans and replace failing older technology, we needed a solution that could help us to identify and investigate theft, fraud, intrusion and trespassing while leveraging our existing network infrastructure. The system also needed the capability to integrate with point-of-sale to link video with transaction information.
We quickly determined our organization required a future-proof solution. Moreover, with plans to keep growing the chain, and new clubs opening in various locations, we needed to rethink our video surveillance strategy for new installations. We embarked on a search for a more robust solution that would meet our stringent security, safety and asset protection needs, and as it turned out, IP technology was just what we needed.
Scope of the Upgrade
BJ’s Wholesale Club introduced the warehouse club concept to New England in 1984. Headquartered in Westborough, Mass., our company operates more than 195 clubs in 15 states with 107 gas stations and three main distribution centers. We employ more than 24,000, and we sell everything from general merchandise to fresh meat and perishables across our retail enterprise.
In a club environment as large as BJ’s Wholesale, response time to potential incidents is paramount. Large equipment, such as forklifts, are frequently used to transport goods for restocking and products are commonly stored on large pallets. The combination of a large space, frequent goods restocking and large machinery can lead to accidents, but we are committed to minimizing the possibility of incidents before they can occur.
To monitor our clubs, each location employed a video system comprised of a PC-based DVR and analog cameras. The system featured an average of 32 cameras per club — typically four PTZs and 28 fixed cameras. But the legacy system was quickly reaching end of life and we found we were spending more time resolving issues with our DVRs than using them to our advantage.
Unfortunately, the system could not effectively help us maintain the most secure and safe environment for our employees and customers. Poor video quality led to lengthy and ineffective investigations; the DVRs maxed out quickly and the length of storage was limited; and bandwidth limitations restricted the ability to remotely view surveillance footage.
While on the search for new technology, we made it clear that a new solution should help the loss prevention and security teams conduct more effective investigations — a solution that could help us identify theft, fraud, intrusion and trespassing throughout our various clubs, gas stations and distribution facilities. Searching through the sheer volume of the videos we collect can be a time consuming process! With that in mind, we needed the system to be able to store video for the time that we needed, and not based on the system’s “standard capabilities.” We also wanted leverage our existing network infrastructure with a systems that is scalable in case camera deployments were expanded. Finally, we wanted to be able to integrate video systems with other applications and provide remote monitoring capabilities.
We ultimately decided that Genetec’s IP video surveillance solution, Omnicast, with network cameras from Axis Communications, was ideal.
The Omnicast enterprise system we installed accommodates thousands of cameras and enables us to set our own parameters for storage and recording schedules. The enterprise IP video surveillance solution enables us to manage digital video, audio and data across our existing IP network. Designed to assist retailers like us with controlling and limiting loss, the solution easily met all of our current needs and also offered areas for expansion in the future.
The system’s integrated point-of-sale search capabilities gives us the ability to identify suspicious register transactions including voids, refunds, markdowns, as well as gift card sales.
We have deployed the system at 75 locations, and we plan having another 60 locations online over the next year for a total of 135 locations at the project’s completion. The systems were initially installed only in our new clubs; however, we are now focusing our efforts on replacing the obsolete DVRs and installing encoders to leverage the analog cameras in existing clubs.
The platform manages feeds from various cameras depending on the club’s location and size. The number of cameras is also determined by risk status. For example, our large club in the Bronx has 125 surveillance cameras, whereas other more low-volume clubs have 60 cameras.
Since the system is compatible with a long list of IP camera brands, we got to choose our preferred brand — a mix of high-resolution PTZ and fixed IP cameras from Axis Communications. As mentioned, we also leveraged some of our existing analog cameras, which are being converted to digital streams with Axis encoders. All the cameras are networked to the Omnicast system, and they are monitored both locally within the clubs and via remote viewing from BJ’s corporate office. This provides enhanced visibility into each club from a remote location.
A multi-streaming feature ensures the network will not get overcrowded. We have the ability to pre-set video qualities for live and recorded video, even choosing lower quality video streams for remote viewing to optimize our bandwidth management.
The recording and retrieval of video is of critical importance in the retail environment, as every time a camera or a recording device is down is an opportunity for loss. The system’s failover and redundancy features ensure that we have access to live and archived data at all times, limiting the chance that shoplifting or employee theft will occur unrecorded. Failover servers can automatically assume all functions of a failed component, while redundant servers continuously record all or only high-priority camera feeds.
The system’s open architecture facilitates integration with various third-party systems including point-of-sale solutions that correlate video to transactions, thus facilitating after-the-fact investigations. The integrated POS search function gives us the ability to conduct transactional investigations by employee number, by product, by department or any other category defined by our POS system.
A single click on a door or camera, for example, brings you a world of information such as door status, door unlock actions, camera stream information, camera PTZ controls, and more. If you click on a video display tile, all door-related functionalities disappear given that you have no need for it when your focus is on a camera.
We also use the solution on a non-incident basis to gather an understanding of where our clubs could modify processes before a loss or incident occurs.
Overall, video quality has improved substantially since Omnicast and the network cameras were installed. The system enables us to take advantage of the highest quality images, which means that our security staff can accurately identify potential suspects, vehicles, merchandise and even currency denominations, inside and outside the clubs.
Our team is finding the system easy to use, which is important since they are using it for so many purposes. At the end of the day, if the technology is too complicated for the end-user — which in our case is the club-level asset protection associate — you will never get the true value of your investment.
We wanted to invest in a future-proof platform that would adapt with us as our business needs grow. The system has been so well received that we are undertaking plans to expand the system into our corporate headquarters, along with Genetec’s access control system, Synergis.
In the future, we have plans to integrate the system with other applications — such as video analytics and access control — to leverage the benefits of a full enterprise solution.
Charles Delgado is Vice President of Asset Protection for BJ’s Warehouse Club.