Secondary Uses for Digital Surveillance Technology Grow

Security, asset protection still main draw, but operators find other profitable aspects of having cameras

Sims declined to quantify his company's investment in the system, noting only that the monitoring capabilities it affords have sparked an "excellent" return. Hartsfield Hospitality uses the technology on a subscription basis, as do 95 percent of Digital Witness' customers,whose ranks include operators of Outback Steakhouse, Benihana and Buffalo Wild Wings outlets.

Kelby Hagar, chief executive of Digital Witness, said the cost of an eight-camera system, such as the one in place at most Hartsfield Hospitality units, runs $299 per store per month. That fee covers equipment, server and software licensing, maintenance, daily remote assessments to ensure that hardware is in working order and two annual software upgrades. System setup carries a one-time $900 fee.

Two-unit coffeehouse operator Cafe Intermezzo in Atlanta acquired a video surveillance system to gain better control over workers' compensation and guest incident claims and employee conduct, said chief executive Brian Olson. The package, DTT OnSite from DTT Surveillance of Los Angeles, is already installed in one store and is being deployed in the other.

A third Atlanta store now under construction also will be fitted with the technology, as will all future units, management said.

Cafe Intermezzo purchased for each unit a 16-camera bundle that also included a DVR, CD burner, server and software. Sam Naficy, chief executive of DTT, said system purchase prices range from $4,000 for afour-camera package to about $11,000 for a 16-camera package. He declined to provide details about his company's monthly service fee. DTTalso counts among its users some McDonald's and Subway franchisees, Naficy said, as well as those of IHOP, Steak n Shake and Moe's Southwest Grill.

The software can sort clips of images captured by the system by year, date and time, and footage can be played back on the hardware even as recording is occurring. Olson can set the playback function for single or multiple camera views, or he can view frame-by-frame thumbnail shots for quick identification of any incident.

Olson said the technology paid for itself within a year.

"On the first day we installed it, we recouped $570 that had just gone missing from the petty cash in our locked cash room," he said. "We have cameras all over the store. One covers the cash room and another, the back office. When we realized the money had been taken, we reviewed the images and observed a dishwasher stealing the manager's keys and gleefully pocketing the cash."

Olson said the technology not only enabled Cafe Intermezzo to apprehend the thief and share a CD of the incident with police, but it also helped clear the manager of any wrongdoing.

In another instance, Olson recalled, a guest claimed her purse hadbeen stolen from her chair while she was away from her table lookingat the pastry selection, and she tried to pin the blame on the establishment. However, a look at the video indicated that she had taken the purse with her when leaving the table. In a third situation, an employee attempted to file a workers' compensation claim for a slip-and-fall incident, but the recording showed that she had caught herself before actually hitting the floor.

"Our workers' comp claims are way, way down because of the system,and we don't worry nearly as much about bogus slip-and-fall claims by patrons," Olson said. "The technology has also been great in terms of [curtailing] employee pilferage. Once, we noticed that a lot of shrimp--which is very expensive--was disappearing. We reviewed images from the kitchen and found that a chef--who ran a catering business onthe side--was responsible."