Jamie Barnfield, Senior Sales Director, IDIS Europe
Job vacancies in the UK are now at a record high. By August, the figure was over a million for the first time since records began, according to the Office for National Statistics. While that may sound like good news after such a challenging year, it reflects a significant underlying problem for the economy: more and more sectors report work force insufficiency.
The story that has really hit the headlines in recent days is the UK’s shortfall of HGV drivers - 100,000, according to the Road Haulage Association. The accuracy of that figure is questioned, but nobody doubts that many more drivers are now needed.
The lack of qualified drivers has also been blamed for shortages on supermarket shelves, and container ships being held up at Britain’s key ports. Retailers have warned that disruption to supply chains may lead to the scarcity of popular items and gifts this Christmas, and may impact festive food availability too.
Sector-specific factors have been blamed for problems in the haulage industry - including an exodus of foreign drivers after Brexit, poor pay, inadequate facilities for long distance drivers, lack of status and recognition, and a testing backlog caused by Covid restrictions.
But insufficient staff is affecting other sectors too, and the causes are similar. From hospitality to food processing, from health and social care to retail, there is growing pressure on staffing levels as a result of Brexit, the effects of the pandemic, low pay and unattractive working conditions.
These problems are not unique to the UK. For example, according to data collected by Transport Intelligence, Poland was short of more than 120,000 drivers last year. In Germany, between 45,000 and 60,000 drivers were needed.
Labour shortages may be having less impact in other European countries, where the guarantee of free movement means the labour pool is much larger, but in almost every developed economy there is pressure on organisations to operate more efficiently and to automate where there are benefits to be gained.
And that includes the security sector, where the availability of suitably trained and qualified workers cannot be taken for granted.
Every organisation that relies on security staff - be that directly employed or contracted - should now be looking at how to drive efficiency and reduce exposure to staff shortages with new generation tech solutions, including AI-enabled video analytics, systems integration and digitisation. These smart solutions, already being proven in a range of settings, maintain high levels of operational effectiveness while reducing pressure on staff.
In the video tech market, the quest for operational efficiency is today one of the significant drivers behind the adoption of AI. When looking at the value of a new system and calculating the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), the savings and payback delivered by efficiency gains now form part of the equation.
Video analytics are advancing rapidly, and reliable deep-learning technology means these tools have become ever more reliable, with an impressive 98% accuracy fast becoming the baseline to reduce false alarms.
AI-assisted alerts for line-cross, loitering, and object detection are much less prone to being triggered by harmless environmental factors than traditional analytics. Instead of needing the high-level attention to focus on multiple camera streams, operators now only need to view a single video feed. If a real event or threat occurs, they can and decide on what action to take.
Metadata is also speeding up investigations from hours and days to minutes, while mobile apps now allow staff to review events remotely, from smartphones and tablets. This will enable organisations reduce staffing levels in control rooms and redeploy personnel into the field to focus on more rewarding and value-add tasks.
This impressive performance lets organisations use automated alert triggers when cameras detect specific, pre-defined events occurring to drive efficiencies across their entire operations.
For example, in logistics and warehousing, notifications can be triggered for the arrival of deliveries and pickups, giving staff oversight of operations, ensuring workers follow processes and procedures to optimise offloading and onloading, and increasing the throughput of goods. Deep-learning analytics can also be configured to detect unusual working conditions to better support adherence with health and safety standards, allowing operators to identify problems that interrupt business continuity, cause injury, and, importantly, limit the loss of life.
AI-powered ANPR also increases operational efficiency at busy logistics centres. Whitelists can be used to automate authorised vehicle entry and eliminate manual security checks on regular deliveries and pickups. At the same time, intercoms at barriers allow operatives to remotely direct trucks to loading bays or holding spaces to speed up throughput and avoid bottlenecks.
Deploying analytics also strengthens the security of goods in retail, hospitality, and healthcare environments by reducing internal and external shrinkage and fraudulent activity. And as the supply chain squeeze continues in the build up to Christmas, inevitably certain goods will become more scarce, putting additional pressure on security staff. AI video will allow them to increase vigilance with automated alerts from a virtual line being crossed when somebody enters a stock area, to a crowd gathering, suspicious loitering behaviour around high-value goods or pharmaceutical storage areas, suspicious vehicle activity on perimeters, through to a door being propped open.
And while winter and the Christmas rush is not yet upon us, the Covid infection rate in England has already risen to one in 60. The new AI video tools that emerged during the height of the pandemic are likely to prove critical for businesses again in reducing the spread of infection and further impacting staff shortages. They will also take pressure off frontline personnel by automating functions from face mask detection, social distancing, and occupancy monitoring.
Similar functions are being used to deliver business intelligence benefits relating to the movement of people, customer behaviour in retail, and building usage.
All this feeds into the increasing power, utility and value of video systems.
Long gone are the days when video was only used to detect, investigate or deter crime. Now it offers much greater value to businesses, helping with everything from improving customer service in hotels, more rapid and secure processing and tracking of goods, to triggering automated alerts when queues get too long in retail settings.
Pressures on staffing will take months or years to ease, and as analytics become smarter and deliver further business intelligence, they lead to better decision making and act as a force multiplier for operational efficiency. And that means moving video technology away from being a grudge security purchase to value-add business solutions.