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Video analytics: Are BOBJ 4.0 customers watching you?

Some SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 retail customers are experimenting with video analytics, an area that SAP says is ripe with potential for those interested in consumer behavior.

While it may not help them completely understand consumers’ spending habits, retail customers running SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 can now use video to shed some light on how shoppers spend time in their stores.

“Video analytics is starting to emerge,” said Rita Sallam, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based IT research firm Gartner Inc. “When you combine that with other analytic processes, then you begin to open up entirely new use cases and applications across the board. I do think this has potential.”

In short, companies can use their existing security cameras along with third-party video processing software to look for certain customer activity within certain areas of the store. That footage is analyzed and fed into SAP BusinessObjects 4.0, where users can view the data in analytics form.

A retail operation might gauge things like how many users are coming in and out of the store or through a certain area or lingering at displays and run that information against point-of-sales data for better insight into how well a marketing campaign is working. It could also be used to measure wait times at the cash register, according to SAP.

Retailers can also take advantage of BOBJ 4.0’s complex event processing (CEP) tool called Event Insight, which lets companies process a wide range of events and pieces of information, with the intent of making decisions on that information in real time, according to SAP. 

Because the technology is still in its early days, there are only a handful of retailers experimenting with the technology. SAP has declined to name any thus far, but said those companies are also running SAP ERP for retail in conjunction with BOBJ 4.0. 

SAP said companies are looking at data from video analytics as something that is only useful when added to or compared with other transactional and supply chain information.

“People are looking to combine that information with other information they have [such as what they are] stocking, where are they getting stockouts [and] the other data they have around their retail assets,” according to Adam Binnie, global head of business intelligence at SAP.

Manufacturing and other use cases for SAP video analytics

While all of the organizations now looking at deploying video analytics are SAP retail customers, there are other applications for the technology as well, such as gauging wait times at airports.

“You can imagine a video feed being used at the airport to, say, when the line reaches a certain point, to trigger opening up another security checkpoint, putting another staff member on the check-in desk, or whatever,” Binnie said.

Manufacturers could also use it to gauge traffic patterns on the factory floor, pinpointing logistical bottlenecks where people or items are getting hung up. “You can track anything that’s in motion,” Binnie said.

The goal is to also share with consumers information about events, like a ballgame or a concert, that provide them with some sort of benefit, Binnie said. Think of being able to track the line for beer at a sporting event, something that a lot of fans would appreciate, he said. The vendor would likely make out as well.

“You’d probably also sell a lot more beer,” Binnie said.

The technology probably wouldn’t apply to Cummins Inc., a 90-year-old manufacturer of diesel and natural gas enginesand filters with more than 80 plants around the globe, according to Robert Borchelt, head of IT manufacturing and industrial controls.

“I think it’s interesting,” Borchelt said, “but it would have a hard time getting funded.”

That’s because the company’s manufacturing execution system (MES) already identifies product logjams. And at Cummins, only managers are allowed on the shop floor, so it doesn’t need to track people.

Borchelt does see potential for manufacturers that don’t have an MES in place and for lower-cost products that aren’t already tracked with radio-frequency identification devices, such as consumer packaged goods. The manufacturer could use video analytics in particular to analyze trends and determine where products routinely get hung up time and time again.  

The rise of social media 

The use of video reflects a growing trend in the importance of “content analytics” -- an area of analytics that includes text analytics and focuses on unstructured data -- information found in email and text documents that can help companies make strategic decisions, Gartner’s Sallam said. 

“Text analytics has been around for a long time. And some companies do it, [especially] within certain domains like customer service, [where they're] able to extract meaning from service records, to get a better understanding of what’s going on,” she said.

Much of the need for text analysis is a result of the rise of social media like Twitter and Facebook, Sallam said. Binnie agreed, saying SAP considers video analytics another way of trying to make sense of that same kind of social behavior.  

“All of that information,” Binnie said, “has an opportunity to provide context to drive analysis for our customers.”

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