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The simplest way to think about metadata is that it’s ‘data about other data.’ Where video surveillance is concerned, that means ‘data about video data’ or more specifically: data about changes to video streams.
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4.14.21 – SIW

Despite its vast potential, many are still unaware of what metadata is and how it can be used in surveillance applications

The analysis and use of video metadata underpins many of the most exciting developments now underway in security. But what actually is metadata?

The term is sometimes misunderstood and that’s a shame because while the concept of metadata is really not complicated, it is important. And now we’re seeing some imaginative new applications and smarter uses of metadata being employed that are about to unlock important benefits for video users.

Giving Video Context

The simplest way to think about metadata is that it’s ‘data about other data.’ Where video surveillance is concerned, that means ‘data about video data’ or more specifically: data about changes to video streams.

Metadata provides context to events and allows real-time video and recorded footage – large amounts of it – to be quickly organized, searched, retrieved, and used. As a result, the functions enabled can be broadly categorized into three areas: searching; alarm triggering and notifications; and reporting.

Previously, video footage remained unstructured and difficult to search. Earlier-generation surveillance systems couldn’t ‘watch’ video or interpret it like a human operator could.

But today’s AI-enabled analytics video solutions can. For several years now, they’ve been performing many core interpretation and sorting functions more quickly, more accurately, and more consistently than operators ever could. To enable this rapid sorting, metadata uses markers such as color, location, and time. And, increasingly, it can classify what it sees, defining, for example, all those changing pixels as ‘a person’, ‘a vehicle’, or another pre-defined object of interest; and it can classify by type, size, and movement characteristics such as velocity, or location.

Rules to Strengthen Security and Increase Efficiency

Rules such as virtual lines, tripwires, or people counting can be set up to help understand the interactions that objects and people have within the environment. Normal or abnormal events can be recognized against a defined set of rules, with only the changes in a scene being registered, so that security and safety personnel are alerted only when they need to be.

Specific types of notifications can be directed exactly to where they are needed – to the control room, to client software, or to mobile devices, for example – allowing human operators to oversee specific activities, such as staff arriving on site or deliveries being made at loading bays. In the event of an emergency or criminal activity, automated alarms will give operators rapid visual verification to speed up their response.

Metadata analyzes complex activity at a volume that security operators would struggle to watch. It can process multiple events simultaneously, making it not just ideal but essential for surveillance of large public gatherings and areas of high activity such as campuses, logistics centers, retail settings, and public areas. The benefits include earlier detection, real-time, of potential threats.

Empowering Retail Staff

We’re now seeing powerful applications being put into practice that would, until recently, have seemed unrealistic. For example, officers on patrol can now receive automated notifications from AI video directly to their mobile devices, ensuring the most rapid response.

So, what other new benefits and uses might we be about to see?

Most video users are likely aware by now of the huge security advantages that AI-enabled video analytics deliver, but the business intelligence advantages are just as exciting.

Developments in brick-and-mortar retail are pointing the way.

No longer the domain of the large supermarkets with big budgets, other retail chains often with smaller, multiple stores are starting to explore how today’s affordable analytics can be used to empower their local teams – at both the store and branch levels – with actionable intelligence on the way both customers, and staff, behave.

Do customers respond better when staff hang back or approach them? Does that change according to the staff to customer ratio, or the time of day, or to how busy the store is? Does the position of promotions increase impulse purchases or change how customers browse the store? Does demand for specific products change due to the weather? Analytics are helping answer those questions.

Smart retailers are realizing that this is not about top-down monitoring and surveillance by the big bad wolf at the head office. It’s about empowering customer-facing teams to work more effectively to support their intuitive customer insight and on-the-ground experience. There are a huge number of variables that often make it impossible for even the most experienced store managers to see and make sense of the full picture. They need the tools to understand exactly what’s going on to put into action what will deliver the biggest bang for the buck that will ultimately turn browsing into purchases and enhance the customer experience to ensure shoppers keep coming back.

AI video analytics – all relying on that vital metadata – is being looked to for the answer. Not just for marketing departments, often far removed from regional Main Streets and malls, but for supporting local managers to understand their individual store and branch operations better, too. For example, using actionable data from simple dashboards and changing and adapting store layouts and displays, changing shift patterns, or the time staff take breaks depending on days of the week or weather forecasts. And importantly, more quickly and with the ability to make small adjustments before stores open.

In doing so, this means retail managers increase the value they deliver to stakeholders by ensuring the profitability of their stores.

Metadata has already helped site security managers streamline complex operations and enable officers to respond more quickly to incidents. Today, metadata has proven it can reduce operating costs, help prevent crime and losses, and allow security teams to spend more time engaging with staff and visitors, which means delivering benefits and value to the wider businesses benefits beyond control rooms.

And where successful retailers lead, other businesses will surely follow.

About the Author:

Jeff Montoya is the Eastern Regional Sales Director for IDIS America and is responsible for managing and developing major and national accounts. Jeff has over 20 years of security industry experience working for manufacturers, distributors and integrators in the video surveillance and access control markets.