What Phase 2 might mean for selected entertainment, F&B and retail segments

by Benjamin Low, Vice President, Asia Pacific, Milestone Systems

Singapore has entered Phase 2 of reopening from the recent circuit breaker, but we are not out of the woods yet. Key segments of the entire economy – including retail, entertainment and F&B – will re-open, subject to safe management measures being in place. Singaporeans will be eager to resume these social activities after months in lockdown, but businesses must find a way to reopen safely. F&B outlets must manage large groups of people to minimise the risk of a second wave of infections to prevent retightening of measures.

What can businesses do to prepare for the reopening and to keep their customers safe? Video technology will play an important role in helping to ensure the safe recommencement of activities and reopening of these sectors of the economy.

Moving towards a safe reopening of the economy

Video technology has played a part in the fight against COVID-19 since the earlier days of the pandemic. Applications like thermal imaging cameras have been deployed at facilities such as airports, train stations and immigration checkpoints to quickly identify people with fever. Combined with video analytics capabilities, these active assets helped to process multiple individuals simultaneously, increasing efficiency and reducing manpower requirements. This has provided our frontline workers with some respite by increasing efficiencies and taking on labour-intensive tasks.

We have also seen the deployment of telekiosks in foreign worker dormitories that facilitate video consultations with doctors while monitoring vital signs such as blood pressure, oxygen saturation and temperature. We might also be familiar with ‘Spot’ the safe-distancing robot that patrolled Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, equipped with cameras that have GovTech-developed video analytics capabilities.

In Phase 2, video can help in two key areas – firstly, by helping with crowd management; and secondly, providing useful data on consumer preferences to businesses.

F&B outlets can combine a mixture of video management solutions, which are easier than before. With video technologies today taking an 'open' approach to integration and implementation, audio, visual display systems and even mobile devices can be integrated into the cameras, Businesses can then regulate access and manage these systems from a centralised platform or location to ensure customers are safe.

F&B businesses can also use video technology to ensure a competitive advantage by increasing efficiencies and insight into consumer habits and preferences. Data on demographics, footfall, hotspots, dwell time can help optimize product placements and site layouts. Such added benefits will help ease some constraints and provide much-needed help as these businesses look to recover from disruption.

Early adopters - like Funan Mall - started the process even before the pandemic hit by tapping on video technologies to enable consumer analytics through similar deployments. These malls have also initiated video-based smart car parking facilities that leverage license plate recognition technology to aid crowd control, as visitors book their parking lots in advance.

Video can help organisations ensure compliance with government-mandated social distancing measures and provide customers with a sense of assurance and safety. There is an array of different smart capabilities that can help businesses resume operations while adhering to safe social distancing requirements. These include heatmapping and occupancy statistics, crowd counting for public spaces or even distancing detection. In fact, one-way direction in retail outlets (like shopping at IKEA) can even be enforced with the help of these technologies.

Addressing consumer concerns on data privacy

While video technology has many benefits, there remain valid concerns about data privacy. Consumers are cautious, and rightly so, about how organisations are using the data collected, but sentiment on data privacy has shifted due to the pandemic. According to The EY Future Consumer Index, the public is now more receptive to make private information available if it's for the greater good of society.

TraceTogether App and SafeEntry are cases in point. These government initiatives have more than 1.6 million users today, to help with community-driven contact tracing.

This shift in consumer mindset. However, does not give businesses a licence to misbehave. Businesses and organisations must prioritise data protection and privacy and not take consumer trust for granted. They will need to work together with regulatory bodies and technology partners to respect individual privacy and comply with data protection regulations at the same time.

Businesses are also responding to this shift by employing safeguards that are in the market, such as anonymising data, privacy masking and data purging, which allow businesses to safeguard consumer privacy while ensuring consumer privacy is protected.

Digital transformation might mean do or die

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat recently encouraged businesses – especially those in F&B and retail – with basic digital capabilities to “deepen their digital transformation”.

The Singapore government has played a key role in this, by allocating S$500 million of the Fortitude Budget to digital transformation. Beyond the first tier of pay-outs, the government hopes to stimulate further transformation with an additional pay-out of $5,000 for businesses that use advanced solutions. Beyond this, the National Innovation Challenge also encourages partnerships with the private sector for industry-led solutions to reopen Singapore safely.

While most businesses leaders might be hesitant with the initial investment cost, the solutions that video can provide, beyond mitigating risks caused by the pandemic, could outweigh the cost. Video, paired with technologies such as AI, data analytics, IoT and sensor data, could offer huge conveniences for consumers, and in doing so, maximising business profits. With setup costs that range from $3,000 and above, video is a valuable alternative considering also manpower reduction as well as preventing breaches and fines with safe-distancing guidelines.

As we reopen in phase 2, video technology is a valuable opportunity that F&B retailers should seize to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Not only will it help them ensure compliance with safety measures, but it has the potential to help businesses gear up for continuity in the new normal.