For months now, businesses have had to get used to uncertainty.

Waves of infection have spread around the country, with successive hotspots taking hold and varying measures introduced locally to try and suppress them.

For security professionals, trying to steer their way through the current crisis to better times — when vaccinations will finally ease the economic pressures — is challenging. Right now, it feels especially hard to see the way ahead.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities or grounds for optimism.

This may be the most difficult and unpredictable phase of the pandemic, despite the promise of a better spring and summer to come, but even now we can see where new demand for video tech is likely.

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, and hospitals in some areas come under immense pressure, states are again placing limits on what businesses and individuals can do. Some sectors that had previously reopened after the 2020 lockdowns have been closed again.

In many states, fears about the economic impact mean that governors are allowing businesses to stay open even in the face of higher infection rates, subject to occupancy, density limits and face coverings.

So, there’s uncertainty in nearly every sector of the economy. But what is for certain is that businesses need to prepare for flexibility. They need to be ready — often on short notice — to reopen, temporarily close, adapt to new restrictions and/or operate with only a bare-bones staff of essential workers onsite.

Systems integrators are well positioned to help.

Advances pioneered over recent years, and proven in some of the most demanding settings, now enable systems integrators to offer affordable video tech, powered by advanced deep-learning analytics. AI-assisted notifications and alerts can deliver real assistance operating in the current COVID-19 environment. They can also help in overcoming other common operational challenges and result in attractive efficiency savings and productivity gains longer term.

The technology required for different spaces will vary. However, with President Biden putting COVID-19 at the top of his agenda during his first 100 days in office, he will be urging states to mandate mask wearing in public settings.

This makes it likely that, despite the challenges, more K-12 schools will require face coverings in every building and area of the school. AI-enabled video analytics not only detect students not wearing face coverings but, because they’re powered by deep-learning analytics, are even accurate in detecting if a facial mask isn’t adequately covering the nose and mouth. Integrating this capability with automated PA announcements and dynamic signage means these solutions can be used to encourage positive COVID-safe behavior and take the pressure off teaching staff having to enforce adherence.

Schools and colleges can also benefit from analytics solutions that identify when bottlenecks occur in breakout areas or corridors when large numbers of students and staff change rooms between lessons.

AI analytics can also be used to detect non-compliance with social distancing, occupancy and density monitoring requirements.

Adhering to the recommended six-foot social distancing, monitoring occupancy and density capacity is also applicable to many business settings. It’s covered for example, in both local and state guidance that encompass retail, warehouses and logistics operations, office space, manufacturing and transportation.

Enforcement of these social distancing, monitoring occupancy and density capacity requirements has been particularly problematic in retail, and has resulted in many instances of frontline store staff facing unwarranted hostility. Automating announcements in stores to remind people about mask wearing and social distancing — whether that’s a guideline or a legal requirement — can take pressure off staff, and reduce the chances that they’ll face aggression.

In fact, in almost any setting that welcomes large numbers of customers and visitors, a system that can count people in and out while monitoring occupancy and density to maintain compliance is now desirable. Demand for such solutions will increase as more businesses are able to reopen, particularly in hospitality, such as bars, nightclubs, music venues and even for outdoor festivals. And these scenarios will attract younger people likely to be asymptomatic, making social distancing and capacity and density limits a priority to prevent further infection spikes.

It’s important to recognize that the pandemic conditions will not suddenly end, even as vaccinations ramp up. The way out of COVID-19 will be gradual, and the case for COVID-safe measures in work settings and public spaces will remain strong.

Systems integrators will benefit from highlighting the long-term value and usefulness of today’s smart video tools. The same AI which will help businesses manage the immediate challenge of getting through lockdowns and restricted re-openings will also prove vital going forward. The capabilities of the AI they implement now will benefit them well into the future. Premises such as nightclubs, for example, will already have already put measures for safe occupancy limits in place. Similarly, large concert venues and sports arenas can continue to rely on these AI capabilities to mitigate overcrowding and bottlenecks at large concerts that often result in injury or, even worse, fatalities. This is a viable selling point, as the technology used to tackle today’s immediate COVID-19 challenges will deliver clients ongoing improved safety and longer-term value. This will be particularly true if many economists are correct in predicting a return to the roaring ‘20s with a phenomenal hospitality sector rebound.   

With the new Biden administration initiating a $440 billion support package for small businesses as part of wider relief measures, the ground is already being laid for a recovery that owners will want to be prepared for.

They will face new pressures as they work to build back profitability, but they’ll see new opportunities, as well. When social distancing is no longer a concern — finally — they’ll be glad if their video solutions can be leveraged to new advantages.

That will also include preparing them to face greater crime risks, against a backdrop of civil unrest, higher unemployment and social pressure. During the pandemic, crime trends have been volatile, with falls reported in some areas and worrying increases in others, including commercial burglaries and homicides. Unsurprisingly, the demand for smart home technology is also on track for significant further growth in 2021, due not only to the benefit of improved and convenient control over devices, heating and cooling, and enhanced audio and visual, but for intruder and surveillance monitoring, too. This is an opportunity that many systems integrators recognized early on in the pandemic. They did well to switch their focus to the residential market and make up somewhat for the downturn in new surveillance projects and upgrades in other sectors.

This all translates into good news, as security and safety will continue to be a key concern for homeowners as well as for businesses.

Video solutions that can help protect people, facilities and assets; increase flexible and centralized or remote management; and improve operating efficiency longer-term will have strong appeal.