Remote services must include onsite maintenance

Residential Security Handbook 2021: Secure Living Residential Estate (Industry), Surveillance, Integrated Solutions

Looking beyond the hype and all the marketing optimism about artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud services in the security market, especially surveillance, there are significant benefits to incorporating the two into an estate’s security operation. However, it’s important to note that the onsite support and maintenance components of the service are equally important.

The traditional surveillance installation in residential estates generally works in two ways. The estate can hire a local IT or security company (or multiple companies) to install and maintain their cameras, infrastructure and software. This service provider generally comes onsite every couple of weeks (perhaps) and ensures that everything is working, if a support agreement is in place.

In this scenario, the service provider might neglect the maintenance aspect and will generally only react in the event of a failure being reported as the system is not proactively monitored.

Alternatively, the estate approaches one of the larger system integrators or service providers and signs a multi-year contract for services, maintenance and support. However, these providers do not always proactively monitor all activities remotely and support agreements usually come with a significant price tag.

Both scenarios are reactive and can lead to problems when a system doesn’t function as expected in an emergency. The solution to many issues like the above is to make use of surveillance-as-a-service which includes pro-active maintenance of CCTV networks and equipment, says Johan van der Lith, CEO at Watcher Surveillance Solutions. Maintenance done correctly will limit the number of onsite visits and when they occur, the technician arrives knowing what the problem is and how to fix it.

Watcher Surveillance Solutions offers such a service but has ensured that the onsite component is included in the monthly ‘remote monitoring’ service contract.

The benefits of cloud services

From the maintenance perspective, hosting its infrastructure in the cloud ensures that Watcher is able to provide a 24/7 operation without burdening clients with the need for technical skills, servers and backups – and the costs associated with it. Watcher runs a number of monitoring tools that continually monitor their clients’ infrastructure (cameras, networks etc.) and will immediately know if a network goes down or if there is no signal from a camera.

“Our systems monitor the physical infrastructure continually and we retain the services of local installers and integrators to promptly address any problems as they arise,” explains van der Lith. “Our monitoring tools don’t just tell us something is wrong, but what the problem is, allowing us to prepare the technicians before they go onsite.”

Hardware devices that are supplied and installed by Watcher, such as surveillance cameras or routers, are swapped out if faulty. This is because getting the client up and running quickly is the priority. Watcher will take care of repairs and warranty issues in the background.

The surveillance aspect of the service is ‘always-on’, with AI monitoring camera feeds and raising an alert if anything out of the ordinary happens. The AI systems remove the environmental alerts to allow the operators to focus on things that matter.

Data from clients is stored in the cloud, which means there is always a backup available and will stop criminals from targeting the surveillance hard drives to destroy footage.

Scalability and affordability in numbers

Nico Venter, head of Marketing at Watcher, adds that a system like this would be extremely expensive for a single organisation to set up and run. In fact, it would not be feasible for an installation of less than 300 cameras because the setting up of AI-based tools requires a significant amount of time and skill.

Watcher’s ‘as-a-service’ offering allows the company to pay for the data centre infrastructure, along with backups and failover capabilities while the service is used by numerous customers. It is important to note that only computing resources and storage space are shared in a PoPIA-compliant manner.

This structure allows customers to pay for the service monthly as an operational expense and most importantly, pay less than they would to own and run the system by themselves. There is also full accountability and traceability of each alert with respect to who handled it, what was done and what the outcome was.

“We take full responsibility for the infrastructure, both onsite and in the cloud”, notes van der Lith. “If the estate has a prolonged power outage, Watcher will deploy mobile generators to keep the security infrastructure going and recharge the onsite batteries.”

A full service

Watcher includes maintenance and support of the CCTV infrastructure in its offerings by starting with a risk assessment of the environment it will be servicing and then advise on the best solution. This could include incorporating existing cameras into its service as almost any cameras can be used for offsite monitoring and most are compatible with Watcher’s software stack.

Each estate will also have its own standard operating procedures (SOP) which will be incorporated into the Watcher management platform. This will automatically inform operators as to what needs to be done when an alert is raised by the AI, as well as the relevant people or response units to contact.

Authorised security and estate managers are able to keep tabs on everything via the Watcher mobile app. Many security companies are using Watcher’s surveillance tools to optimise operational capabilities and complement their current service provision to customers.

These security companies can also optimise the deployment of ‘boots on the ground’ through the service, again using human resources in a manner that adds value by only dealing with real issues.

The ability to scale the cloud service means the Watcher system can be used cost-effectively for small complexes as well as large estates.


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