When one reads the analysts’ predictions of what they expect to see in the security industry, you get the impression that the security technology business is the place to be. Growth predictions are the norm in almost every territory, especially in the Middle East and Africa.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a group of surveillance distributors and vendors to get together around our boardroom table and tell us about their experience in the broader surveillance market. The attendees were:
* Brian Wynberger from Reditron,
* Tim Timmins from PinnSec,
* Roy Alves from Axis Communications,
* Pasco Lattuca from Security & Communication Warehouse,
* Michael Metcalfe from Milestone, and
* Bertus van Jaarsveld from MiRO.
While many business people are on tenterhooks regarding the economic future of the country, made even more unsure by Eskom’s regular blackouts and political uncertainty, the attendees were quite positive about the coming year.
Timmins has only been in the hot seat at PinnSec for two months and says he has been pleasantly surprised by the rate of business and the future outlook.
Wynberger is also positive, noting that he has seen tremendous interest in the new analogue HD offerings like HDCVI, which is one of the versions of high definition analogue technology available (read more on analogue HD later in this issue). This technology allows installers to easily move their analogue customers to HD over the same Coax cable – up to 500 m in some cases – and deliver high definition images at 720p or 1080p.
There is also an interesting conflict in this analogue HD arena emerging between the different formats, HDCVI, HDTVI, and AHD for example. In the end there will likely be one or two winners, but the market still has to decide who that will be.
Alves sees a trend to 2-megapixel cameras in the IP space, with lower resolution products steadily losing the market’s interest. Van Jaarsveld echoes this sentiment, saying MiRO is also seeing the bulk of IP demand in the 1- and 2-megapixel space, moving more towards 2 megapixels. He also notes that the multi-megapixel market is fairly slow, except for specialist cameras such as fisheye cameras etc.
He says the market often asks for tenders with 5-megapixel cameras specified, but many simply ask for them because they are available. There is little need, in general surveillance projects, for more than 2 megapixels or 1080p. The problem almost everyone encounters is that people expect more megapixels to deliver some kind of amazing result.
Metcalfe says that from a video management software (VMS) vendor’s perspective, he has seen a consistent lack of education, even among some installers about what is available and what can and can’t be done with megapixel cameras.
So, while the analogue HD manufacturers are pushing their new technology aggressively, there is still a question as to how far this technology will go. The general consensus is that there is a market, but that customers will keep on moving to IP and standardise on resolutions of about 2 megapixels.
Lattuca says he expects the 2 MP or Full HD level to be standard for a couple of years at least while the industry figures out how to make 4K (or Ultra HD) a realistic option by working on the storage and transmission issues users currently face. He adds that specific applications will use 4K, such as stadiums or areas where the customer wants a broad view from one camera, but it will remain a speciality for quite some time.
Van Jaarsveld explains that 4K will first need to deliver benefits to business before it makes it into the mainstream.
Alves believes that the time spent on the 2-megapixel range will be used by manufacturers to work on additional features and qualities such as WDR (wide dynamic range), low light and the like. It is especially in the area of low light that the market will see some good technology advances over the coming year – the focus will be on getting better images that are more usable.
Timmins also expects improvements in the analytics field over the same period, as well as improvements in lighting technologies. We’re already seeing lights that can be run on PoE (Power over Ethernet) and managed from a VMS to better support cameras and guards, and this technology – that some consider old and boring – will only improve over the next year or two.
Wynberger adds that we’re also seeing cameras with analytics, infrared and white light combined so that the camera can pick up movement at a distance using infrared, and change to white light and full colour images as the subject gets closer.
China delivers quality
In the past we’ve had many discussions about the Chinese vendors and their move into the surveillance market. There have been claims about the Chinese producing low-cost products that did not measure up to the quality standards of the 'better' Western products, but they were successful because they were cheap.
That attitude has changed significantly over the years and today China produces quality products, while still keeping the price low. Van Jaarsveld mentions three Chinese brands that have made it into the big leagues in terms of quality and low prices; these are Hikvision, Dahua and Sunell.
Timmins adds that the quality of Asian products has increased substantially and they have done a good marketing job in South Africa and on the continent. One only has to look at their growth to verify their popularity in this market.
Lattuca describes the growth of Chinese products in terms of three tiers the surveillance market is divided into. The Asian goods were mainly in the third tier for many years in both analogue and IP products where they were classified as cheap and of reasonable quality. They clearly progressed up into the second tier and are now beginning to enter tier one where all the big names in surveillance lie. The interesting thing is that as these products reach tier one, their pricing is more in line with the other products in the same market.
Alves agrees, noting that the Chinese have learned a significant amount about marketing to the rest of the world, and now have the quality products that can stand up against almost anything. He does, however, question how long they will be able to continue keeping their prices so low. As China’s economy grows, so will its middle class and their wages, and the cost of producing in the country will also rise.
Metcalfe raises an interesting point in the discussion, noting that the value of a camera is no longer only in the quality and capabilities of its hardware. For example, including more functionality on the camera, such as analytics and simplifying the ability to manage cameras via integration with a VMS is also crucial to the overall value of the camera.
The need to look further into the integration of various additional functions, such as edge storage and onboard analytics, is crucial to successfully choosing the products to support your design, adds Wynberger. This must also include the integration into a VMS for more effective management. Poor VMS integration with the chosen camera will limit the functionality available from the management console, which negates the efficacy of the camera.
A question of power
One can’t really have a discussion about electronic devices or software without the issue of the power supply, or lack thereof, coming up. The discussion ranged from the increasing number of enterprise projects that were looking for backup power in the form of solar panels, through to the benefits of power over Ethernet (PoE) as a way to keep cameras operational when the lights go out if the servers and switches are on UPS and/or generator power.
The need for backup power is especially critical on perimeter installations as the first line of defence against intrusion. Criminals are very close to Eskom’s announcements of power outages and seem to enjoy targeting homes and businesses when they know the security systems are down.
One comment made was that electrical companies are often hired to implement power management solutions after the security installation is done. Not only is this a lost business opportunity for installers and integrators, but it can interfere with the optimal performance of the system.
Education is key
Just as educating the installer/integrator market on additional revenue opportunities is important, the user community must also educate itself on the best way to obtain good service and products.
Users often find themselves in a situation where they are sold a solution, only to find that the end result is not what they were expecting. The installer blames the sales person, who blames the distributor, who blames the manufacturer and so on. In the end, the customer is the one left with a system that doesn’t do what it was supposed to.
Timmins says it is up to the customer to do their research and not take the first quote an integrator or installer gives them. Doing your homework is important, even when you’re dealing with a trusted integrator, since the one who has to live with the result is you and your company.
Alves adds that reading something from a white paper or data sheet is one thing, but implementing it can be a completely different experience. As companies are trying to win jobs at lower margins, they can be tempted to oversell what they can deliver. Additionally, there is also the issue of the skills shortage which could see people who are not adequately trained being put on jobs so that timeframes can be adhered to and budgets met.
This is exacerbated when you include analytics in the deal. The specifications for analytics and seeing it work in a controlled environment is one thing, but when you put the technology on a perimeter, for example, you have sun, wind, vandals and the like to deal with, and it becomes a different story altogether. There are no random plastic bags flying around in a controlled test area.
It also comes down to managing the customers’ expectations, notes Wynberger, and what they want out of the systems. This relates back to the earlier comment of users not having realistic insight into what their cameras can do. Another must-do is the proof of concept (PoC). A PoC is the only realistic way to ensure the systems you’re thinking of paying for will actually do the job.
Van Jaarsveld says that when problems do occur in the South African context, it often lands in the lap of the distributor who has to come up with a solution. He says the best way to deal with issues like this is to “really empower the integrator”. MiRO is doing this through its conference which runs in multiple locations over the course of the year. Each weeklong conference has a focus and customers can come in to find out about specific technologies and receive training. This is done at no charge to ensure as many people as possible get trained and experience with the products they later sell.
Milestone is also advancing its ability to assist customers with its Professional Services, which will assist integrators in the setting up and configuring of Milestone systems. The company will also be available to send someone out to a problem site to audit a system and suggest solutions. This is in addition to the existing training and certifications the company expects its integrators and resellers to go through. Not only will this assist the integrators in delivering a system that works, it will also help Milestone protect its brand reputation.
All too often, the problem also lies with the competencies of the people doing the work, says Lattuca. The skills issue has been around for some time and will be with us for a long time and distributors and vendors need to implement some form of control to try to ensure qualified people are getting the jobs. This doesn’t always happen in open tenders where the lowest bidder gets the job, unfortunately.
Standards and certifications
This once again brought up the topic of standards and certifications and the ability for end users to determine if their suppliers are capable of doing their jobs. Similarly, there are no set standards of education that indicate if the people integrators hire are actually capable.
The electric fence industry has managed to create standards and have them certified by the Department of Labour, but that is only one industry. The security industry as a whole needs to develop standards in a manner that provides the buyer with confidence and that can be enforced.
How to accomplish this is the problem. How does one get to a point where a certified certificate of compliance is issued for an installation before it’s considered done? Some people will opt for the cheapest option irrespective of standards and future problems they will have to pay for.
Evolution of analytics
One of the big news items over the past few months has been Avigilon buying a bunch of video analytics patents and a company or two. Is this a way to beat the patent trolls or maybe to become one? Time will tell, but it’s a given that Avigilon has become a major force in the analytics world.
The analytics market as a whole is growing for all the attendees as businesses are looking at more ways of automating surveillance operations. Many are using the traditional approach of having analytics on the server to detect events, but the trend to analytics on the camera itself is one to watch and will become a mainstay of the industry in the near future.
Another change in the analytics market is the trend to using analytics for more than only security. For example, in the retail industry, security cameras can be used for queue management or determining traffic patterns etc. This trend is set to grow in retail and other industries, and will provide security managers with a way to offer value-added services to other areas of their business.
What’s hot in 2015?
To close the round-table, we asked the attendees to identify what they thought would be the surveillance market’s silver bullet in 2015. In other words, what is going to gain them business in the coming year?
Metcalfe says the key for Milestone is still its open platform approach and the professional services it is rolling out this year will also create opportunities for its partners.
Van Jaarsveld says the challenge is to meet customers' requirement for more at a lower cost. The key is to offer value in the 2-megapixel segment while helping them to understand that the cheapest product is not always the best. It will also be an interesting year to see how the premier manufacturers react to the cheaper Chinese products that deliver the same functionality – and if the quality Chinese products can keep prices down.
Timmins expects to see more customers looking at intelligent cameras. Intelligence on the cameras will deliver more value and differentiate the camera suppliers from each other. He also thinks there will be more adherence to or standardisation on protocols.
Alves expects to see investment into image quality pay off as more people focus on the image as well as speciality features like low light and WDR. Image usability is going to be key.
Lattuca expects there will be a lot of development in the market in terms of hardware as well as software. There is and will be a large choice for customers, which can be confusing. He believes customers want more simplicity and less products, and more value in terms of what they get out of their surveillance investment.
Going forward, Wynberger expects to see integration into areas such as access control and building management systems (BMS) coming to the fore this year. Lots of work will be done on the VMS and BMS side of things to make integration faster and easier, and most importantly, to integrate all a camera’s functionality into the software management platform for better control.
It seems there will be a definite trend away from the “what’s new” and “what’s hot” marketing in surveillance this year, to a more customer focused drive to provide additional functionality and usable information that can be extracted from video data. Making use of the images produced in an analytical sense will also be a growth market this year as the concept of extracting more value from security investments becomes more important. Competition from the East will intensify, requiring companies to find new ways of adding value rather than simply selling on price. And perhaps more users will take a long-term view of what they can get out of surveillance rather than opting for cheap products and hoping they come with awesome support and deliver amazing results.
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