The idea of remote monitoring is nothing new. Companies have been offering to watch over business and residential premises for many years, with varying degrees of success. What has changed in this market is the technology available to boost the remote services on offer, as well as some innovative new ideas about what works and what doesn’t work in the remote or offsite monitoring arena.
In order to find out what solutions are available in the remote monitoring world, Hi-Tech Security Solutions polled three service providers via email to find out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to providing remote services. We approached companies that provide a remote monitoring service, as opposed to those offering products and solutions, because we wanted some hands-on opinions on the topic from those in the trenches.
Our service providers are:
• Adriaan Bosch, MD of Astrosec,
• Niven Perumal, senior product manager at Vox Telecom, and
• Mike Voortman, director at Verifier
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: With remote monitoring services on a growth path, what services are companies offering to the market?
Adriaan Bosch: Currently the services centre around the eradication of false alarms and visually confirming an alarm event. Physical reaction services are under tremendous strain to respond to the large volumes of false alarms under normal circumstances, during load shedding the problem increases tenfold. Some companies are literally taking days to get to all the false alarms while the event could be managed within a couple of seconds by a remote monitoring station, if the system is designed to include cameras. The areas where we have experienced the most growth is in the monitoring of perimeter protection systems as well as licence plate recognition systems.
Niven Perumal: The offering is now a full turnkey solution from a single provider, which comprises the data link; with the drive towards fibre connectivity in South Africa, it now lends itself to a platform-in-the-cloud service with no NVR/DVR onsite, backup and storage is now offsite and secure. As the 'Internet of Things' is evolving, more devices are providing information updates, online on statuses of doors, lights, energy and access control, allowing a further dimension for intelligent remote monitoring services from providers.
Mike Voortman: Virtual guarding and guarding support services remain the primary remote offerings, though retail forensic and SLA compliance monitoring are on the increase.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What do customers or potential customers expect when they consider remote monitoring? What can service providers realistically offer?
Adriaan Bosch: There is a difference between monitoring public and private spaces for clients, but in general the expectation is to 'see' a criminal by monitoring the cameras live 24/7. On the one hand, the expectation is not practical because of the amount of data that you need to stream and the amount of camera images a controller can effectively monitor. In public areas, it is also not always possible to establish who is a criminal and who is not.
On the other hand, there is so much more one can do than simply look at the cameras remotely. Apart from being able to confirm an actual event is taking place, remote control rooms can control an event and steer all support services to form a cordon and effectively control a situation in a manner and from a location that the criminals can’t interfere with. The control room can also immediately interact when an event is detected by verbally challenging the criminal and/or deploying 'fightback' systems like sound bombs, smoke canons etc.
All events should be recorded remotely, but recording all the footage, while possible, is not practical, except if there is a specific need or risk. Remote monitoring as part of a holistic security strategy should be seen as a force multiplier and a supplement to security, and not just as a tool to replace guards.
Niven Perumal: Customers expect to save on security costs by reducing the number of guards with the expectation that remote monitoring provide effective perimeter detection. What is key to the success of remote monitoring is regular preventative maintenance, such as cable checks, surge protection, storage and video retrieval, which is part of the SLA services Vox Telecom provides every quarter.
Mike Voortman: Sometimes an expectancy gap exists when clients expect an unrealistic 'CSI' type of performance from their systems, where controllers can instantly track vehicles over many cameras from different locations etc.
These types of expectancies need to be managed during the sales cycle so as to ensure the longevity of the contract. Customers are becoming more tech savvy, however, and the vast majority first require an education process to fully understand deliverables. It’s then a case of matching their requirements to deliverables.
Guarding enhancement and SLA compliance monitoring have been available for years and are, on the whole, successfully delivered as an additional layer for strategic sites. Intrusion detection as primary or failover services are widely offered as well as afterhours access control. Some providers are providing added value services in order to assist clients on a junior management level e.g. mystery shopper reporting, complementing forensic monitoring in place.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: How do you spec a remote monitoring job? What can be done remotely and what can’t?
Adriaan Bosch: We first endeavour to understand the problem and assess the risk before we develop a solution. If a risk assessment is not available on-site, we will conduct a general risk assessment to prioritise risk and see which risks we can practically mitigate. From an incident prevention point of view, the main strategy behind remote monitoring is early detection and response.
To support the onsite technology and for clients where we help manage service level agreements, we have roaming site inspectors who conduct ad hoc site inspections and intrusion testing. We will never supply personnel in the form of a security guard and prefer to remain independent. Remote monitoring delivers the best value where a system is designed around the clients risk and in support of onsite or nearby response, including the SAPS, who have the legal right, training and equipment to respond to all events. When you add a bit of deception and quality control to the mix, you get value while effectively mitigating your risk.
Niven Perumal: We have skilled security specialists that go out to site to conduct an obligation-free security assessment to identify possible security vulnerabilities and scope to overcome these. We can deploy third-party onsite personnel should there be a system outage. However, we offer a swap out service of equipment should we have an outage.
Remote monitoring is best suited to any environment with no expected movement afterhours, i.e. the manufacturing, education and financial services sectors and motor dealerships etc. The reason this is best suited is that we only receive an alarm and footage from site when movement is detected. We are not replying on any human intervention to pick up an incident, thereby eliminating negligence or missing something when watching live footage.
Mike Voortman: We purely look at client requirements combined with the risk assessment in order to determine what technical solution is required to enable us to deliver. As an independent monitoring service, we don’t supply onsite staff, but in certain circumstances the client’s guarding provider may provide a failover staff member/supervisor who would monitor locally should site connectivity fail.
Remote monitoring delivers the best value to customers either by complementing guarding services with monitoring from a provider independent of the guarding company, so as to ensure transparency, eliminate collusion and generally assist in adherence to SLAs, or by guarding replacements where feasible.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What technology should a remote service provider have to ensure they are able to do their jobs?
Adriaan Bosch: Firstly, technology and systems wise the SAIDSA Bylaw 6 is a good starting point for a serious service provider (http://www.saidsa.co.za/download.htm). The bylaw should be seen as the minimum standard and there should be double layers of redundancy built into every system to ensure 24/7 service. Something simple, like having two air-conditioning units in your server room to ensure up time during maintenance or in the event that one should fail.
Secondly, it’s widely accepted that the correct way to monitor systems remotely is on a 'Back Screen' basis. It’s important to have the right monitoring software that enables you to monitor multiple camera systems and other devices on a single platform with multiple layers of redundancy. To keep response times to the minimum, each site should be individually scripted incorporating the location and function of each individual camera. Control room operators should also be able to use this platform to directly trigger edge devices, have duel audio capabilities and open multiple cameras while still monitoring the live images from the specific location.
Niven Perumal: A service provider must have a best-of-breed incident management system that can be customised to the customer’s environment, and procedure that is fully automated so that the control room operator is able to react and communicate effectively when an incident does occur with full audit tracking and reporting that the client can review per incident.
Mike Voortman: In all aspects, from power to server arrays, staffing and communications systems, redundancy (and for some aspects, triple redundancy) is an absolute. Clients need to ask critical questions regarding these aspects before appointing a provider.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What technology do you recommend clients use for the best remote monitoring results?
Adriaan Bosch: The best result is gained with a CCTV system that will provide identification via quality images, incorporated into an onsite detection device that generates an alarm trigger over an ADSL line connection.
Niven Perumal: There is so much technology the market is being bombarded with. What is key is the remote management platform that it integrates with to provide effective incident management. If one is looking for application specific requirements such as number plate recognition or detail analytics such as direction of movement or people counters, Vox telecom is flexible enough to provide the technology suited.
Mike Voortman: We have a 'horses for courses' approach where products are recommended in accordance with the client’s requirements and their budget. We monitor an array of products supporting analytics, LPR, Point-of-Sale and forensic monitoring, to name some.
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