Remote monitoring: technology from the past or a great opportunity for tomorrow?

April 2007 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

Remote monitoring is a term with many different meanings. For a security manager, it offers an ability to prevent break-ins and other criminal damage to a facility by monitoring a site from a remote location. An IT manager, on the other hand, would probably prefer to use remote monitoring to check the performance of key corporate servers.

For a storeowner, remote monitoring might provide the ability to monitor the success of the latest in store promotion or quality of service by staff in a particular store, regardless of actual location. In short, remote monitoring offers very different benefits according to one's requirements.

Remote monitoring does not automatically include the use of video, but in most situations video will transform the remote monitoring experience. This article focuses primarily on remote monitoring in combination with video as seen from the security market's perspective.

People have always wanted to protect their assets. Homes and places of work alike need securing, wherever you are in the world. We expect to use physical technology such as fencing, steel bar covered windows and secure locking systems as a deterrent but these steps have limited effectiveness if they are not complemented by some form of surveillance monitoring. Even the most advanced combination of perimeter systems and secure buildings can face unwanted intrusion, and when that happens it is vitally important to alert security staff and the police as soon as possible.

The usual approach is to use an intrusion detection system of a kind that is connected to a central alarm centre or directly to the police. However, as the number of systems installed has increased many cities around the world are seeing the number of 'alarm' incidents (mostly false alarms) rising sharply, and police forces everywhere have found themselves unable to respond to all alarms in a timely way. Worse than this, most police forces today do not accept a simple electronic alarm notification as indication of a crime in progress. To receive proper attention from the police it is increasingly becoming a requirement for 'visual verification' of the cause of the alarm. This can be either by physically sending a security guard to the site and getting a report back to the police by radio or mobile phone, or by sending video evidence that can be gathered and sent from a remote location.

Clearly gathering and sending visual evidence remotely is a significant bonus in terms of manned guarding savings and speed of response to security incidents. It also provides increased safety for security guards who no longer need to endanger themselves by walking into a potentially hazardous situation such as an armed robbery in progress.

According to figures from criminologists in Sweden, the police's ability to solve a criminal investigation is approximately six times higher if there is quality video material available. As the old saying goes - 'a picture is worth a thousand words'!

Current market

Newer technology has changed the definition of remote monitoring. In the past, remote monitoring was mainly about a remote security guard watching in a central location; today the remote monitoring centre adds value by analysing video and transmitting onward key data to relevant authorities and contacts. Some remote monitoring operations provide more specific analysis such as giving point of sale reports and footfall analysis information to store managers in the retail market.

Another trend emerging, spurred by the movement to network-based connections, is a more flexible approach to the location of an RVRC (remote video response centre). In the past, most centres were located in the local area they monitored, partly driven by the benefit of knowledge of the local neighbourhood, and partly for cost reasons, but as globalisation accelerates and focus intensifies on cost reduction, location or relocation of a response centre or customer service centre is increasingly driven by available infrastructure and the cost of operation per customer.

The key driver in all this is that the communication platform used no longer sees any geographical limits. It is now possible to provide permanent quality connections at an acceptable price point throughout large swathes of the developed world. In developed countries broadband connectivity is today being provided to all but the most remote parts. In several cases financial support schemes are available from national governments to stimulate increased connectivity for specific areas of a country, or stimulate usage in schools, hospitals and other parts of the public sector.

A typical remote monitoring system

So, what is a network-based remote monitoring system? It basically contains one or more video servers or network cameras, installed at the remote location. These digitise site images and make them available on a network, as secure, encrypted data. In most cases they will also be connected to intrusion systems or other systems capable of generating an alarm on break-in, pressing of panic buttons or similar input. At the other end is software to manage these remote sites, store images and provide many other features. When an alarm is received the operator gets immediate instructions related to this specific site and alarm and, based on the content of the video and the instructions given, takes suitable action, such as alerting the police.

Even the best system will fail if it is not designed to meet the customer's expectation. The most important thing with all security systems is to understand end-user needs. If there is no clear understanding of the system and its pros and cons the service may not meet the user's expectation.

If the system is of high importance, it is a good idea to design it with some redundancy, eg, using multiple connections and broadband providers in case one of them goes down.

Conclusion

Wait and see is seldom a good business strategy. Network video is a proven concept used in many large-scale and heavy-duty installations worldwide. The first network camera was introduced in 1996. If you have not acquainted yourself with network video yet, you have probably waited long enough already!

Remote video solutions based on network technology represent a major opportunity to keep your existing customers happy and to expand your business into new markets meeting new business needs. With proper attention to the possibilities with remote video monitoring, you will secure your existing business as well as get a chance to take it to the next level.

Roy Alves is the country manager of Axis Communications SA.

For more information contact Roy Alves, Axis Communications SA, +27 (0)11 548 6780, roya@axis.com, www.axis.com


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