While surveillance technology advances, local industry drivers want to see standards implemented and compulsory technical certification.
Gathering a group of industry leaders around a table and asking them about the future of the surveillance industry is sure to result in some interesting comments. The 2010 CCTV round-table was no exception.
We expected the group at this year’s round table to inundate us with stories of technology advances such as intelligent video analytics, high-definition video and related ‘cool stuff’. There was more than enough said about technology, but the discussion often diverted to topics more important in business today, such as quality, standards, training and certification. True to the market where we are seeing more companies focused on business benefits, value-add, IT integration and integrating security processes with the rest of the organisation’s processes, the latest in technology is not what gets passions raised.
The value and benefits of surveillance today is based on what users can get out of their systems, and not what products the industry can offer. An important point raised was that solutions are not about a single technology, but how technology gets business leaders to pay attention because of its deliverables.
Long-time Hi-Tech Security Solutions’ contributor, Dr Craig Donald added to the issue by raising the concept of the human factor. It’s pointless having a multi-million rand setup when your staff has not been trained to make full use of it.
The reality is that the security industry is evolving from being made up of companies that install cameras and occasionally work with IT departments to ensure networks work as required for the whole company, to installers and integrators that solve business problems without creating new ones. This idea of understanding what your customers pain points are and providing solutions to soothe those issues, like the IT industry had to learn to do, is what separates security integrators in the surveillance market with a future from those that will see their markets shrink.
Intelligence and analytics
To achieve these lofty goals, Kevin Monk, MD of Nkunzi TechniSec expects to see a move to remote surveillance and off-site hosting, a topic we return to later. He also believes we are going to see a change in video analytics in which increased use of metadata actually makes surveillance footage more useful.
Monk describes metadata as the data stream coming off cameras, “so you would be able to actually interrogate the camera in terms of saying ‘I want to find every person in a red shirt that has entered the building in the last 3 hours’, for example.” Another example of the improvement analytics will deliver is, for example, in vehicle access. The system could be used to record all cars entering a premises, but to raise an alarm when a car of a specific colour arrives. In retail this could be useful as there are often reports that a specific make and colour car is used for criminal reconnaissance, but nothing more is known. Roving security officers could be alerted to the presence of a car matching this description and investigate its activities.
Roy Alves, country manager of Axis Communications explains that with modern analytics, a number of cameras can be employed to follow a car or person as they move through a location, or historical footage can be followed, a lost child, for example, to see where they went and what they did. He does warn, however, that while it is a good idea, the full implementation of this technology is still some way in the future.
Intelligent analytics is where integrators can make an impact on their clients’ businesses by deploying more than simply a camera system. Monk says they should be helping companies to manage by exception with analytics, raising an alarm in the control room when an anomaly happens – such as someone approaching a restricted area. This type of system can be improved over time to include more metadata and intelligent applications when the infrastructure and the human resources are available to handle it. It is all about identifying a problem and solving it.
Ernest Mallett, product manager at ADI Global notes that many companies are selling CCTV solutions as a bunch of connected cameras without knowing what they are solving. Industry-leading integrators and installers are going out to the market and asking what problems potential customers face are, and then assisting in solving them. “You need to start looking at it at an enterprise level of how you are going to solve the users’ problems and not just say well lets come in with a DVR or NVR and put in analytics and walk away without solving anything. You have got to look at it company by company, and start applying the intelligence around CCTV to their problems. So if it is my Johnny Walker Blue Label going missing and I do not know why, how can surveillance determine if there is sweet-hearting, pouring two tots and billing one, or not billing at all?”
Kevin Pearman, business development executive, CCTV at Bytes Technology Group brings an IT aspect to the conversation, relating the analytics and metadata to traditional business intelligence (BI). “This is where you are looking at it from the point of view of a business intelligence solution, going in and understanding the virtual market in which they operate and that is where your detection will work in various environments. When you start looking from a different perspective at consumer behaviour, for example, where you want to see how many consumers walked into a shop, which direction they went and how long they stood at a cubicle, what they looked at, you add value to using CCTV and video analytics, and bring in a different aspect to traditional security solutions.
“Surveillance in this context means understanding the business, what people want to get out of the system and then designing a security system based on that, whether it be on-site analytics, where it be perimeter detection, and off-site monitoring. That all boils down to the sales person driving the process, making sure that the technologies are there and implementing the right system.”
Pearman also notes that these are not vanilla solutions, but will be vertical market dependent. Traditional systems will work in one situation, but advanced analytics will be required to deliver business value in another.
Unfortunately, when customising solutions, one often has to work with other departments and people with different skill sets; and the security industry has a rather bad history of cooperation.
A crucial aspect of successful implementations is training. Vladimir Milovanovic, GM, Industrial Automation & Control (IAC) says distributors often see bad mistakes in implementation. He says the product vendors and distributors need to ensure that the integrators are properly trained, that this training is repeated and reinforced at regular intervals so that they are always up to date. “I think it is in our best interest to empower them to do a good job.”
It is really the integrity of the system integrators, the suppliers, the importers and the distributors that matters and makes a difference in this industry, says Jan de Beer, senior executive, MultiVid. “Unfortunately, many of the system integrators do not have skilled people that can ask penetrating questions; they do not have the integration skill, the knowledge, the years of experience and they are therefore going to install a pretty useless system at the end of the day. Unfortunately the customers invariably never know what they want, so you have to guide them and this is impossible if your focus is on selling as many products as possible.
All the attendees agree that what the industry needs is a certification system similar to what the IT industry has. This will allow employers to hire someone knowing that they are able to perform certain tasks and will be able to function at a specific level of professionalism. At the same time, many attendees believe security integrators should be sending their staff on IT certification courses to ensure they are able to function effectively in an increasingly IT world. IP systems are not ruling the roost yet, but their presence is growing and their dominance is inevitable.
Chris Havinga, MD, IP Video Solutions, brings the spectre of IT firmly into the discussion, noting, “a lot of the security responsibility is starting to fall on the IT department”. Basically, if you want to use IT’s network, you have to work through them and meet their requirements.
Additionally, Alves confirms Axis is seeing many traditionally IT integrators entering the security space. This poses a threat to the security integrators, but also poses a threat to customers as they are used to relying on their IT providers, but many of them do not understand physical security.
“Never mind placing a camera, they do not understand what the requirements are in terms of being able to see a person. These guys are generally putting cameras in places where it is easy to run cables.”
This is irrelevant, however, as the IT encroachment is here to stay and will get worse as IT providers have the ear of decision makers. This is naturally seen as a threat to many in the security industry. It is also an opportunity for security operators with good security and IT skills to work with their IT counterparts to deliver value to IT and the business. It is also an opportunity for security distributors and vendors to expand their training offerings to a new set of clients – although this might irritate some of their current customers.
Overall the consensus is that the security industry needs to have standards that govern players on the market that are complied with and policed. An example highlighted by Philip Smerkovitz, MD, TeleEye SA, was a lack of standards and education with respect to lightning protection. Gauteng is a testing ground for any lightning protection systems, but there are still dealers selling into the remote alarm verification market, where you reduce or eliminate guarding of high value assets, and there is no lightning protection on the site either because the dealer deems it not necessary or because it adds significant cost to the quote to implement it correctly. This problem is also exacerbated by the customer who compares quotations on price alone.
De Beer notes that he was on a SABS board that tried to put national standards together for CCTV. The efforts went as far as delivering a draft document, but then faded away because it was a voluntary forum and the best practices advanced could not be enforced. The authorities, unsurprisingly, had no interest in it. Today the local industry is still without standards, and customers are paying for it with expensive solutions that achieve nothing.
Monk comments that it is one thing to getting people together to write a standard. “The problem is who polices it? Who implements it? I think if there was an independent body that got the right to police standards, you would have a very good industry.
There is however, a silver lining. With more corporations opting for IP solutions and IT departments getting involved in security, they generally demand certification before they allow people to touch the network. Alternatively, Monk says they defer all network operations to their service providers, forcing security integrators to work with these companies – which only happens when integrators have the business and IT skills needed to talk to these people.
Mallett adds that this does not mean the end of the security integrator because the IT providers still lack the security knowledge to install effective solutions. To them, a switch is a switch, while the way video is switched is different from traditional business data.
He also says that while there are no compulsory standards and certifications, some distributors and vendors raise their own barriers to entry for unskilled integrators.
Those integrators that are certified in specific products receive discounts that fly-by-nights do not, which gives the skilled companies a small price advantage. Milovanovic supports this, saying distributors can weed out the unskilled integrators that will cause embarrassment to brands by awarding bigger discounts to those who have made the effort and invested in themselves and their companies by enrolling in training and certification programmes.
Havinga notes this is crucial because the fallout of integrators making bad decisions always comes back to the vendors and distributors. “A poor installation damages the product’s and distributor’s brand; it could be the best product, it could be the best software and the best camera, it does not matter if it is not being used properly.”
The idea of charging for services, as IT companies do was also raised. If an integrator needs a distributor to assist them, as often happens with poorly trained installers, the vendors/distributors should consider charging per hour for their assistance. It works in the IT world. This will encourage integrators to ensure their people have the requisite skills to do the job and will not automatically rely on their distributors to fill in any gaps lacking in their skill sets. Of course, distributors are profit driven companies and a move like this would have to be driven by all the major players and not only one or two.
This idea caused some discussion and is probably a topic for its own round-table. Needless to say, the influence of IT companies, their skills and lower product profit margins will impact the security industry and force many to consider what used to be ridiculous ideas.
Another key issue the attendees expected to see in 2010, partly because of a lack of skills and integrity, is remote monitoring and hosting.
Smerkovitz is in a good position to comment on remote monitoring as TeleEye has been in this market for some time. With the lack of trust in guarding, as well as global personnel and budget cutbacks, plus the increased availability and lower cost of bandwidth in the country, remote services are becoming accepted and easier to implement. And, depending on who you are speaking to, remote surveillance offers more security and less life-threatening situations. Moreover, infrastructure such as the newly implemented Seacom cable will provide even more opportunity for cross border remote monitoring of facilities in the East African regions facilitated by the increased international bandwidth and lower costs which Seacom provides.
It is not all roses however as there are factors which hamper the provision of reliable remote surveillance solutions, ranging from lack of reliable affordable bandwidth in certain regions to the lack of IT communication skills in the security industry. The correct CCTV equipment and data communications are the most critical factors for a successful remote monitoring solution, and any inadequacy in these areas can render a remote monitoring solution useless.
For remote video alarm verification, CCTV equipment and detectors must be carefully selected according to their application. We are seeing an increased amount of remote alarm verification operators trying to imitate professional alarm verification equipment with the use of lower cost equipment not designed for that purpose. An example is those companies who offer a low cost alarm panel with a low cost DVR or IP camera, with no backend integration between the two and promote this as a professional solution. This tarnishes the image of remote alarm verification services as these systems lack standards,
performance, reliability and accountability.
Video analytics is another area that must be approached with caution when used for perimeter detection. While certain up-market solutions perform reasonably well in this environment, there has been an increase in lower cost inferior analytic solutions entering the market. The marketing in the media and demonstration of analytics systems are very similar, resulting in the customer perceiving that all systems provide a similar solution. This is not always the case and one must be extremely careful when selecting the analytics system for detection in critical environments. Analytics systems that fail to detect or cause false alarms compromise the solution they were originally intended to provide. Whilst a certain degree of false alarms can be tolerated for onsite control rooms, false alarms at the remote control room are very frustrating for operators and are an absolute cancer for remote monitoring centres as they lead to increased bandwidth and resource utilisation, increased emotional frustration and require human assessment. He adds that design of the solution and the selected product plays a crucial role in false alarm rates as well. Companies that simply go for cheaper goods that sound as if they have all the features needed often find the equipment savings lost in excessive costs in dealing with false alarms or no alarms at all.
On camera storage and intelligence
Mallett expects to see more cameras with intelligence and storage on board selling in the future.
One of the reasons is the excitement over high-definition and H.264. Unfortunately, while the high-definition image quality is as excellent as H.264 compression, the CPU requirements of H.264 and the bandwidth requirements for multiple high-definition cameras, even when compressed, hampers effective surveillance. It is just too much for the general surveillance environment. With much of the processing and storage happening on camera (32-gigabyte SD cards are now available, with 64 gigabytes due soon), infrastructure resources are freed up and control rooms only need to receive a video feed when the camera detects an anomaly.
Pearman notes there are products available with hard drives attached to the camera that offer hundreds of gigabytes of storage, extending the concept even further. However, Milovanovic suggests that there will have to be some compromise in this area. Even with hours or days of video stored on camera, most installations will require some form of constant video feed to a control room. This could be at a lower, less bandwidth hungry resolution, or at a lower frame rate, but some form of streaming will need to happen, if only to reassure people that the cameras are working.
The subject of intelligence has been mentioned before, but remains somewhat contentious. Alves says that vendors are producing cameras and systems with all sorts of supposed intelligence, but most installations do not use it. Whether this is a case of uneducated users or underperforming functionality is ammunition for another discussion. However, many installations that have been branded as failures have suddenly come alive when combined with intelligence.
Donald refers in particular to a large supermarket retail operation that was very unhappy with its rollout of hundreds of cameras across stores countrywide. This disappointment vanished when the footage was combined with images of goods going across the counters. Suddenly the video footage was not only something to use reactively after robberies for example, but it produced startling results in identifying staff and accomplices who were helping themselves to goods at discount pricing. The business value was defined and the business was happy.
De Beer says MultiVid has had numerous successes in which combining the surveillance solution with external systems has delivered value the customer had not anticipated, while still doing the traditional job of surveillance.
Pearman sums it up, “if you do not sell proper solutions, if you do not understand the client’s requirements, you are literally going to put something together like the bakkie brigade do and you will be left with a white elephant.”
While integration is also an enormous topic in the security industry, the round-table found that many distributors are now bundling packages for their integrators that include the traditional CCTV equipment, plus storage and networking kit. Mallett says ADI is bundling network attached storage and networking switches with specific kit and integrators are appreciative because they know the systems work together and they will not have additional integration problems as often happens when buying from various suppliers. And it can work out cheaper.
Milovanovic notes that IAC also promotes a specific brand of storage as it has been designed to work with Mobotix, again cutting out potential installation problems. TeleEye does the same to protect its brand, according to Smerkovitz. At the end of the day, the unhappy client sees a CCTV manufacturers brand at his site and associates that with poor performance when an installer has used inferior or under specified IT hardware, or lacks the necessary IT skills to implement a reliable integrated solution.
Full systems ahead, with a caveat
As with the security industry in general, the surveillance market will see the continued evolution to a more IT focused industry that is driven by delivering business value. Fortunately, technology is improving continually and the solutions deliverable will be able to provide far more than traditional surveillance ever could.
The issue of IT intruding on security’s turf, or security invading IT’s space will continue with both sides grappling to define their own territory. Both have advantages to offer clients, but the IT industry has a head start on delivering value and focusing on business benefits. A positive in this regard will be the ability for security integrators with the right skills to offer an integrated service, expanding their own functional areas. These skills will also allow them to work more closely with IT departments instead of clashing with them.
Unfortunately, the issue of training and certification, not to mention standards is one that will not be resolved quickly. There are still too many companies offering bakkie-brigade services to ignorant clients, of which there seems to be no end, making enough to keep themselves happy and therefore having no motivation to invest in themselves or their staff in terms of training. The ultimate losers will be the industry and the brand value of the security vendors and manufacturers.
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