Technology abounds in the surveillance industry and changes on a constant basis to provide the promise of new deliverables in terms of quality, output and integration. However, what the end user really wants from his system is oftentimes less hype and more return on investment.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions chatted to eight systems integration companies and security consultants about designing and planning the implementation of a surveillance system that provides tangible benefits and offers customers hassle-free solutions.
The primary function of any surveillance system revolves around the specific needs of the customer. The process should not be one of suppliers or integrators pushing technology onto customers based on their need to move high-end products into the market. All respondents agreed that before any planning and design can start, a comprehensive overview meeting with the customer at their premises is critical.
“By physically visiting the site, identifying hot spots and critical areas and determining whether any existing surveillance systems can become part of a new system or need to be replaced, allows a systems integrator to develop an overall strategy,” says Richard Creighton, HBS Business Leader, Africa, at Honeywell. “Any consultant or systems integrator who attempts to implement a plan remotely, without foresight of the installation environment must be avoided.”
A comprehensive risk assessment will include the expected coverage of the site, including all critical areas; whether this coverage needs to be conducted on a round-the-clock basis; and what existing system is on site.
“At the very first meeting with the customer, it is important to include representatives from their IT department, says Shaun Thomé, sales manager at Basix. “This allows the integrator to establish whether the customer wishes the installer to piggyback on an existing IT network or whether it is more advisable to implement a dedicated security network.
“The advantages to the latter include avoidance of overloading the business IT network and ensuring that both networks are completely secure. Disadvantages are primarily the extra costs involved in establishing the network and monitoring it after installation.”
“It is important to look at the operational dynamics of the site, such as the infrastructure (network and storage capacity) required; whether an analogue, hybrid or a combination system is required; and whether the system has a national operational centre or be viewed and controlled via isolated control rooms. Once all these questions have been answered, the integrator can design and construct the surveillance solution,” says Creighton.
Alex de Barros, a consultant to Servest Technologies adds that the type of camera chosen is based on the specific expectations and requirements of the customer. “You need to discuss with the customer whether he wants high-definition images for identification purposes and/or for number plate recognition and recording. Or, are the cameras merely used to determine movement in specific areas? In the latter instance, you would not select a high-definition megapixel camera with the requisite accompanying large storage demands it commands, but rather a lower definition camera.
“The strategic positioning of cameras is critical to the success of any surveillance installation project.”
“Identifying choke points, such as doorways or entrances, where the person is required to present a card, tag or finger to gain access will allow you to place cameras for identification purposes,” adds Francois Malan, MD of Camsecure.
“In addition, the camera angle plays a role in determining what quality level camera you need. You need to take heed that colour cameras are not always the solution, as they tend to use a lot more bandwidth and storage in low light conditions and often do not produce good quality images when they are needed,” says Malan. “Another factor often overlooked is that if you are going to have an installation with thousands of cameras, you need to ensure that you have an adequate network design in place and that you have devices that are transmitting and compressing the video footage optimally. A lot of small inefficiencies on a large system can add up to a big nightmare for the end user.”
“When considering the type of camera to install, you need to first determine what network will work best for the installation at hand, such as wireless, fibre, or cloud-based,” adds Shaune Beyleveldt, IT manager at Basix.
Kevin Monk, technical director at the Bidvest Magnum Group, said that one often has to educate one’s customers on the benefits of a particular system. “While you are outlining the general security benefits, it is important to point out the additional OHS benefits they can derive from a suitable surveillance system. In this way the customer feels he is getting more than he had originally anticipated and his confidence in the system integrator’s capabilities, integrity and knowledge will increase.”
Monk comments that one should also determine and outline the type of analytics that will be used for recorded material, as well as set up procedures for how the material will be viewed and analysed. “Determination of whether the actions are proactive (in a control room) whereby one would use a cross-pollination of static and mobile cameras); or rear-active (where footage is reviewed at a later stage) whereby static cameras are adequate, is necessary.”
The level of integration to other systems, such as fire and access control, is often overlooked. “The importance of an open platform, future-proofed system cannot be overstated. Technology is expensive and to find that your supposedly high-end system cannot interface to other critical elements either today or in the near future, could be catastrophic for many companies,” says Malan.
“You need to be pragmatic and match the costs to both the business driver and the system. It is often better to install the system in building blocks as the budget for surveillance grows. At the end of the day you should not be installing technology just for the sake of installing technology; it should have a predefined and valuable role to play and if something less high-tech can do the job adequately, then downscale at the design stages,” notes Ian Downie, shareholder and director of sales and marketing at Xone.
The right partner
Kobus Le Roux, national sales and marketing executive for Jasco Security Solutions, cautions against the temptation of cutting system integrators out of the equation during the planning and design stages. “We know of many cases where a customer chose to use other avenues to design the solution without the insight of the integrator which resulted in greater expenses and dubious results.
“We find that in these instances there is a lot of subjectively driven marketing noise made by the supplier and OEM. In the past, system integrators would be the first line of communication to the end user. This allowed for proper risk assessment before a specific solution and product was discussed. Now, they often find that they are involved in the project only after all the critical decisions have been made.
“In the majority of cases, the end user does not have a comprehensive knowledge of what technology best suits his needs and the equipment supplier many times is only interested in selling the latest technology with all its bells and whistles, irrespective of whether he is over- or under-speccing the project.”
“Technology changes so rapidly that you need to be flexible and understand what you want to get out of your recorded footage in terms of the application in question, for example, for perimeter surveillance you would need a day/night camera with zoom capabilities,” says Creighton.
Downie concurs that system integrators provide a vital link in the supply chain. “Due to experience gained over many years of working on similar projects, systems integrators are able to weigh up the risks facing an organisation, review current systems and decide on a suitable and cost effective plan to mitigate the risks.
“A good system integrator also understands that the solution is threefold – process, people and technology. It is important to acknowledge that the process precedes the technology in each case. It does not help to purchase a bus load of expensive equipment which is overkill for the job at hand.”
Service is paramount
In order to ensure that the planned installation will perform according to the expectations of the customer, it is important to have a full scope of work document as well as a service level agreement (SLA) in place. Furthermore, communication with OEMs will provide valuable information sharing on technology available, and full entry level training will ensure that customers are able utilise the technology effectively.
“The scope of work or project plan needs to incorporate information on deliverables, milestones and prerequisites,” says Beyleveldt. “The document should also include tests and sign-offs,” notes Downie. “Finally, the handover document must be compared to the scope of work document. This could include practical completion (identifying snags), a list of snags, handover and commissioning dates,” adds Monk.
The SLA, which is performance based, will outline exactly what parameters and predefined specifications are required. In addition, determination of maintenance and future upgrades will be specified.
“Preventative maintenance, as opposed to corrective maintenance, will allow you to identify possible failures before they become actual issues, thus reducing downtime and costs,” says Thomé. “System feedback is required to inform the maintenance team or the system integrator when maintenance or upgrades are required. By making this an automatic function, you effectively reduce possible failures,” adds Malan.
“It would be wise to institute back-to-back warranty agreements with suppliers that match the maintenance agreement,” says Downie. “Ideally, the maintenance agreement should be extendable and design your contract around backwards compatibility to ensure that maintenance staff can work on the systems.”
Is it what it says it is?
Can customers rely on the quality output specified on a camera’s packaging or should they get down to component level to determine capabilities? “We have proved in camera shootouts that the specifications that appear on the camera box are not always accurate,” states Jacques Nieuwoudt, a director at Risk Consulting Network. “Be cautious and do not rely on the marketing spin.”
Le Roux agrees:”If it is a reputable brand you can usually put some credence in their claims, however, I still believe it is advisable to test all products before specifying them for a customer’s installation.”
Beyleveldt and Malan say it is advisable to select equipment that complies with Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) as well as other international HDTV standards. “This means that we will eliminate the undesirables in the industry, resulting in a more professional industry offering.”
De Barros believes that often an entry-level camera will perform a task as well as a high-definition camera, dependent on the application it is being used for. “It is more important that a system is scaleable to what the customer requires. Depending on the growing needs of the customer, he may need to invest in a bigger server at some stage in the future.”
Monk adds: “Sometimes utilising a larger number of lower resolution cameras will have a more meaningful effect than deploying one or two megapixel cameras with a similar bandwidth and storage requirement. The application does not always call for identification of a person, so rather invest the budget in deploying a larger number of lower resolution cameras to provide wider coverage.
“It is important to get down to component level, especially when a customer is considering an IP system. The system will determine your bandwidth requirements and therefore you need to know what product is going into the field, based on the correct platform for the application.”
Downie says that specifications and their credibility are complex matters that are best left to an experienced system integrator to determine. “No matter how much someone knows about the field of surveillance cameras, the calibre of a camera can be faked. However, if a customer selects a system integrator who has a verifiable track record, has a history of large scale installations, and exhibits integrity in terms of objective selection of equipment, then there is less likelihood of an inferior product slipping through the cracks.”
IP, the way forward?
While all interviewees acknowledged that there is still a role for analogue technology to play in certain instances, IP is definitely the technology of the future. Nieuwoudt cautions that the technology is a bit overrated at this stage, with costs being rather high and a shortage of suitably skilled installers being the stumbling blocks to widespread acceptance.
De Barros says that analogue cameras are still improving and getting cheaper and because of their amelioration and the research and development invested in them, there will still be a place for them in more cost conscious applications. “However, IP has a longer shelf life because of the firmware upgrades available. This means that when you are in touch with your customer’s growing or changing needs, you can readily upgrade their IP system to suit by upgrading the software.”
Both Malan and Monk state that the larger contracts are specifying IP as their technology of choice. “Analogue only outsells IP at a component level and I believe that it is suitable predominantly for the SOHO market,” Monk says. “Unfortunately, because it is a closed system, analogue has serious restrictions in terms of future-proofing the installation,” adds Malan.
Thomé believes that the only reason the volume of sales on analogue cameras is higher than that of IP cameras, is the lower cost of the technology. “Without a doubt, IP has more features and benefits to offer the customer, including a cheaper infrastructure. One way of easing customers with an existing analogue system into IP is to utilise a hybrid system, then replace it with IP when necessary.”
“IP is easier to install and integrate with other systems and you have the benefit that, from a maintenance point of view, you can fault find over IP networks,” says Le Roux. “Conversely, even though most analogue cameras do provide a quality output, they are labour and maintenance intensive when compared to IP systems.”
Leasing and offsite monitoring
There are merits to both offsite monitoring and leasing of surveillance systems, but customers should also be aware of the possible downside to these options.
“I believe that freedom of choice in technology should be a given, however, this is not always available when leasing a system and customers should be careful that they are not locked into a specific brand for the duration of the contract,” says Malan.
“Budget often determines whether outright purchase or rental of surveillance systems is chosen. In addition, rental has tax benefits for the customer and is an opex rather than a capex expense that allows upgradeability of products without extra expense. It is important that performance levels are built into the contract to ensure that the lessor upholds high quality levels,” says Thomé.
Creighton notes that there is a time and place for offsite monitoring depending on the installation environment. “While offsite monitoring can be utilised, I do not feel it is advisable to lease your surveillance system. For a critical application like security, you should have ownership of your own system and its components. In most critical environments, bespoke application of surveillance technology is employed and therefore by vested interest, the system’s integrity and sustainability will have more chance of succeeding and being used for the full life cycle of the asset.”
In order to guarantee the success of offsite monitoring, it is important to determine the first, second and third tier control room mechanisms and the level of input required. “Something that cannot be overlooked though, and I cannot emphasise this enough, is the importance of people in the equation. Technology alone cannot provide surveillance needs and this is often exacerbated by the fact that customers often do not understand technology and its limitations,” says Downie.
Monk agrees about the importance of having a balance of technology with security officers doing patrols and feeding back information on camera positions to the control room.
Monk summarises the concerted observation of the interviewees: “Customers need to do a due diligence on the installer and monitoring company in order to ensure that integrity is the cornerstone of their operations. In addition, a full disaster recovery facility should be in place to ensure that, should the system suffer a breakdown, they will be able to quickly and seamlessly carry on their surveillance operations. The role that a good systems integrator can play in the equation cannot be overstated.”
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