Video Reliability, Serviceability and Convenience
What to look for and how it affects your organization.
Organizations typically invest a lot of time and effort into evaluating different video surveillance solutions before landing on the best choice for their needs – and rightly so. The physical security market is crowded with offerings and technology is evolving rapidly, making it even more difficult to keep up with the latest innovations.
Creating a list of criteria for a new video solution can turn into a laborious process quickly, especially as non-traditional video users – such as operations, workforce management and marketing – are requesting access to the system more frequently to gather their own business insights.
Product reliability will be at the top of most companies’ requirements regardless of who is using the video. Less obvious are two qualities that are arguably just as important – how convenient the product is to use and how easy it is to maintain.
Security Today recently discussed all three product attributes with Dan Cremins, global product management leader at March Networks. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
Q: Many organizations would assume that product reliability is a given for all but the most cutting-edge technologies. Is reliability something that organizations still need to evaluate, and if so, what distinguishes one video solution from another?
A: You’re right – reliability should be a given, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. And when an incident occurs, the video has to be there or the time and resources you’ve invested in your video solution are essentially wasted.
So yes, organizations should definitely evaluate the reliability of the solution they are considering. There are several ways to approach this. Some organizations will have their IT teams test equipment in their lab environment, for example. And nothing beats running a complete solution at a trial location before rolling out products to multiple sites. There are also specific features you can look for that contribute to the overall reliability of a product that will help you get to those next steps in your decision-making process.
To ensure your organization is making the best choice, create a checklist of criteria that includes items such as how purpose-built the video products are and what specific features they offer to ensure optimum performance. Some network video recorders, for example, incorporate customized operating systems (OS) that strip out all unnecessary background services to reduce points of vulnerability and eliminate frequent OS software updates. Other video recorder features that can improve reliability include battery backup, internal disk mirroring and a robust system health monitoring capability via an enterprise management software.
System health monitoring is a huge advantage for large organizations with hundreds or even thousands of video devices. It proactively highlights potential issues, such as a failing hard-drive or a surveillance camera that’s lost network connectivity, giving administrators the opportunity to respond to issues before any video evidence is lost.
Surveillance cameras can also be ‘purpose-built’ and should be evaluated for reliability based on how they will need to be used. Most organizations know that outdoor applications require an outdoor camera with the right environmental housing and ratings, but other considerations should include:
- Variable lighting, which will dictate whether you need high dynamic range, true day night, infrared or other features;
- Specific accessories such as mounts, shields and locking mechanisms that allow you to install the camera properly (e.g. to a pole or flush on a ceiling), protect it from glare (e.g. in the case of an interior ATM camera or forward facing camera on a bus) and lock it carefully in place if needed (again, an ATM camera is a great example of where special locking brackets are required);
- Impact, ingress and other internationally-recognized protection ratings that you might require based on your application. Common ratings include IP66, which ensures a very high degree of protection from dust and moisture ingress, and IK10, which indicates that the camera can withstand as much as 20 joules of impact – making it extremely vandal-resistant.
Q: How important is product serviceability for companies, especially when many of them leave their video system maintenance to their systems integrator?
A: The easier a product is to maintain, the less it will cost an organization over time, both in terms of truck rolls and the resources you’re going to expend managing and troubleshooting performance issues. So for the health of your budget and your stress levels, it’s important to find video surveillance solutions that are designed for easy maintenance.
On the recorder side, even experienced technicians need readily available tools like diagnostic LEDs to reduce the time it takes them to understand what needs to be fixed when an issue arises. Once that’s clear, a video recorder with a docking station design (similar to your laptop docking station) will enable you to remove the recorder without disconnecting all its camera cables. Some solutions will also come with the ability to automatically apply the same configuration to the replacement recorder using enterprise management software.
For surveillance cameras, many of their value-added features are designed to help with fast installation, such as a 3-axis gimbal, which makes it much easier to achieve a proper field of view (FOV) in a variety of different installations or a motorized zoom lens, which allows a technician to install a camera and adjust FOV back on the ground using software.
Like recorders, cameras also have software and firmware that needs to be kept updated, and that’s where a true enterprise solution offers benefits over less robust video surveillance offerings. Your enterprise management software should enable you – or your systems integrator – to schedule software updates to run during non-peak business hours and to update all of your cameras at once. Maintaining the most current version of your cameras’ firmware is important for performance and also for security, so ensuring that the process is as easy as possible is essential for any organization. In addition, should changes in the application come up, the enterprise management software can be used to mass manage configuration changes
It’s also a good idea to find out what other support tools might be available to help with serviceability. Some manufacturers, for example, offer smartphone applications that provide a wide range of capabilities such as installation and security audit reports, product warranty lookup, express RMAs, troubleshooting and more. These apps can eliminate a lot of small tasks that otherwise end up being a hassle to perform, and are often available as a free download. They make it easier for technicians to diagnose issues in the field and work faster to solve them, saving you time and resources.
Finally, it’s important to understand different video manufacturers’ product warranty and repair and return policies, as both will play into serviceability. On the rare occasions when a recorder needs to be sent back for repair or replaced altogether, how easy or difficult is that process and how much of the cost will be billed to your organization?
Q: Convenience is a word we hear a lot in the physical security industry. What does it mean to you and how does it benefit a customer?
A: Ultimately, a product or solution that’s easy to use is one that’s going to get used to its full potential, and video surveillance is no different.
If your staff feel comfortable using the software, they’ll make it part of their daily routine. Most will then take the next important step, which is to really dig into its capabilities to discover what else they can do with the solution to work more effectively.
Imagine you’re a regional manager responsible for retail stores in 10 different locations. You will likely review video if an incident happens in one of your stores, but if your system software is challenging to use, perhaps that’s all you’ll ever do with it. With an intuitive software interface, however, you might start reviewing video daily and using the system to perform remote audits of your stores, checking for things like promotional displays, store cleanliness, opening and closing procedures etc. A manager that knows their stores well won’t take long to spot many opportunities for improvement, which will directly impact performance once implemented.
When evaluating your future video solution, put the software in front of different users if you’re able to and have them try it out. Ask how customizable the software is to ensure you will have the option to tailor it to best fit the different user roles and responsibilities in your organization (e.g. security, loss prevention, supervisors and administrators).
System usability can make a real impact on profitability, as it affects how long it takes to get what you need. A solution that’s fast and convenient to use will help transform a video system that’s typically used for security applications into a solution that a variety of different departments will want to take advantage of to gain valuable operational insights to monitor and grow their business