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System Design

SME and Distributed Applications

Recent developments in video surveillance technology have been heralded as offering ever increasing functionality to higher end and complex applications. However, there have also been a number of advances with regard to systems designed specifically for smaller and lower risk sites. While many installers and integrators feel such applications are best served by older and often limited technologies, nothing is further from the truth!

For many installers and integrators, differentiating their service offering from others has become increasingly important. Whether through the inclusion of value-added services such as business intelligence or smart site management, the delivery of enhanced levels of flexibility or via the creation of truly bespoke solutions, an increasing number of end users are only willing to invest in systems which work for them.

Of course, not every installer or integrator thinks that way. There are still many companies out there who offer ‘me-too’ products using the same old designs, and the only difference between them and their competitors is price. Such companies are obsessed with the idea that end users simply want the cheapest system possible and don’t care about value or benefits. As such they chase the lowest cost devices, spend as little time as possible on site and are seemingly blind to the diminishing returns that such an approach offers. Often their attitude is a significant driver in the race to the bottom.

What is interesting is that while available budgets and the willingness to invest from SMEs has been increasing (albeit for the right systems), the general offering from many at this end of the market has been decreasing in terms of functionality and cost.

There are a variety of solutions aimed at smaller applications, and some of these are very much based upon the lowest possible cost. Older technologies, limiting coax-based topologies and systems which lack scalability or flexibility might carry a low price tag, but they’re unlikely to meet user expectations or offer the level of protection that customers could realise with a better designed system.

Interestingly, while the more flexible and beneficial networked systems aimed at smaller applications do carry a price premium, it is actually not as great as many might think. When the added benefits are considered – incidentally these are benefits that most SME end users will happily pay for – the systems can be said to be truly cost-effective.

This does raise questions as to why many installers and integrators still feel the need to compete on price, and what they expect to gain from such an approach. Aside from dwindling returns and a need to constantly work harder just to stand still, it also shows a disconnection with the needs and expectations of the customer.

A different approach

Not long ago it could have been argued that networked video systems were too expensive for smaller sites with basic needs. Too often, the feeling of many installers and integrators – plus some end users – was that an investment in IP-based systems simply could not be justified.

As with many technologies, developments in IP-based video started at the top and filtered down. Manufacturers were happy to invest in new and emerging technologies for higher end projects where pockets were a little deeper. They were also reluctant to plunge into the murkier waters of lower risk and smaller systems, where the mantra of ‘lower prices’ seemed to be pervasive.

It must be accepted that chasing a low price is all well and good where the customer simply wants to record average quality video, maybe looking back at it once an incident has occurred. However, while developments in IP-based video surveillance for SMEs has changed in recent years, so have the attitudes of end users.

Technological developments in sectors outside of the security industry – smartphones and tablets, advanced communications, flexible and mobile IT, smart buildings and the Internet of Things – have dramatically changed expectations. Not only do end users expect additional flexibility, functionality, scalability and enhanced performance, but they are willing to invest in systems that deliver it.

It makes no sense whatsoever for any business, whether small or large, to rely on all that technology can offer to run its core business needs such as accounting and invoicing, production and stock control, communications, customer management, building management, marketing, etc., but then to opt for a separate and isolated system for security and site control.

There will be those who offer arguments that security should be kept apart from other systems, but such thinking has to be put into context. Today’s security options are advanced data collection and management systems. Much of the data collected can used to realise benefits in other business areas, and as such add true value and a genuine return on investment. If offered the ability to use that data without compromising the overall security of the site, will any end user – who is effectively running the business as efficiently as possible – ignore the potential benefits for a short-term cost saving, especially when that saving isn’t significant?

While user expectations are increasing, that doesn’t mean that the cost has to. Many of the developments with regard to smarter system design have now filtered down to systems aimed squarely at the SME marketplace. Because they have been purpose designed for this sector, costs have been kept realistic. This has been achieved by removing functions that simply are not required in smaller applications. It’s a refreshing alternative to keeping costs low by deploying limited or outdated technologies.

Because of the inherent flexibility of IP-based products, these systems also offer scalability, meaning that if a business grows – or if risks change – the system can be expanded or upgraded without the initial investment being wasted. Typically the existing system devices can be used as a part of the larger solution. Other system elements can also be easily added. These include access control, perimeter detection, automation, business intelligence, smart technologies, etc..

Inherent benefits

Professional networked solutions which are suitable for smaller sites aren’t always just scaled down versions of the high end products with limitations imposed. The majority from credible manufacturers are typically flexible systems which have been specifically developed with the needs of such applications in mind. Often feature-rich and designed for specific challenges relevant to SME sites, the result is that these systems deliver the benefits SME users value.

One benefits of an IP-based platform is that system design becomes fluid, with many different approaches to the structure of the solution being viable. Whereas older technologies retain the model of a centralised recorder with devices hard-wired to it, the flexibility of a networked option enables installers and integrators to create cost-effective systems which also deliver added value.

If you look at the IT sector and its various system topologies, it gives an idea of the diversity of networked solutions. At the high end of commercial network applications, you have virtualised servers with federated architecture, often using secure off-site processing operations for continuity and failover protection. At the everyday end of the consumer market you have families sharing photographs from their mobile phones via social media. Of course, there is also everything in between, and many of the processes and procedures can be exploited by installers and integrators.

While many of the various propositions use the same basic technologies, they are fundamentally different by design. This flexibility can increasingly be realised in networked video solutions, including those for the smaller sites. For example, systems can use centralised servers for management and storage, or distributed and edge devices can be deployed. This can eliminate the need for a central DVR, NVR or server, with storage being implemented at the edge devices and management of footage being handled via a software interface on a standard laptop, tablet or smartphone.

In many SME applications, the business owner or manager simply won’t have the time or resources to monitor a video system. However, if they want more than video footage after an event then it’s difficult to realise additional benefits with older technologies. A networked solution can enhance value by employing push notifications, cause and effect rules, remote management and interaction with other systems and devices. It can also add features and functions specific to business needs, which ensure the user sees a valid and real return on investment.

Such solutions make sense for installers and integrators as hey are designed to minimise the need for supplementary devices. For example, some use software and edge recording to eliminate the need for a dedicated server. Others which do deploy a central unit feature integral PoE. This not only removes the need for additional PSUs and fused spurs, but enables swift and disruption-free relocation of devices as and when necessary.

Plug and play installations are often a reality because many systems deployed by SMEs will not make use of the business network. Where once plug and play solutions simply allowed the swift addition of cameras, the latest solutions include easy-to-implement analytics, remote connectivity and smart functionality, making them very attractive for a growing number of users.

For installers and integrators who want to deliver a system that is designed for a smaller site but offers enhanced capacities and performance, which interacts with devices that the customer already owns and uses as a part of their business, and which delivers enhanced protection, these systems represent significant opportunities.

For those who restrict their offering for SMEs to basic CCTV systems which are claimed to be cost-effective by those selling them, meeting customer expectations and winning repeat business could become a more challenging issue.

In summary

There are a number of important considerations when looking at SMEs. The first is that smaller sites are not always low risk applications. That said, many smaller sites will have low to medium risk levels, and addressing the threats they face can be achieved simply with many of the networked solutions available. Which solution you pick really will depend upon the circumstances.

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