For many years, developments in VMS software have made the technology a leading option when it comes to the design, implementation and use of smart solutions. Often only consider for video-based security applications, the reality is VMS software offers a huge range of benefits to end users across a wide range of applications. If more users were aware of the potential on offer, the uptake of the technology would probably be greater.
Smart solutions are increasingly in demand, with a growing number of businesses and organisations seeking higher levels of efficiency and a greater return on investment from their technology-based investments. One way of achieving this is to use a VMS as the base of the solution, as this software offers a high level of flexibility, allowing the creation of bespoke solutions which meet a wide range of business needs, as well as delivering a high level of security and process monitoring.
All too often, a lack of understanding about the range of benefits on offer from a VMS can lead to either the wrong system being deployed, or the required features and functions not being implemented. Too often the reason for this is that the customer ‘didn’t ask for the required elements’.
To help better understand the available benefits, Benchmark has identified twenty of the more significant added-value benefits available from today’s VMS solutions. It has considered security, business intelligence and building management to try and encapsulate the depth of functionality on offer.
There are few solutions which cannot be improved by the implementation of a VMS, and with today’s advances the systems have never offered such a high degree of return on investment.
1: Try before you buy
While most VMS options deliver a similar level of performance and a core set of features and functions, systems do have important points of differentiation. While all VMS will manage video, some have specific features which will significantly enhance the benefits on offer to any given site.
In order to maximise the value, it is important to select a VMS which matches the site’s requirements. Users should never adapt their working practices to fit in with a VMS; the VMS should be flexible enough to fit around the business in question.
With VMS, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Even different locations within the same business might specify different platforms to leverage certain benefits.
Most high-end VMS suppliers will provide demo software, and a number of the leading manufacturers have free versions. The latter might have restrictions in terms of the number of supported devices, but often they’ll deliver the full range of features.
Once the user is certain they have the correct solution, a licence upgrade will enable the additional capacity, meaning there’s no need to reinstall software.
2: Open Platform
While the idea of a single-brand end-to-end solution might sound beneficial, it does mean a system could be tied in to one manufacturer. Given the depth of flexibility available from VMS, this could be a mistake.
If a VMS only supports the company’s own hardware, issues might arise in the future. For example, if another manufacturer introduces a device which solves a problem for you site, there’s no guarantee it can be added to a single-brand solution. Even specification standards such as ONVIF only cover typical functions, so while the device might be accessible, special features might not be deployable.
With an open platform VMS, the software provider will work with all manufacturers, creating specific drivers for their products. This not only allows a ‘best-of-breed’ approach to edge device selection, but it also means all features and functions of an edge device will be supported.
In a world of advanced integrations and IoT solutions, selecting a single brand solution could result in cost-efficiencies being missed, and any Return on Investment being minimised.
3: Bespoke Design
Because VMS solutions are software-based and use modern communications and network technologies, this allows system topologies to be designed with the needs of specific sites – in terms of performance needs, available resources and physical layout – in mind. Because the design of a solution can be optimised, this enables significant reductions in cost to be realised without any compromise on performance.
The flexibility allows resources to be deployed where they are needed, with no requirement for heavy-duty hardware to be used at a central location. This also ensures users can scale their investment when needed, rather than investing for any future expansion needs on day one.
4: Repurpose Legacy Infrastructure
One of the most costly elements of installing a smart solution, or upgrading from old sub-systems which did not allow for integration or smart operations, in the expense of recabling. Rip-and-replace approaches introduce disruption, are labour-intensive and add to the overall cost of upgrades.
The VMS sector has, for many years, had to manage estates of devices which encompass a wide range of technologies, and as a result has a high degree of expertise in repurposing legacy infrastructure. It can achieve cost-effective results because it uses flexible topologies, can mix local on-site hardware with cloud-based services, and supports a wide range of devices designed to convert existing infrastructure into Ethernet-ready links.
Not only is it possible to achieve network connectivity and PoE delivery across legacy infrastructure such as coaxial cabling and unshielded twisted pair (UTP) links, but long reach links can be established, allowing TCP/IP connections far in excess of the standard 100 metres available from standard network devices; this is achieved without costly repeaters and comms cabinets.
Additionally, this legacy cabling can also be used for other network-based systems which are be linked to the VMS. For example, spare ports could be used for VoIP telephony.
5: Simple Installation
As the options for servers and appliances increase, so VMS providers are increasingly aware of the diverse hardware which can be used by businesses and organisations. Some have dedicated teams managing the system, others share it between departments. Some users will be at a workstation, while others may be mobile, using a smart device such as a phone or tablet.
As a result, installation procedures have been simplified. Some use cloud-based tools to ensure any additional elements required for the VMS to run (for example, the .NET framework, SQL databases, etc.) are loaded on the server. If they are missing, they are added automatically.
Usually VMS software is provided as a single executable installer file, making the process simple. All that is required is for a database to be created, authentications to be set, and the installation tool does the rest of the work.
6: Extensive Use of Wizards
It would be fair to say there was a time when the installation and configuration of VMS systems required some advanced skills. Often, even IT specialists were confused once the software was installed, because achieving optimum performance for multiple streams of high definition video required a lot of load balancing. Introduce video analytics, logical rules, video retention management and advanced search criteria, and the task became a challenge.
Today’s VMS systems are very different. Like many smart software options, the use of Wizards has simplified the tasks, making what might have taken hours of work a few years ago a simple, fast and efficient task.
One of the issues with hardware-based systems is capacity. If, for example, you invest in a dedicated unit which supports 32 devices, what happens when you want to add a 33rd device? Often, the options are to buy another 32 channel unit, or to replace the existing 32 channel with a 64 channel model.
While it is good practice to consider future expansions, it can be difficult to stay within budgetary restraints and allow for future changes in technology. A good example comes from the rise of smart solutions. Five years ago, people specified video systems for one task: surveillance. A site might have needed 20 cameras to deliver effective security, so there was no need to consider anything larger than 24 channels in such a case.
Today, video is not only used for security. Video adds benefits for site management, business intelligence, automation, workflow management, health and safety, traffic control, etc.. Our example site might now need 60 cameras to achieve security and a host of added-vale business and site management benefits.
With VMS, a simple licence-upgrade is all that is needed to increase capacity, thus giving truly scalable solutions.
8: Hardware Acceleration
Technology constantly advances, delivering increased performance which is beneficial to users seeking smart solutions. While VMS software is capable of keeping pace with many of the advances, it’s not always the case that the hardware can. While a VMS might be able to manage high resolution video, carry out transcoding to display video streams on mobile devices, implement advanced analytics and carry out smart searches, it doesn’t mean the hardware can cope with the required processing.
One of the more cost-effective ways of ramping up server processing capabilities is through the use of GPUs (graphical processing units). Cost-effective and able to be added to many servers as plug-in cards, GPUs allow hardware acceleration to boost performance. Additionally, an increasing number of servers and appliances are shipped with GPUs on board.
In order to realise the benefits of hardware acceleration, many VMS systems include support for hardware acceleration. At times, this can be as simple as ticking a box in the configuration menus, allowing the software to leverage the additional processing capabilities inherent in graphics cards. Whether to smooth 4K displays, enhance analytics, increase search capabilities or ensure seamless delivery onto mobile devices, hardware acceleration is a plus for VMS.
9: Designed for Reliability
The growth in demand for IoT and intelligent building systems has seen a number of new solutions come to market. Many are designed and built to work primarily as building management systems. As a result, the emphasis has been placed on piggybacking other systems to save costs. However, VMS forms a backbone of critical life safety and security solutions, and as a result have been designed to offer a robust always-on option.
In such applications, it is simply not acceptable for connectivity to be lost or for systems to not have credible redundancy. Options such as automatic failover are commonplace, ensuring continuity, even in challenging circumstances.
This ensures that businesses and organisations who specify VMS software not only have security, safety and data management they can trust, but also can be assured business-related automation and smart triggering will not fail, resulting in operational losses for the user.
10: Not Just Video
It’s easy to consider the abbreviation VMS and hesitate at the V. When VMS systems were first introduced, they focused on video management and video management only. At that time, the limited processing power and basic computational systems made managing video enough of a challenge on its own. However, today’s VMS software is not only the best solution for video management, but it also handles a wide range of other data.
VMS systems are purpose-built to manage inputs and outputs from sensors and trigger devices, whether these are detecting motion, temperature, flow, footfall, heat, fluid ingress, etc.. They can also manage transactional data such as POS information, access control and cashless vending, two-way communications as text, audio or video, real-time system status updates including fault messages from other devices and systems, advanced analytics and reporting, and more.
It would be fair to say that a VMS used solely for video management is undoubtedly not delivering the full range of efficiencies and benefits it is capable of to the user. If the sole requirement is for video management, then it remains the best and most flexible tool, but today’s options are capable of so much more.
11: Multi-site Control
It’s not unusual to see businesses making use of systems whereby parts of the solution are ‘siloed’. For example, each system might have a separate user interface, with operators flicking between screens to take control during an incident or event.
This can also be the case where a business has multiple sites, with operators switching between duplicate screens to hop from one location to another. This need not be the case, as a VMS allows flexibility when it comes to how multiple sites are managed.
Displays, menus, data streams, reports, alarms and actions can be pulled from a number of sites and presented to an operator in whatever way is needed. The layouts can also be saved and delivered in certain conditions. For example, an ‘out of hours’ front end display can be established, meaning any operators logging in outside of working hours only see relevant information such as video from outside of secured buildings, or reports from critical site management systems. This simplifies and use and makes staffing more efficient.
12: IoT Management
We’ve already touched on VMS offering an open platform approach (see Number 2) and being for more than video data (see Number 10). This makes VMS a flexible, cost-effective control software for a huge range of IoT management tasks.
When many businesses consider IoT, and specifically IoT for industrial site management and automation, one of the stumbling blocks is finding a control software package which can work with an array of different sensors and devices.
Not only can a VMS makes sense of a range of data inputs, it can link these and apply actions based on configurable criteria using Rules (see Number 15). This allows a range of data inputs to effectively ‘filter’ events to create very focused actions.
One of the issues of IoT is that manufacturers of edge devices also supply software. For example, a manufacturer of temperature sensors will supply software which is focused on temperature measurement, a vehicle counting sensor manufacturer will supply parking management software, etc.. A VMS is designed to be flexible and to manage data from a host of different sources. The adaptability is huge and allows for a wide range of criteria to influence and control how the system operates. This makes it ideal for true IoT integration.
13: AI and Deep Learning
Much is currently being made about the advances possible from increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques such as deep learning. These technologies are increasingly used by VMS software because they offer significant performance enhancements in terms of search, filtering and exception reporting.
In most HD video applications, each camera streams 25 frames of video every second, around the clock. This means a single HD camera will be streaming over two million frames of video. Consider the amount of data if a site has 100 cameras! Searching for a single incident which might last a few seconds can only be done efficiently using AI technologies.
The use of these developing techniques also pave the way for smarter implementations. Because of the software base of VMS solutions, the available systems will be able to leverage developments in AI and deep learning as they happen, keeping the systems future-proofed.
14: Integral IVA
Many of the leading VMS packages include some form of video analytics. These can be deployed for a number of applications ranging from security and safety through to building management, business intelligence and revenue generation tasks.
Analytics provide a high degree of flexibility when used in association with Rules (see Number 15), and can increase the ability for the creation of a truly bespoke solution.
While many edge devices can include video analytics, having an IVA option at the VMS also adds benefits. It can be used with live footage or applied retrospectively to archived video, allowing the identification of trends to generate accurate future predictions, as well as enhancing the ability to carry out forensic investigations, freeing up operator time and creating efficiencies in the control room.
As well as including a basic level of IVA, many VMS packages will be designed to easily integrate with high-level video analytics from third party partners. These integrations will have been tested and certified in terms of the available performance, and as such can be added with peace of mind as to how the integrations will work.
15: The Power of Rules
Rules (or Action Rules, Event Rules or other similar names) are simple-to-implement logical relationships between triggers or events and subsequent actions. These can be very simple, such as if motion is detected by a camera, video is recorded at high resolution in real-time for a defined period. However, by using multiple triggers combined with AND/OR operations, complex scenarios can be managed.
For example, different actions can be specified dependent upon site conditions. As an explanatory scenario, imagine a site which has regular deliveries throughout the working day. A Rule might be created which specifies if a lorry arrives at the depot gate between the hours of 9am and 5pm, and there is a vacant loading bay, allow the vehicles to enter and send a push notification to the depot manager. However, if there is no vacant loading bay, open a different barrier to allow access to a holding area.
A variation of the Rule might be to alert personnel if a vehicle smaller than a lorry tries to enter the depot, allowing it to be redirected to the correct entrance.
If any vehicle tries to enter the premises outside of working hours, the gates remain closed but high definition video is captured of the incident, and a video clip is sent, along with a notification, to the security team, whether they be on-site or at another location, who can then manage the event.
Rules can be triggered by detection devices, video analytics, a wide range of security and environmental sensors, transactions, site status changes, specific personnel entering or leaving the premises, time and date, system status reports or manual actions by an operator or user. Trigger events can be combined to add flexibility.
16: Real-Time Reporting
Because VMS-based systems were designed originally to focus on security, and because the protection of people, property and assets remains one of the core reasons for specifying such a system, the software reports events, incidents and changes in real-time.
Therefore, when additional non-security tasks are performed by the VMS software, the reports are still in real-time, allowing exact figures if, for example, the system delivers occupancy reports for buildings or car parks.
Often general site management tools will store data, buffering information until enough exists to warrant a ‘data dump’ to the main system. This latency leads to inaccurate reports, which can reduce available efficiencies. When a VMS is specified as the core of the system, it has been designed and built to ensure critical information is received as soon as possible, and as a result, this also means additional business management information arrives immediately.
17: Added Services
In recent years, suppliers of VMS software have started to add services to their product portfolio, allowing an even easier way to add and expand solutions to best meet the needs of any given business or organisation. These services range from support features such as event logging and report generation, evidence trail creation or visualisation of assets and resources, through to very specific services for vertical sectors, such as barcode tracking in logistics operations, temperature monitoring for industrial plants and even passenger flow in airports and railway stations.
These additional services can be bolted on, with a monthly subscription charge for those used, via cloud-based offerings. This allows the end user to enjoy additional functionality without the need to expand their system or invest in infrastructure upgrades. It also allows temporary services to added as and when needed.
18: Simple Integrations
The vast majority of professional VMS companies have a portfolio of partners who specialise in the creation of plug-ins or applications which enhance the potential of the VMS. When an add-on from a partner company is selected, the end user has the peace of mind of knowing the partner has worked with the VMS company to ensure the integration is seamless, doesn’t impact on the VMS performance, and is adequately supported to deliver real benefits.
These VMS add-ons range from general video management tools, such as efficient archiving, display, search, tagging or filtering, through to more specialised tools which allow the VMS to offer enhanced benefits.
Most VMS manufacturers offer hundreds of partner add-ons, and these can include car park management tools, automatic traffic incident detection, heat mapping and queue management tools for retail, switching of lighting and HVAC, asset tracking around a site, people tracking, etc..
19: Business Intelligence
Business intelligence is the use of captured data to provide information or automate processes which assist in running core business procedures. It has a number of operational similarities with security and safety, in that devices capture real-time site status data which is then analysed, and if predefined criteria are met, an action is triggered.
The relevant data can be captured by cameras, sensors, access control and transactional systems, video or audio analytics, detectors and a whole range of other business-specific devices. This information enables the creation of a situational profile.
Analysis of this profile allows the system to determine whether predefined circumstances exist, and if they do, an appropriate action can be triggered as a result. As such, the business intelligence relationship is very similar to Rules-based systems using logical relationships to determine violations and subsequent actions. It is this similarity in the ‘cause and effect’ programming which allows VMS-based systems to additionally offer credible and efficient business intelligence.
20: Bespoke Options
When considering hardware-based video management tools, there often isn’t a great degree of flexibility if you’re looking to use the system as a base for a smart solution. However, VMS software allows the creation of bespoke solutions which add benefits and deliver a return on investment.
For those who have previously worked with legacy hardware-based solutions, the sea-change available from the world of VMS might come as something of a surprise. This level of flexibility is not new, but all too often if the focus is solely on security surveillance, it’s not immediately obvious what else the systems are capable of.
It is critical to consider how a VMS will work for any given application, and remember that not all VMS options are the same. Indeed, two sites of similar sizes might require very different systems, dependent upon what they want to achieve. However, the one thing you can be sure of is if the right VMS is specified, there should be no need for compromise in terms of performance, features or functionality!