How To Integrate Video Surveillance Into Your IT Solutions

Lights! Camera! Action! IT solution providers can liven up their offerings by adding video surveillance to their portfolios. It's not as much of a reach as you might think: as the North American Manager for Axis Communications’ Technology Partner Program explains, 90 percent of the job of installing video solutions you already know. And the remaining 10 percent can be learned from your equipment supplier. So get started, and be the star of the show.— Jennifer Bosavage, editor

Video surveillance is a booming $10 billion industry. Yet, surprisingly to most, only 25 percent of the market uses digital, IP-based technology. The physical security market might just be the last industry to leave the analog age, but as more security directors and law enforcement personnel understand the true power of IP —much better image quality, functionality, scalability, and overall total cost of ownership—more companies are making the transition from analog to IP-based surveillance solutions. Industry experts predict that by 2014 up to 50 percent of the market will be IP-based. Now is therefore the time to add network video surveillance to your solutions repertoire and grab a share of this exploding market.

Before you dismiss the idea as too far outside your field of expertise, consider this: You already know and install 90 percent of the technology needed to deploy a network video surveillance system.

Think about it. As an IT integrator, you install and configure servers, data storage devices, critical software applications, communications systems (e-mail and VoIP), anti-virus services, switches, routers and wired and wireless network infrastructure components. That is the same core infrastructure – the 90 percent – that comprises a network-based video surveillance system, and often the toughest aspect to learn for physical security integrators coming from the analog world. Surveillance camera vendors can help you master the other 10 percent with customized training programs – programs that teach about network video cameras, the software you need to run them, and overall physical security best practices (e.g. where to hang the cameras to best protect the property).

Bridging the remaining knowledge gap should be easy. Yet some IT integrators shy away from diving into this potential revenue stream because of three common perceived hurdles:

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1. They don’t know anything about security best practices.
2. They don’t know anything about surveillance camera technology.
3. They don’t know anything about integrating physical security systems.

Once upon a time, IT integrators raised similar concerns about VoIP. But with product training from technology vendors and following their customers’ lead on specific call flow strategies, integrators were able to quickly bridge the knowledge gap and master the nuances of network-based telephony. Now VoIP is a standard offering in most integrator portfolios.

That approach holds true for network video surveillance as well. It’s a four-way partnership between you, the camera manufacturer, your customer’s physical security stakeholders and your customer’s IT department. That fourth player – the IT department – is a relatively new one in the buying decision hierarchy. Because IP-based systems will be running on its networks (cameras = nodes), members of IT will likely have questions about bandwidth, IT security and maintenance. Fortunately, you already have a solid relationship with the IT group and will be viewed as a trusted, knowledgeable partner who understands its needs.

With all four players working as a team, you can devise a surveillance solution to meet the customer’s security goals without compromising their infrastructure performance.

Hurdle #1: What surveillance strategies provide the best physical security?
It all begins with a site survey. Just like any integration job, you need to walk through the facility with the customer’s physical security stakeholders and ask them to identify the areas of the property they want to protect. They’re the ones responsible for loss prevention, asset protection and safety of the staff, so they know what’s most important to the business. It’s your job to help them execute their physical security strategy, not create it for them.

Hurdle #2: What cameras will deliver the most effective surveillance coverage?
No one can know everything about every surveillance camera that comes onto the market. Even experienced video surveillance companies still reach out to camera manufacturers for guidance on which cameras to pick. But the data collected on your site survey can help you narrow down the choices. The first step is to understand the environment in which the camera is going to operate. Will it be indoors or outdoors? Will it be operating in full natural light, varying light throughout the day or complete darkness at night? Once you understand the environment, your camera manufacturer can help you choose the camera with the appropriate specifications.

As manufacturers in physical security are a good source of knowledge, they’re also a good source for training. Most, if not all, run certification programs and hands-on workshops that teach you how to determine surveillance coverage, compare lens selections and calculate other technical details, for example, determining the total storage needed to meet the security department’s retention policies.

Hurdle #3: How do I link video surveillance to other building systems?
While some physical security projects only involve the cameras, occasionally a customer may want surveillance tied into another system – such as their access control panels, magnetic door contact closures, smoke detectors or passive infrared alarms. Though this might seem like a complex job for an electrician, these add-ons are just a matter of simple, low-voltage wiring – a skill you can easily learn in a hands-on workshop. Once you’ve completed one of these workshop wiring projects, you’ll see it’s no harder than connecting a Blu-ray player to a TV.

Now’s the Time To Dive Into This Revenue Stream
Today, the $10 billion video surveillance industry is growing by 10 percent a year. Increasingly, companies are capitalizing on the overwhelming advantages that digital technology delivers over legacy analog systems, so the potential for new business is explosive. Your customers already think of you as a trusted IT provider; when they’re ready to embark on a network video surveillance project, why refer them to someone else? You already know 90 percent of what you need to know to do the job yourself, and there are plenty of resources out there to help you learn the remaining 10 percent. So stop holding yourself back. Now is a perfect time to dive into this revenue stream and make IP video a lucrative part of your portfolio.
How to tackle a sample project

A common mistake novice integrators make is to mount a video camera above the reception desk in the lobby and point it towards the door to monitor building access. This configuration forces you to install an expensive camera that’s able to react quickly to a wide range of adverse lighting conditions: from bright daylight and glare reflecting off windows and vehicles outside to car headlights cutting through the dark parking lot.

A better alternative would be to work with the light, which would improve image quality tremendously. Instead of pointing toward the outdoors, mount the camera at the door pointing into the lobby where lighting conditions tend to be more constant. Then you could deploy a more affordable camera with less illumination sensitivity.

If you integrated the door contact closure sensor via the I/O port on the surveillance camera, you could reduce costs even further. In this case, instead of constantly streaming video from the camera, recording would only be activated when someone broke the contact closure by opening the door. That is a great way to minimize video storage requirements and save on network bandwidth consumption. Those are just some of the tips your camera manufacturer can teach you to gain traction as an expert in video surveillance solutions.