Uri Guterman, Head of Product & Marketing for Hanwha Techwin Europe highlights the key factors which should be taken into consideration when looking at the medium to long term costs of a video surveillance system.
Whilst thinking about the key issues which affect the total cost of ownership (TCO), I was reminded of the following quote attributed to John Ruskin, a 19th century poet and author.
“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money. That is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it’s well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better.”
In respect of video surveillance, the quote is as relevant today as it was when John Ruskin wrote it over 200 years ago. In tough economic times, when there is pressure to minimise expenditure, there is always the risk that return on investment (ROI) projections for a video surveillance system might only include the costs associated with end users’ immediate or short term objectives, rather than the TCO over the useful life of a system.
When calculating TCO, it is wise to factor in recurring charges, as well as one-off costs. This means that in addition to the initial cost of the cameras, recorders, video management software (VMS), cabling, network devices and installation charges, the cost of providing power, as well as maintaining and servicing the video surveillance system, also need to be taken into consideration. The cost of future upgrades should also not be ignored if your requirements are likely to change, either because you might wish to expand the system’s coverage, (in which case the cost of providing additional video storage capacity could be significant), or perhaps to add to its capabilities by running specialist video analytics applications on the cameras.
When all of the above is taken into consideration, what might at first glance appear to be the cheapest products, may subsequently prove to be otherwise and ‘buyer’s remorse’, albeit as a delayed reaction, could occur.
So here are some suggestions we recommend you take into consideration when deciding on which video surveillance products will, in addition to meeting your immediate requirements, deliver long term value and will not surprise you in the future with unexpected costs which have not been budgeted for.
- Are the cameras which you are evaluating ‘open platform’ and do their chipset have sufficient processing power to run edge-based third-party video analytics which you might wish to immediately take advantage of now or in the future?
- Do the cameras and recording devices support H.265, as well as other compression formats? Multi-pixel images can all too quickly fill up the capacity of an NVR or server when recorded at high frame rates and resolutions. This could become costly in terms of bandwidth and storage costs when there is a need to record and store evidence grade images. With this in mind, the preference should be to source cameras from manufacturers who have developed their own compression technology designed to complement H.265 and help further improve bandwidth efficiency.
- Do the cameras have built-in IR illumination? The cost of installing supplementary lighting can be prohibitive and so if you wish to capture high quality images 24/7, it will be important to know a manufacturer’s cameras are effective, regardless of the lighting conditions.
- Is a product upgradeable and future proof in that it has been designed to be backwards and forwards compatible with third-party products with which it might be integrated with?
- Do the cameras you are proposing to buy have firmware which can be updated as and when new features become available or when there is a need to introduce enhanced cybersecurity functionality as new threats emerge? The ability to do so will alone justify paying a little bit more for cameras compared to those which do not do so, as the cost of a security breach could be huge. Check, however, that the manufacturer has a policy of offering any upgrades free of charge.
- Does the manufacturer offer cameras with built-in video analytics? If so, is it license free or how much will you have to pay for it?
- Video surveillance cameras equipped with video analytics are increasingly being deployed to help detect intruders. Not all types of video analytics can distinguish between a stray animal and a human intruder or a vehicle and what may just be video noise. In addition to frustrating control room operators, the cost of dealing with false alarms can be prohibitive. We recommend that you should make any new video surveillance system future proof by way of using cameras which support edge-based deep learning AI analytics.
- Has the manufacturer integrated its cameras and recording devices with the platforms offered by the leading independent VMS development companies? If not, this could have an impact on the costs associated with expanding a system as and when requirements change. Independent VMS suppliers are able to offer ‘open platform’ software specifically designed to facilitate the integration of equipment and systems from different manufacturers.
- If you are no intending to use third-party VMS, ask the camera manufacturer for a demonstration of their own brand video management software and/or user interface. An intuitive and therefore easy to use interface will minimise training costs.
- Is the manufacturer able to give an estimation of the life cycle of the specified products and can they provide proof as to their reliability? This will be particularly significant where there are moving parts such as in PTZ cameras. To back up any claims on reliability, does the manufacturer offer a no-quibble advanced replacement service for products under warranty and does their warranty extend over at least three years? Some manufacturers, such as Hanwha Techwin, offer a five year warranty via the installers and system integrators who are part of the partnership programme.
- What are the estimated energy costs of the individual components of the system? You might be unpleasantly surprised to learn how much some devices cost to run and we suggest that you therefore specify IP network cameras which feature low power consumption Power of Ethernet (PoE). This also helps reduce installation costs, as it removes the need to install power points for each camera and reduces the amount of cabling required. It is worth noting that some manufacturers offer PoE ‘extender’ cameras which provide a highly cost-effective method of installing a new two camera system or adding a camera to an existing system. They also offer the option to connect other PoE enabled devices, such as a supplementary lighting unit, I/O controller or PIR sensor.
- How long will the specified cameras, video recorders or other devices take to install, and can they be set up remotely or reconfigured in the future without an engineer having to carry out a site visit? Some cameras are equipped with motorised PTRZ gimbals which enable installation engineers to remotely pan, tilt, rotate and zoom the lens’ positions in order to set the field of view.
- There are also time and cost saving advantages of working with manufacturers who supply video management software (VMS) preinstalled on NVRs, as well as video analytics pre-uploaded to their cameras. Both offer the additional benefit of achieving seamless integration without the need to spend the time and incurring the cost of attending specialist training courses.
- Without doubt, the most important factor is the ability of a product to withstand a cyber-attack. Whether occurring for criminal or malicious purposes, or just seen as a challenge by opportunistic hackers, cyber-attacks are a major threat to the ability of end users to keep their confidential information safe and can be expensive to resolve.
It is strongly recommended therefore that video surveillance products should only be bought from manufacturers who support the objectives of the Secure by Default standard which was introduced in 2019 by the UK’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner. This guides manufacturers to adopt an approach which makes cyber-attack protection a fundamental feature of a video surveillance solution that is taken into account at the start of a camera design process and not just treated as one of a long list of useful features. With products being secure out-of-box, users can avoid the cost of employing or using the services of cybersecurity specialists to harden the devices.
In addition to possible reputational damage and the loss of what could be mission critical data as a consequence of a cyber-attack, there is also the need to comply with GDPR in order to avoid the risk of incurring what could be stringent financial penalties. It would be preferable therefore to seek out manufacturers whose recording devices are able to integrate with specialist third-party video masking software. This will help to protect the privacy of people whose images have been captured and recorded but are not involved in any criminal activity, event or incident.
The recording devices should also be equipped with GDPR friendly features, enabling them to be programmed to automatically delete video evidence after a specified maximum number of days, unless the operator has bookmarked the footage to be retained for a longer period.
Although investing in a video surveillance system is likely to deliver a high return on investment (ROI) regardless of where and why it is deployed, the TCO of doing so should always be taken into consideration at the design and planning stage. This will ensure users achieve maximum benefit and value from their systems, both now and over many years to come.