IT Spurs Transition to IP Security

IT Spurs Transition to IP Security
Does running coax between a camera and a DVR really add value to the host organization in this day and age? As Iain Cameron explains, the inevitable shift towards IT-rich security solutions means that designing a combined security and video information system should now be the imperative of every organization seeking to add value through protection-focused investment.

Much has been discussed about the impending ‘demise' of traditional CCTV and the onslaught of IP in the surveillance market. After transferring my years of experience and knowledge of Web-based technologies and IT to the CCTV industry, I've discovered that, in truth, this onslaught is merely a subtle re-evaluation. IP is still talked about far more than it's actually being implemented.

At least in part, this has been due to an incredible amount of conflicting and confusing information emanating from manufacturers and installers – not to mention an inability to manage these types of projects and recognize the real value they can provide.

The new technologies have been evaluated by the criteria imposed from the perspective of traditional CCTV within the security industry. Information Technology still remains an outsider, a prince waiting for its time.

The high-level management imperatives so often present over the past ten years, as most business objectives and functions have been restructured around web-based technologies, have not been seen through to security systems. Security is all about safety, and the one thing that is never safe is change. Can young graduates without ties and a penchant for Grand Theft Auto really be trusted to change the face of an industry where lives, money and the Rule of Law dominate?

IT innovations hit Silicon Valley
As a technologist, I've always been inspired by working with disruptive and exciting new technologies. In early 2005, I was working in Silicon Valley for a supporting eBay with innovative imaging solutions. A small group in the company had developed the first 360-degree megapixel video camera, news meaning that everyone's office door was closed – not so they could work harder, but such that they might talk to their brokers while calculating share options. Every day, a new Porsche appeared in the car park and the news that the G8 Summit would be safeguarded with this amazing new technology meant another dinner at San Francisco's swankiest restaurant.

Being presented with the commercial opportunity of taking this new technology to the most prolific CCTV market in the world – back home in England – was just about the only way I could have been persuaded to move my life and family away from the spectacular environment of Northern California.

Resistance from traditionalists
Reviewing the evidence of my previous exploits, of changing established business practices with new technology, it seemed that, like we said in California, this would be a ‘slam-dunk'. However, I soon found out that my enthusiasm, in this instance, was misguided.

Here we are almost four years later and the fruits of my labors on this side of the Atlantic are only just being realized. It took me just a few months back in England to realize that the UK security industry was going to be a really tough market to crack when it came to adopting new technologies. It was going to be a struggle as I focused on bringing the new technology and ways of working into Europe. Trying to convince an educated, experienced and cynical audience of the benefits of adopting new technologies was the most difficult task I have ever taken on in my career.

For me, selling technology had always been a matter of reigning in the ambitions of over-zealous business managers keen to show their ability to ‘think outside the box'. Every sales meeting was a struggle, resulting in me being shown the door in quick smart fashion having been bruised and battered by ‘experts' who knew exactly what they wanted and laughed in my face at the extortionate costs and apparent failure to address their needs.

Systems to make a difference
However, history was on my side. I knew there were products that could make a real difference to how managers ran their businesses. In the same way that digital clock radios, CD players, iPods and Gameboys appeared on a market that didn't think or know it needed them at the time, I was learning that introducing the new era of security solutions would have to be a slow burner before taking off.

I wasn't going to give up because, ultimately, technology marches on and will continue to drive forward every aspect of our lives, including security. Information is the real king and IP-based systems – including IP CCTV – are all about information. Analogue CCTV provides us with limited information, information that has been criticised as being almost unusable by leading experts such as detective chief inspector Mick Neville.

Simply put, the latest technologies bring more information that's not only important to the security of an organisation, but essential to the overall efficiency and improvement of the business. IP is an enabler – the benefits have been gained through those bleary-eyed Star Wars fans in their Metallica T-shirts designing the latest software features. These have enabled High Definition (HD) video information to be tied together with access control and point-of-sale data, or allowed a security manager to log on from their PC at home to review a live incident post-e-mail alarm.

Adopting a new approach
The adoption of new technologies requires people willing to take a risk and try something different. The IT industry provides us with the rules required to govern the new approach. ‘Define, design, develop and deploy' is the mantra of the traditional IT industry and, balanced with the concepts of rapid application development, it's fair to say I've found that all of the IT projects I've managed have enjoyed rather successful outcomes.

You need to know what you want within the context of the available technology. The best way to ascertain this is to sit down and work with consultants who can guide you on the possible solutions. Creating a requirements document helps thrash out the possibilities and can sometimes be an exercise in pure fantasy. It isn't until you reach the design phase that you have to reign in your ambitions. That's the time when you actually need to set a cost against those requirements.

By encouraging rapid deployment techniques you can start the experimentation early. This allows for an iterative process in which you can correct mistakes and incorrect assumptions made during the requirements and design phase without any adverse effects on the project as a whole.

Experienced consultants from the IT world can help you through this process and take away the headaches of working out bandwidth and data storage complexities. That said, they don't have the domain expertise to ensure success for the system. This is where years of security experience are necessary to create the essential project objectives. In my opinion, this is the key role of the CCTV expert in managing the transition to new technologies and the critical factor in the evolutionary process. As a user or manager, learning a new technology is rarely difficult once the attempt has been made. Put simply, it's the fear of change and mistrust of one's own abilities to adapt that hinders adoption.

Towards risk aversion
Most people are risk averse when it comes to making decisions that could affect their role. We're are all happy to buy HD TVs or install Sky Plus at home, but at work a wrong move makes us worry that we'll not be able to afford the new TV. The two areas of domain expertise need to be combined in the same way that a business analyst is an essential element in designing a new IT system to enhance a business practice. So the security manager performs a key role in designing a new, IP-based security system.

The people that really need to change their way of thinking are security installers. It's they who've been holding back change. Fear of cutting their margins and the need for retraining have meant they've been hypercritical of the new technologies. In an attempt to maintain their hold on the industry, they sway the decision-making process of their customers, and not for the better.

Security managers must demand the latest technologies and insist on the best solutions to meet their organisation's needs. In this day and age, running coax between a camera and a DVR is not adding value to the business, but that is what security should be all about. Designing a security and video information system should now be the imperative of every end user organisation looking to add value through its investment in security.

In this new world, ‘http' is most certainly King. Long live the King.
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