Competing Against Surveillance Self-Install / DIY

By John Honovich, Published May 26, 2015, 12:00am EDT

End users sometimes look at integrator proposals, see ~$100 per hour pricing and think "Hey, we can do that ourselves for a lot less."

In this note, we examine 6 key issues that end users must consider when evaluating the total cost of doing it themselves.

  • Learning Curve
  • Mistakes in Design and Configuration
  • Ongoing Support
  • Training
  • Insurance and Licenses
  • Risk protection
  • Plus we cover scheduling, tools, manufacturer constraints and more

We break down each inside, including the potential costs and impact of each one. Finally, we look at the opposite side and alternative approaches.

Learning Curve

If an experienced integrator takes 100 hours to do an install, even a trained facility or IT person is going to take significantly longer if they have not done surveillance projects before or have worked with the specific models or systems.

The hourly cost of an integrator includes the training, trial and error needed to learn not only surveillance products but the issues with each new model.

Mistakes in Design and Configuration

From best places to position cameras, to how to setup VMD, to enabling rules or settings on the VMS, inexperienced self-installers are likely to make a variety of costly mistakes.

Equally important and likely is that difficult troubleshooting issues will come up that can take hours or days. Sometimes, experienced integrators will able to solve such problems in minutes based on past experiences or personal connections with manufacturer support. Even when integrators need to spend more time, it is typically less as they can more quickly eliminate issues.

Ongoing Support

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Related, most integrators include support and warranty service for at least the first year after installation. If any issues come up, integrators will fix them at no additional cost whereas self-installed projects incur additional expense.


If a company is installing themselves, they may (or should) send their people to manufacturer training, which adds more time and sometimes cost to the project.

Equally important, end users will still need someone to training the users / operators of systems. Integrators, with extensive real world experience with cameras and recorders can better show and answer questions on getting the most out of systems.

Insurance and Licenses

Professional integrators often carry numerous insurances that cover a variety of potential deficiencies. For example 'errors and omissions' (E&O) insurance that address the potential for damages, mistakes, or even poor designs to be corrected.  In addition, Bid or Project Bonding is a common requirement of competitively bidded projects where the buyer asks for a security against the pricing offered, or even against the eventual ability of the integrator completing a job.

To a lesser extent, specific licensures and certifications required by local governments to demonstrate competency and fitness to perform work in a legally compliant manner.  Usually, licenses alone are not guarantees of project competency, but they do indicate an awareness of local laws and regulations as they pertain to a trade, and casual or 'fly-by-night' contractors often lack the basic awareness.

Risk Protection

On installs, typically an integrator bids a total price for completing the project (sometimes called 'firm fixed price' because the price is firm and fixed regardless of how many issues or time it takes the integrator to finish the job). This provides risk protection for the end user, because they know that is the price.

By contrast, an end-user who does it themselves may estimate say 100 hours, but if takes 130 or 150 or 170 hours, the additional cost is absorbed entirely by them. This risk is even more significant if the end-user lacks experience with surveillance systems or the specific products being installed.

Other Factors

Here are some other factors to be note:

  • Burdened cost - One's internal employees might be paid 'only' $20 or $30 an hour, but after taking in all other expenses (health care, vacation, retirement, etc.), their fully burdened cost might be $40 to $60 per hour, cutting into the perceived savings.
  • Scheduling - it might be difficult to coordinate in-house resources to dedicate time to work on the surveillance system, especially if other priorities arise or servicing needs to be done quickly.
  • Tools - integrators bring their own tools, whether it is for termination, testing, troubleshooting, etc. that an end-user may need to buy.
  • Manufacturer constraints - certain manufacturers will only provide support for their products through certified end users.

The Case for DIY

On the other hand, there are conditions that can make the case stronger for DIY.

Most importantly, an end user may have or being able to hire someone with deep integration expertise. If a company is big enough, they might be able to hire away an experienced technician or engineer from an integrator.

Another reason might be the needs of the organization are very simple and security is not a critical concern.

Finally, even if the organization does not have experience to start, they might do a sufficient amount of security projects, that they can essentially build up their own internal 'integrator', who gains experience similar to traditional integrators over time.

Alternative / Intermediate Approach

Some organizations essentially do 'part' DIY, where they do the more basic install work - mounting cameras, pulling cameras, racking recorders, etc. but leave the more complex part to an integrator.

Sometimes called the 'parts and smarts' approach, the integrator lets the end user do most of the physical work but is responsible for troubleshooting, commissioning, and training.

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