Small Business Surveillance Challenges Examined

By: Marty Major, Published on Jan 26, 2011

For small businesses, deploying the right surveillance can be challenging. Usually, they do not have a lot of money available nor do they benefit from government grants. Plus, they do not have the scale to justify becoming experts in surveillance. Despite this, surveillance is often needed to handle theft, break-ins, issues with employees, etc. Equally important, the surveillance system can be a remote monitoring/management tool enabling the owner to be more productive when away from their stores or offices.

A growing trend is small businesses buying surveillance online. Search engines like Google make this incredibly easy returning top results for dozens of stores on any video surveillance related search. Those stores offer low pricing and the promise of direct help and immediate shipping. This can save thousands on up front costs - a non-trivial amount for a small business.

However, this is a controversial topic, especially among dealers who see it reducing quality and cutting into their business (see our 35+ comment discussion on the impact of online product availability [link no longer available]).

What do you think?

To help you better understand the issues and tradeoffs involved, inside the PRO section, we've done in-depth analysis on 4 real world cases:

  • An insurance company's challenges in DIY surveillance
  • A bar deploying its own IP cameras and the challenges they faced
  • A small retail chain struggling with standardizing its systems across multiple stores
  • An alarm dealer looking to expanding into surveillance but worried about dealing with IP technology
  • Does the owner try to go it alone again with IP like he did with his original decision to go with the Sams Club system? (Starting with his new store and working backwards)
  • Should he ask for a recommendation from his current support provider (assuming they will be biased towards the analog systems they know [but he really doesn't want])?
  • Can he perceive the 'value' of getting a bid from an IP-centric surveillance provider? (knowing the costs will be even greater than than those he couldnt stomach from the analog integrators 4 years ago)

It really boils down to how much he's learned from all his pain and suffering.

Bar and Bowling Alley Surveillance

In this case study, we examine an end user who owns two very different local businesses and decided on different surveillance solutions for each ofthem. The owner lives in a small US town and has owned the local bowling alley for decades. In 2008 he purchased another local business – a bar/nightclub across town. He completely renovated the new building, yet failed to include surveillance in the build out planning.

In 2009 the owner decided to outfit both of his local businesses with surveillance and recognized that his needs were quite different for each location.

Let’s examine the bowling alley first:

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

The facility is ancient. While the owner has added some of the newer bowling alleytechnology over recent years, the basic wiring and infrastructure platform are primarilyoriginal materials. At only 7,000 sqft, this bowling alley is about one third the size of modern day centers, though still essentially a giant square box for surveillance coverage purposes. Because the owner primarily needed only simple area-coverage and wanted to avoid adding to his cabling nightmare, indoors he installed 10 wireless D-Link DCS-920 cameras that he could power using existing outlets. Unbelievably, the owner settled on an outdoor solution consisting of two more DCS-920s pointing out windows from the inside.

Now let’s take a look at his bar/nightclub surveillance solution:

This facility is basically a brand new build out using only the original building shell. Similar to his bowling alley (though ½ the size), the new place is also basically a giant box but with many additional factors needing consideration. For instance, he placed cameras at cash-handling locations (e.g. 3 bars), at 2 entrances where cover charges are paid and the back office counting areas had to have hi-resolution, good frame-rate capabilities. Finally, the floor coverage cameras required good low light function, with wide angle views.

For the club surveillance solution the owner invested in Vivotek FD7131 IP PoE dome cameras throughout, using the free Vivotek ST7501 VMS software for recording on a high-end Dell PC. The owner figured the white-light emitting illuminators he noted in literature for the FD7131 would be sufficient for the low lighting environment of his club,especially in the cash-handling areas. He was mostly wrong, though the cash areas were adequately lighted using this model camera and additional existing stationery lighting.

Notables: The owner researched everything on-line before he made his separate buying decisions. This is clearly rising trend as people look to the Internet to DIY. The choice of D-Link and Vivotek are not surprising as they are likely too of the most commonly cited/sold 'budget' surveillance products on the market.

Conclusions: Is the customer happy? He would tell you he is. While he may be happy, we believe he could have made slightly better choices – especially when management functions are factored.

Since he purchased both systems at the same time, and he thinks Vivotek is ‘high-tech’, he could easily have wired the bowling alley with the same FD7131 models he has in his nightclub or gone with a slightly costlier model of this brand like the IP7161. He could’ve then used Vivoteks ST3402 recording software (bundled free) or another VMS for both locations enabling him to manage all of his cameras on one platform. Having (and managing) two separate systems is time consuming and impractical. The time savings alone would justify the slightly increased hard cost of having compatible systems, including ease of use, training and remote access management functionality.

Regional Apparel Chain Surveillance

Here we examine the surveillance systems used by a regional apparel chain: what systems they use, what changes they have made over the years, what issues they are facing and what they need to do next. This end user faces a particularly difficult situation as they already use multiple systems, neither of which they are fully satisfied with using.

Background of End User

About a decade ago, they began operations without any surveillance system in place. Camera systems were not mandated by the parent company, prices were much higher than today, and as new business owners, they simply did not have the knowledge or experience to understand their surveillance needs at that time.

Five years ago, when opening their third store, they decided to invest in camera systems for all 3 locations to combat rising inventory shrinkage problems. After requesting bids from local integrators, they decided to buy on-line to save money. Since each of their stores averaged between 2500 and 3000 sq ft, the owners settled on 8 channel Geovision 800 (120/120) PC-based analog systems with eight 420TVL CNB 12V dome cameras each. Total equipment costs were approximately $4200 per store, and the owners decided to hang the cameras and run their own cabling using 100’ Siamese cables to save on install costs.

Within a few months, the owners came to realize that they had overpaid for their DVRs (they never used the majority of its features) and underpaid for their cameras (they could not identify facial features beyond a distance of about 30-40 feet). They changed some of the camera locations and positioning (spending many hours using trial and error), but were still disappointed with the results. When they contacted their on-line equipment provider to discuss their difficulties, the only option they were offered was an upgrade of their cameras to 480TVL. The owners then paid a $40 cost differential per camera, plus shipping both ways, for an additional $1000 investment. Over the next two years, 2 of the 3 DVRs failed requiring them to ship the units back to their provider for repairs – leaving the effected stores without any surveillance capabilities for up to 2 weeks.

About 3 years ago, they opened a new store. However, their on-line provider had gone out of business, requiring them to find a new source for equipment (and repairs). They contacted other on-line Geovision resellers (to retain system uniformity) and determined that the newer version of Geovision DVRs (v8.2) had even more features they did not require. Additionally, remote viewing required a new client incompatible with their existing DVRs.

Based on a recommendation from another local retailer, for the new store, they chose a standalone embedded Linux unit (Power Telecomm Mercury PDVR-8300) from another on-line provider. The rationale was that their current Geovision units were reaching the end of their expected life-cycles. The embedded model was less than half the cost of their Geovision units, and 540TVL CNB dome cameras were also less expensive than the currently deployed 480TVL cameras. Total equipment costs for the new store were about $3100 (down from $4200 for the previous store). They planned on replacing their original units with embedded as the Geovision DVRs inevitably failed, and did just that for one of the original locations less than 3 months later. They now had 2 Geovision PC-based DVRs, and 2 Power Telecomm embedded Linux DVRs in their 4 stores.

Current Needs of User

Today, the chain is expanding. Additionally, another of the original Geovision DVRs has died. They contact their new supplier, planning on purchasing an embedded unit to replace the failed Geovision machine, and another embedded unit (plus cameras, cabling, power supply) for the new store. However, Power Telecomm has discontinued the model they are using in 2 stores, replacing it with a more costly, feature-heavy hybrid DVR model (analog+IP) with a new CMS software platform for remote viewing.

They now have to decide:

  1. Do they go with the new version embedded hybrid model at a higher price with no backward CMS compatibility? (3rd different model)
  2. Do they search for a different third model DVR for only five locations?
  3. Do they go with an emerging VSaaS solution?
  4. Do they go with an IP solution, as availability of analog systems decline?

The biggest overall challenge is the customer’s low willingness to pay for surveillance. At about $3000 for an 8 camera system (cameras and recorder), their options are severely limited. At most, they have about $2,000 for a DVR, which blocks them from most mid to high end models.

With such budget constraints, they will have to use DVR appliances. There’s no reason to believe they will throw out their analog cameras, requiring them to buy encoders and PCs that will be far more expensive than a DVR.

What they most value is remote monitoring, specifically remote monitoring from a single interface. Accomplishing this is beset with problems. 3rd party DVR compatibility is nearly non-existent. No DVR standards exist in practice. Using PSIM will cost a fortune. Even if they use only DVRs from a single manufacturer, software changes or product discontinuations are especially common among low cost DVR providers (who tend to specialize more in hardware vs software).

Recommendations:

Due to this retailer’s past difficulties and limited budget, the recommended solution has to leverage as much of their existing infrastructure as possible. But more importantly, it has to give them a solid platform with which to plan for future expansion (additional locations, not larger square footage) - and allow for improved resolution in certain areas.

At this point, a new Geovision solution doesn’t seem wise. Their one remaining Geovision box isn’t going to last long, plus Geovision hybrid (analog/IP) capture cards alone are approximately $1100 (with full PC-based DVR at least $2500). As discussed above, the customer considers this brand too feature-rich for their needs and clearly above their pricing threshold.

The Power Telecomm hybrid solution also is not recommended, as it is not able to utilize the older CMS platform of the existing embedded analog boxes, and the risks of further product discontinuation mentioned above still remain.

The AVerDiGi EH5108 DVR/NVR or the exacqVision (8 CH) EL-S Hybrid NVR [link no longer available] are options to consider for building a multi-store platform solution. Both are established brands with good reputations and as hybrid embedded Linux appliances, both allow for replacing SD analog cameras with higher resolution IP MP cameras for business-critical locations like front entrances, registers, and back-room cash counting areas. While the EH5108 has a more limited IP camera compatibility than the EL-S, the AVerDiGi DVR offers better storage capabilities (3x SATA HDD vs Exacq’s 1x SATA HDD), a very robust and user-friendly remote access solution (CM3000), and no IP channel licensing fees. While the exacqVision NVR is of superior quality, the enterprise class EL-S comes with an enterprise class price tag (in comparison) at around $2K vs the AverDiGi’s $1100-$1200.

One additional consideration is the fact that IP camera resolutions are limited to 1.3MP per channel on the EH5108, while the EL-S is limited only by the cameras own capabilities with no maximum resolution limits. In a larger retail environment with higher square footage, parking lot coverage, etc, this could be a strong reason to go with the exacqVision NVR. However, since this retailer is currently using 480/540TVL analog and doesn’t require large area coverage, 1.3MP should be more than sufficient for their business requirements.

Alarm Dealer Expansion to Surveillance

We examine the challenges faced by a medium sized alarm company that exapnded their core alarm business by offering video surveillance.  This can be a difficult situation as it involves new technology, new skills and potentially new suppliers. While this company has found a solution working with an online value added reseller, important tradeoffs and downsides exist.

The company has been a Honeywell alarm dealer for more than 20 years. They offer their customers an in-house monitoring solution and do not sell their accounts.  Security expertise and support are the core value propositions they seek to offer to their customers - some of whom they have serviced for more than decades.

While the company had installed surveillance systems occasionally (almost always at the request of an existing alarm customer) the owner had never focused on growing this segment of his business in the same manner he attempted to grow his core alarm operation.   Surveillance was an 'add-on'.  He wanted to change that focus by enhancing his surveillance offerings so that both segments could feed off of each other.

He has very low employee turnover, so most of his techs and service employees have the 'expert' confidence level with alarms that only comes with experience.  However, the owner came to realize that his people just did not have this same confidence level when it came to the networking aspect of surveillance systems.  If he was going to go ahead with his plan to offer (and market) surveillance products, he would first have to find a way to overcome his employees lack of applicable knowledge.

Since he was already a Honeywell alarm dealer, his natural choice was to use their surveillance products.  He got his equipment at the same supply house he already used for his alarms, but soon found that training his employees in networking skills was his biggest challenge.   His crews had little difficulty in learning the operational aspects of the surveillance equipment (including integrating alarms), but it turned out that the real hurdle was all the different network configurations used by his customers (60/40 residential, small commercial) and the fact that his equipment supplier did not offer networking support.

Faced with this dilemma, while receiving increasing requests for surveillance, he saw no easy solution.  His techs were the best at what they knew, but the needed skill sets for networking were simply outside the scope of their aptitude.  Without a certain comfort level, his techs could never have that 'confidence' he knew that his customers expected.  Further, he felt that bringing in a new employee with networking skills to complement his team might be more disruptive than positive.  The average length of employment for his techs was more than 5 years, they all worked well together, and the owner was hesitant to introduce an 'outsider' into this well-ordered machine.

To compensate, he found a small on-line surveillance equipment provider who offered networking support. His specific needs were network-related (he could already get his branded hardware fairly easily), but this supplier only offered networking support for the equipment they sold. The fact that this supplier re-sold a Korean brand he had never heard of was a cause for concern; after decades with one brand, he would now have to trust something new. He had to make sure this suppliers equipment would hold up in the field and that support was available when he and his techs needed it. The Korean brand was significantly less expensive, but even one or two service calls for defects could easily cost him more in the long run.

Eventually this on-line supplier gained trust by providing references and offering to work with his techs to train them in basic networking on the job. Using commonly available remote access tools (LogMeIn.com, TeamViewer.com, GoToAssist.com), the supplier can connect to his techs laptop at the job site and walk them through the network configuration required. With training (and repetition) the owner felt his team should be able to learn these required skills at little cost to his company. If all went well, his techs would receive the training they needed and his hardware costs would be at least 30-40% lower than using Honeywell, allowing the alarm company's margins to improve.

The alarm company is so far satisfied. However, this partnership does have risks.

Because he now has to order his surveillance equipment instead of being able to get what he needs the same day from his supply house, his customers with malfunctioning equipment will have to wait approximately three days for replacements unless he stocks at least a minimal amount of equipment himself for this purpose.  In addition, he no longer has the brand backing of his alarm equipment provider. As a long-time dealer under his current brand, this could have a negative effect on customer perception and possibly hurt his relationship with his current alarm brand.

The biggest challenge, however, is not having his entire customer support entity in-house.  By outsourcing a portion of his support, he risks being left stranded if his supplier ceases to do business.  As a preventative measure, this owner would be wise to mandate that his new supplier train his in-house techs on networking so if this does occur, his team will be better prepared to fill this void.

Lessons / Trends

This case highlights two growing trends in the industry:

  • Resellers/Distributors increasing services to improve the value of their offerings beyond box sales
  • Online support tools making it easier for support to be provided from anywhere (thereby adding value)

Related Reports

2020 IP Networking Book Released on Jan 06, 2020
The new IP Networking Book 2020 is a 280 page in-depth guide that teaches you how IT and telecom technologies impact modern security systems,...
Large US University End-User Video Surveillance Interview on Mar 18, 2019
Schools have become targets in modern days of active shooters and terrorist fears. The need for video and access security is high. Universities...
Avigilon Launches 'Renewed Products Program' on Mar 19, 2019
There are lots of 'pre-owned' cars but pre-owned IP cameras? While such programs are common in other industries, in video surveillance, they are...
Casino Security Consultant Carl Lindgren Interview on Mar 26, 2019
For more than 20 years, Carl Lindgren [link no longer available] worked as a casino surveillance pro, while being active (and sometimes outspoken)...
Cambium Wireless Video Surveillance Profile on Mar 27, 2019
Cambium Networks, spun out of Motorola Solutions in 2011, says "outdoor durable radios are in their DNA" and they are targeting video surveillance...
Mining Company Security Manager Interview on May 10, 2019
First Quantum Minerals Limited (FQML) is a global enterprise with offices on 4 continents and operations in 7 countries with exploratory operations...
Manufacturer Favorability Guide 2019 on Jun 12, 2019
The 259 page PDF guide may be downloaded inside by all IPVM members. It includes our manufacturer favorability rankings and individual...
Axis Will Not Block Resellers on Jun 10, 2019
While Axis generally has strong favorability amongst integrators, the biggest complaint is their channel model, which results in smaller integrator...
Online Video Surveillance Sales Comparison - Amazon, B&H, CDW, LTS, Super Circuits, More on Jul 31, 2019
IPVM has uncovered the key trends and top options being offered across commonly used surveillance sellers. How has the market shifted since we...
Top 2020 Trend - AI Analytics on Nov 22, 2019
170+ Integrators answered: What do you think will be the top industry trend in 2020? Why? For the 4th year in a row, AI/video analytics was...

Most Recent Industry Reports

"Hikvision Football Arena" Lithuania Causes Controversy on Jan 24, 2020
Controversy has arisen in Lithuania over Hikvision becoming a soccer team's top sponsor and gaining naming rights to their arena, with one local MP...
Axis and Genetec Drop IFSEC 2020 on Jan 23, 2020
Two of the best-known video surveillance manufacturers are dropping IFSEC International 2020, joining Milestone who dropped IFSEC in 2019. The...
Multipoint Door Lock Tutorial on Jan 23, 2020
Despite widespread use, locked doors are notoriously weak at stopping entry, and thousands can be misspent on locks that leave doors quite...
Avigilon Shifts Cloud Strategy - Merges Blue and ACC on Jan 23, 2020
Avigilon is shifting its cloud strategy, phasing out its Blue web-managed surveillance platform as a stand-alone brand and merging it with its ACC...
Verkada Paying $100 For Referrals Just To Demo on Jan 22, 2020
Some companies pay for referrals when the referral becomes a customer. Verkada is taking it to the next level - paying $100 referrals fees simply...
Camera Analytics Shootout 2020 - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Jan 22, 2020
Analytics are hot again, thanks to a slew of AI-powered cameras, but whose analytics really work? And how do these new smart cameras compare to top...
Intersec 2020 Final Show Report on Jan 21, 2020
IPVM spent all 3 days at the Intersec 2020 show interviewing various companies and finding key trends. We cover: Middle East Enterprise...
Vehicle & Long Range Access Reader Tutorial on Jan 21, 2020
One of the classic challenges for access control are parking lots and garages, where the user's credential is far from the reader. With modern...
Clearview AI Alarm - NY Times Report Says "Might End Privacy" on Jan 20, 2020
Over the weekend, the NY Times released a report titled "The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It" about a company named...
Favorite Camera Manufacturers 2020 on Jan 20, 2020
The past 2 years of US bans and sanctions have shaken the video surveillance industry but what impact would this have on integrators' favorite...