RFPs are hard.
Do them 'right' and it takes a lot of knowledge and time.
Do them 'wrong' and you can be (a) unwittingly locked into a specific vendor or (b) be forced to accept inferior quality products.
This guide helps IP camera purchasers better specify, including developing Request for Proposals. Note - this guide only covers IP cameras, as they are the most common type specified in RFPs. However, learn more about HD Analog vs IP Cameras in this IPVM guide.
In this 30+ page guide, we look at top issues impacting specifications, camera specs that cause the most trouble, and give recommendations for over 20 different spec areas.
The Big 3 Issues
We find 3 general issues that all specifications need to address:
- Avoiding high level specifications
- Avoiding copying of vendor specifications
- Analyzing pros and cons of specifying specific products
Top Issues for 2017
The following are the most difficult elements to specify for IP cameras in 2017, areas we explain in-depth in the guide:
- Cybersecurity, due to its rapid increase in prominence and difficulty of specifying it as a 'feature'
- Integrated IR, due to its now near ubiquitousness but with variations in performance
- Fast Motion WDR, due to gains in WDR capabilities but variations in handling fast motion
Key Specification Trouble Spots
Then we examine the seven most troublesome areas of camera specifications, including:
- Why specifying target and FoV dimensions are key
- Understanding the benefits and limitations of using pixel density (PPF/PPM)
- Evaluating what resolution to specify
- Specifying low light performance
- Factoring in imager size
- WDR right and wrong
- Factoring in the complexity behind storage duration
Finally, we provide recommendations and template for over 20 other common specifications impacting camera hardware and software features:
- Form Factor
- Frames Per Second
- Smart Codecs
- Minimum Illumination
- Maximum Exposure Setting
- Outdoor Rating
- Temperature Range
- Vandal Resistance
- Streaming Mode
- Recording Mode
- On Board Storage
- VMS Compatibility
- Power Supply
- Auto Focus
- Iris Type
- Lens Type
- PTZ Optical Zoom
- PTZ Pan Range
- PTZ Tilt Range
- Digital Zoom / Total Zoom
- Panoramics vs PTZs
Big Three Issues
1. Avoid High Level Specs
Many specifications are vague, for example requesting "a high resolution low light IP camera." This type of specification generally leads to poor selections. At least some responders will pick the lowest cost model possible that could arguably meet the vague specification, obtaining a significant price advantage, a key problem when many RFPs are either solely or significantly decided by price.
In the rest of the guide, we detail the 20+ most common parameters and how to explicitly specify them to avoid vague specifications.
2. Avoid Copying Vendor Specifications
The opposite side of being vague is copying a vendor's specifications. This will result in locking out all others. Most large manufacturers write AE specifications with the goal that specifiers will copy and paste those specifications directly into the RFP. Manufacturers spend money and time doing this because they know once their AE specification is in, even if the RFP does not require only their product, no other manufacturer is likely to meet the exact combination of features that their model has. The problem is many of those features in the manufacturer specification are low-level and likely irrelevant to what the buyer needs or wants.
3. Specifying Exact Models
Some buyers can simply and explicitly declare they want to buy a certain product (Widget XYZ or Camera 6013W, etc.). However, many organizations have procurement rules that do not allow them to do so or force them to defend such specifications with sole source justifications. This is a difficult area. Organizations that have restrictions on explicitly requiring products are often, and understandably, concerned that an 'open' specification will result in them getting an inferior product that passes the specification given. By replacing high level specifications with more detailed ones as we describe in this guide, this can help ensure quality products are selected in an open bid.
Consider Acceptance Testing
Since most specifications are feature based only (e.g., must have resolution of X, frame rate of Y, codec Z, etc.) instead of performance based (e.g., must be able to read a license plate at X distance from the camera at Y light level with a 1/30s or faster shutter), they can lead to disappointing real world results. The responder of a feature based only specification will rightfully argue that they delivered the features / technical specifications requested, even if the underlying need was not met.
To overcome this, include a requirement for acceptance testing, during which video from each installed camera is reviewed, to ensure that the camera can deliver the details you need in the areas and times that are most critical to you. Those which do not meet your specifications must be reconfigured, or, at worst, replaced. The main downside is this exposes more risk to the responder because now they need to meet a tougher standard. However, you can overcome that by properly describing what you want.
Even Better - Initial Testing
To avoid disappointment at the end, you can run essentially the same tests before the installation is even started. There are a number of low cost portable power / IP camera setups that allow integrators to take proposed cameras to the exact spot one wants to monitor, quickly and easily verifying that it delivers the details and image quality you need.
Cybersecurity - 2017
Specifying cybersecurity for IP cameras is hard. The main risk are vulnerabilities that are publicly unknown, since publicly disclosed vulnerabilities are typically fixed. The publicly unknown vulnerabilities, by definition, cannot be used in specifications.