Service / Maintenance Contracts Guide

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Oct 20, 2011

To keep any surveillance system up and running, regular maintenance needs to be performed. However, it is often unclear what should be in included, how often it should be done and how much should be charged. This is especially true of IP surveillance, with its added complexities: switches, servers, wireless access points, etc. As such, integrators normally offer maintenance contracts for these systems, which can included a wide variety of services. In this note, we provide recommendations on common services, options and costs.

Replacing Broken Equipment

The first, and potentially most important article to be covered in any service contract is break/fix response. Response times vary between integrators and end users, with quicker response times, or 24/7 response driving contract price higher. Most commonly, next business day response is written into service contracts. However, times may vary, such as during the next scheduled preventative maintenance visit, or next business day, or four hours, and any variations in between.

In some contracts, certain items are covered under one response time, and others under a longer response time. A second monitor failing on a secondary workstation may be replaced during the next maintenance visit, while a critical camera covering the main entrance may require same-day replacement. This is all dependant on the criticality of the customer and their system, the maintenance budget, and negotiations with the integrator. 

Camera Maintenance

As for preventative maintenance, the first item that usually comes to mind is camera maintenance. If the cameras fail, the systems are incapacitated. There are a few tasks involved in this:

  • Cleaning: Typically, multiple times per year, the integrator will clean cameras. This usually involves at least cleaning domes and lenses, as well as blowing out camera enclosures, so they are free of dust. The frequency of this depends on climate, but is normally no less than twice per year. Rainy areas may need to do it more often, to avoid excessive water marks on domes, while drier areas may hardly need cleaning.
  • Field of View/PTZ Preset Checks: The cameras current fields of view should be checked and compared with the initial installation. If they have drifted, whether through a housing that wasn't quite mounted properly, or via the mechanism of a PTZ, they're readjusted if the FOV is no longer sufficient. In some cases, upon customer request, the FOV may be changed slightly during maintenance visits. Relocating cameras is normally outside the scope of the agreement, however.
  • Firmware Updates: Camera firmware updates are a matter of preference. Most users prefer, and we agree, to leave firmware alone unless there is a definite reason to upgrade it, such as bugfixes for a specific issue. The risk is that the new firmware will be incompatible or create new issues with the existing production system. If the camera is performing as expected, be careful about doing firmware upgrades. Manufacturers may disagree with this but they also can rarely guarantee that there will not be unexpected side effects.

PC Maintenance

The servers and workstations in the system are normally checked on a regular basis as well. As far as physical maintenance, this usually amounts to simple tasks: opening the case of the PC and blowing out dust, making sure power cords are secured, etc. On the software side, log files are reviewed and checked for any unexpected errors or indications of poor health.

Software parameters such as retention times and motion recording settings can deeply affect how much video is stored on a customer's system. These settings should be checked to make sure the customer's desired or required retention periods are being met. Addition of cameras, unaccounted for motion, or other factors may result in these times not being met, leaving customers without archived video. In some cases, this can leave them liable, or in violation of legal regulations.

At a minimum, for typical customers, this should be done during regular maintenance about twice per year. This ensures that they're getting the retention period they paid for and expect. Certain customers with more stringent requirements, such as municipalities and especially casinos, may check their storage more often, as there is more risk of legal liability or violation of regulations. 

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Patches and Updates

Most service contracts also include upgrading the system to the most current client and sever software versions. This is normally not done immediately when they are released, but instead on a scheduled basis, during the next maintenance visit. Some users prefer not to upgrade unless necessary, following the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In these cases, new versions are only applied if a desired feature not previously present is not supported, or camera models which the customer wants to use are added. 

Wireless Maintenance

In wireless systems, there are a few tasks which should be performed regularly. First, any outdoor cable connections should be checked for damage, wear, or rust, and reterminated and taped if necessary. Second, antenna alignment should be checked, and corrected if necessary. Drift over time can potentially greatly reduce throughput in wireless systems, so this is key.

Refresher Training

One often overlooked task that may be included is refresher training for operators and maintenance staff. This may be essential, depending on the organization. Companies with frequent turnover or shift changes, for example if a guard service operates the surveillance system, may especially want to include this to give new staff a formal training session. Even long-term users may benefit from a refresher course, or even simply a Q&A with the integrator, to discuss challenges or different ways of performing tasks.

Service Contract Cost

Given the various services which may or may not be performed, either based on preference or necessity, service contract prices can vary widely. VMS software maintenance agreements may especially cause variance if these upgrades are included in the contract. Installation of a large quantity of outdoor cameras and/or wireless APs will also add cost, if bucket trucks or lifts are required. All factors considered, however, industry standard annual pricing is between 8 to 12% of the system's initial installed cost (e.g., if the system cost $100,000 to install, annual service costs would likely be in the $10,000 range.

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