The Biggest Problem for the Video Surveillance Industry

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jul 23, 2008

Video surveillance faces many specific problems. All of these problems derive from a single crisis facing technology industries today.

Look at some of the key problems:

  • Widespread failures using video analytics
  • Angst and debate about whether to use IP cameras
  • Common confusion about how the next great codec, H.264, will work
  • Public skepticism on the value of video surveillance
  • Incredible difficultly to determine the best video surveillance products

The common cause of all of these problems is a lack of transparency. We obscure, we promote, we mislead, we hide – and this results in the festering problems we have to deal with in our industry. From talking to dozen of industry leaders, these problems are clearly known. Structurally, though, we are unable to address these problems head on, open and honestly. If only we were transparent about these issues, we could resolve them quicker and save customers and integrators from significant problems.

I want to explore 3 points:

  • The lack of transparency is a problem for all technology industries
  • Transparency will win in video surveillance just like it is doing in other industries
  • We can take steps to foster transparency

Lack of Transparency

This problem is a defining feature of an industrial, pre-Internet era. In the past, reaching people used to be incredibly expensive (TV, print, etc). The people who controlled those means could control the flow of information. Obscuration and distortion were rewarded. This practice repeated itself in each industry because it was a common characteristic to all.

The Internet has disrupted the old means of communications. The economics of the Internet radically change the cost structure of communicating. The cost of producing content and sharing content is orders of magnitude lower than they were 20 years ago. This decentralizes power and lets people with less capital to have huge influence and participation. I encourage you to read Umair Haque, the best thinker on this transition, as he describes how power is moving from the center (big companies) to the edge (empowered individuals).

Transparency Will Win

The economics make it inevitable that transparency will win. We can already see it in enterprise/web software. The war against Microsoft has raged for 20 years. In the last 5 years, it has become abundantly clear that Microsoft is dead. Economically, Microsoft cannot compete. Their monopoly is slowly but certainly being drained.

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You see the same pattern in reviews and news on software. Traditional magazines in software are essentially dead. They have been replaced by expert developers who blog. Freed from the traditional power structure of advertising controlled media, they can and do speak the truth. Negative reviews and frank criticism of products is the norm.

These actions increase social and customer value. It rewards those who are building good products. It saves customers from buying deceptive or bogus products. The whole industry can more quickly flush out and find the right solutions. And, equally importantly, it is far cheaper to produce as the whole payola system of traditional media is exploded.

The transition will take longer to occur in video surveillance because it is far smaller and less sophisticated than enterprise/web software. I do not know how long it will take but my experience over the last 4 months indicates that the same power will impact video surveillance. In 4 months, with no advertising, this site is already reaching 10,000 visitors per month. It only costs me $39.95 per month for a virtual server (and the ability to code which is fairly common for my generation). This would have been impossible 20 years ago and even 10 years ago, very expensive.

Fostering Transparency in Video Surveillance

Honestly, I do not believe most big companies will accept transparency. They will continue to hype, promote, pay people for awards and white papers. They will struggle with speaking openly and honestly about what they are bad at and what are the limitations of their products.

This is a huge opportunity for emerging companies though. Most customers know not to trust vendors. Customers are longing for an opportunity to get open and honest information. Now is the time to leverage that trend and its underlying economics.

Here is what I recommend:

  • Start marketing transparently. Be clear about what you do well and what you do not do well. Try this with your brochures, white paper, sales presentations.
  • Do a blog. Be honest about industry trends and what your are doing with your products. Teach others. You will build a powerful reputation for yourself that will attract high quality partners and customers.
  • Post on my site: If you don't have a blog and want to try it out, simply post on my site. Try it now.
  • Tell me what you are doing. I want to reward honest and open companies with coverage on my site. This can drive hundreds of new, extremely qualified leads to you.

This is a virtuous cycle. The more we help each other with transparent communication, the quicker and more powerful the approach becomes.

I see early signs of vendors moving in this direction: Airship (hat tip to Abigal for suggesting the term transparency), Envysion, Exacq, Milestone, to name a few.

The best way to address our problems and to improve the industry is to encourage transparency. Let's recognize and take advantage of this powerful and worthwhile trend.

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