Why is Most VMS Software So Damn Hard to Use?

By: John Honovich, Published on Dec 19, 2009

I am shocked at how damn hard most Video Management software is to use. At first we thought it was just one or two but now that we have done significant testing on a dozen VMS systems, it is becoming clear that this is a widespread problem. VMS software may have technical advantages over DVRs but the ease of use is regularly far worse.

On the other hand, I rarely, if ever, hear people complain about the usability of VMS software so maybe it's just us or maybe it's not a big deal.

What Do You Think?

Traditional DVR Usability

Most DVRs are easy to operate and administer. The traditional DVR interface is divided into 3 components: live viewing section, playback/investigation section and configuration. Usually, all 3 of these sections can be accessed through the main interface which usually displays live video.

With DVRs, the most common used functionalities (like displaying live video or selecting a time for video playback are usually prominently displayed). More advanced (and rarely used) functionalities tend to be hidden in a second level.

By contrast with VMS systems, we routinely see the following:

  • Core functionalities are split amongst numerous applications making it challenging to figure out where to go to accomplish basic tasks
  • Complex video recording setup that requires detailed knowledge of changing settings in a variety of seemingly unrelated places
  • Controls for common / basic functionalities mixed in with numerous advanced /rarely used ones, making it hard to do 'basic' video surveillance monitoring
  • Each VMS is seemingly difficult/cumbersome in its own unique way, making it difficult to leverage learning from one VMS system to the next

Why Usability Counts

The major users of video surveillance systems are (1) security managers and (2) security technicians - neither of which are experts in using complex, cumbersome IT systems. Worse, turnover in users tends to be significant making quick learning key to ongoing operational success.

Regardless of the power or 'openness' of these VMS systems, if they are hard to use:

  • Users will use the systems less and get less benefits
  • Technicians will be resistant to use them and push for easier to use VMS systems
  • Integrators will have difficulties training and sending out different technicians
  • VMS developers will face more technical support calls and field issues
What Do You Think?

I am especially interested to hear from people that think I am wrong about this. I encourage vigorous objection on this.

I think most of these systems suffer from poor UI design but I am happy to be proven wrong.

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1 report cite this report:

How Should Video Management Software be Evaluated? on Dec 27, 2009
In this report, we propose criteria to evaluate Video Management Software (VMS). Those selecting VMS software may find this useful. Moreover we...

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