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With video surveillance you get what you pay for

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When considering a new video surveillance system, it makes sense for companies to get a few quotes from vendors to compare prices. However, what should companies choose, when presented with two different quotes?
By Mark Chertkow, MD of Graphic image Technologies
Typically, vendors will give customers a choice between an enterprise-grade solution (which comes with a higher price tag and the vendor’s recommendation) and a cheaper quote for a generic cheap solution.
Given that many customers are so price sensitive they usually land up choosing the cheaper quote, only to find themselves in a position where they repent in leisure for buying in haste. Why is this the case? When comparing two (or more) quotes, some solutions might seem similar on paper but they are not.

Price not the only deciding factor
A system is more than the sum of its components, therefore, it’s important to be wary of making decisions based purely on price without having considered the total cost of ownership. When it comes to video surveillance systems you get what you pay for, which means that cutting corners to cut costs could land up costing more in the long term.
With technological advancements in the last few years it’s no longer accurate to judge quality based purely on equipment value being quality and cost. In addition, the difference between a cheaper and enterprise-grade solution is in the long-term ownership and management experience.
Lower-end solutions typically comprise discrete units, namely, a Digital Video Recorder or Network Video Recorder and surveillance cameras. Each system is a block consisting of 16 to 32 cameras and typically requires one operator per system.
So, if the customer wanted to add more cameras they would find that they need, at the very least, more surveillance operators and another box including another screen, this means that the solution is not scalable. Whereas forklift upgrades are not required with enterprise-level solutions because they are built around a unified Video Management System (VMS).
By using a VMS, an operator can look at any group of cameras within that particular site or group of sites and bringing additional cameras (potentially up to 10,000 cameras) into the system will not impact manpower requirements — a major benefit. By choosing an enterprise-grade solution, organisations have the flexibility to use and manage the system as they need to.

The practical benefits of enterprise-grade products
Why is the price tag on an enterprise solution higher? An enterprise solution has a robust version of software that is far more feature-rich. A lower price tag, comes only basic functionality, like an NVR that is capable of recording and playing back footage.
However, with an enterprise-grade price tag comes a unified VMS that enhances the overall management and user experience. For example, a unified VMS allows one to go back into recorded footage once an event has occurred, to define a surveillance area and search for motion within that area. It also supports third party integration such as access control, fire detection systems and number plate recognition amongst other.
In addition, starting with a basic 16 channel system and later adding a 40-channel server is seamless to the operator as all cameras appear to be part of the same system alleviating the need for a “forklift” upgrade. Conversely, a system that’s based on an NVR does not have this functionality.
Furthermore, enterprise-grade solutions also start showing value is in their efficiencies. Surveillance equipment manufacturer FLIR has, for example, integrated the VMS into their 4K cameras so that they are able to run with very low bit rates and storage rates — as low as 2Mbps. Making it possible to open multiple streams on an operator’s console without overloading the machine.

The behind-the-scenes benefits of enterprise-grade solutions
Enterprise-grade solutions are known to be more reliable than their cheaper counterparts. A lower-end solution is not typically taken with the addition of a Software Support Agreement (SSA) or a Service Level Agreement (SLA), as customers may be price sensitive. An SSA entitles the customer to get support, updates and upgrades on software to keep their system current. On the other hand, a SLA is typically a support level agreement between the customer and the installer. This means that if cameras go down or there are network issues, the system is looked into and repaired by the installer.
In the absence of an SLA, if there is an issue, cameras could effectively be lost and subsequently footage could vanish. Without an SLA, vendor responsibility ends on sign-off. From a governance point of view, it makes sense for companies to have an SLA on their camera systems, so that the system is periodically checked and tested as part of a contractual obligation.

Looking at the bigger picture
Whereas a lower-end solution sees a company having to replace its appliances every few years. An enterprise solution with an SSA means that the company is able to update the software until the servers reach their end of life. Even so, once this happens it’s possible to replace the servers and migrate the software across if there’s an SSA in place.
Essentially, the fundamental benefits of an enterprise solution boils down to a long-term relationship between vendor and customer that allows the customer to update and futureproof their investment. The customer will not have to re-buy technology in a few years’ time and because of this, the vendor is constantly investing in the software core because it is an asset.
As a result, the customer will benefit from constant updates, security maintenance and innovation that can be brought into existing infrastructure. It is for these reasons that customers should not choose a surveillance system based purely on price.
Value does not equate price, and the money spent on an enterprise level solution that comes with an SSA and SLA to maintain and futureproof the system, is a more cost-effective spend in the long run. When considering the total cost of ownership as well as the user and management experience, the adage “you get what you pay for” is whole-heartedly applicable.