Next generation video monitoring enters market
Developers of video monitoring technology have been discussing the concept of video analytics and remote guarding for years, but only recently have reliable analytics been introduced to the market in a real way so as to make true remote guarding economically viable.
"Video analytics is not new. What's new is analytics that work well," said Brad Gordon, CEO of ViewPoint CRM, which specializes exclusively in video monitoring. ViewPoint CRM, which uses VideoIQ analytics, has had about as much experience with analytics as anyone in the industry and can attest to the recent advancements in analytic technology.
"We've spent about three years working with different analytic products and in the last 12 months we've seen huge advances in the quality of video analytics," Gordon said.
Those huge advances may foretell a new market opportunity for central stations.
As the worldwide video surveillance industry is projected to grow by 47 percent over the next five years, to reach $6.48 billion by 2012 according to Frost & Sullivan, the market for video monitoring is expected to rise as well.
This growth in video offerings by security companies is fueled, in part, from the growth of municipal-instituted verification policies; many monitoring companies are choosing on their own to incorporate video as a means to reduce false alarms.
Advancements in video analytics, interviewees said, will change the concept of how companies use those video applications to monitor accounts.
John Lombardi, president of Commercial Instruments and Alarm Systems, has followed the changes in video monitoring through the years. For the last 20 years, he said, video monitoring technology has allowed cameras to take snapshots of a location after an alarm is triggered and transmit the video clips to a central station for assessment.
"The ability to take a picture from a camera and transmit it to a remote station became quicker and quicker until it was almost, not quite, but almost real time," Lombardi said.
"Now, when an alarm is activated it transmits 15-to-20 seconds of live video," he said. Most importantly, that video both precedes and follows the alarm event, allowing the central station operator to understand the context of the alarm event.
With new developments in video analytics, not only will operators be able to able to view live video, but, more importantly, the analytic technology will alert them to identified threats in real time, allowing operators to act as virtual, or remote, guards.
This represents a new remote guarding market, some say, with potential for a larger piece of recurring monthly revenue.
VideoIQ, which just released its analytic camera, the 800HD Smart Video Analyzer, is one of several companies that have developed a promising analytic technology that can be applied to remote guarding.
"The crux of the opportunity is that remote guarding creates a virtual presence," said Scott Schnell, president and chief executive officer of VideoIQ. "Remote guarding is about intervention ... Today's video, without a [remote] guard, never stops crime before it occurs, it always records for posterity and perhaps will be used to identify and prosecute a criminal. With remote guarding, a guard receives notification of an intruder crossing the perimeter of a protected site before the person causes problems."
Advancements in video analytic technology recognize and verify potential threats prior to notifying remote guards, thus eliminating the need for constant human observation and decreasing the amount of "false alarm" notifications sent to a remote guard. The technology entering the market today has honed its recognition ability and can distinguish between humans and, say, animals, only notifying a remote guard when a human (or any programmed object) is observed in its field of view.
Now operators are able to communicate live with the guarded location, for example, through two-way audio to speak with a potential intruder and identify him or her.
In the event of a verified intrusion, a remote guard can track the movement of the individual on the property and assist authorized personnel (either a site-located guard or police) to locate the person quickly. Regardless of the outcome, the ability to patch in live after an alarm is triggered allows remote guards to verify alarms, perhaps one of the industry's most recognized problems.
Despite all the purported beneficial features of remote guarding and video analytic technology, however, not everyone is convinced that this will change the security industry. Cost, as is often the case, is the most common reason cited why analytics won't turn the industry on its head.
The cost of training operators, for example, is a disputed inhibitor of the integration and acceptance of analytic technology.
Jim Boehme, senior vice president of sales and marketing for National Guardian, a company specializing in retail monitoring services, does not believe that remote guarding is a "real market for the future."
"We specialize in video verification," said Boehme. "Once an alarm goes off we get 30 seconds of video of the event before and after it was triggered. Our operators decide if it's an actual alarm or a false alarm and we email the file to our customers, depending on the requirements of the account."
Boehme said the remote guarding market is very small and is not a future primary market for his company. And the main reason he cites? Cost.
"To provide video remote service is very expensive and the service that a company has to provide is very labor intensive," he said. "A company must have highly trained central station operators to respond because judgment is now involved."
But others argue that central station operators actually will require less training and less use of judgment with the analytic technology involved in remote guarding.
Avi Lupo, president of OzVision, a company specializing in remote video software designed for central stations, said that the current concept of "video services" requires much more operator specialization than the new concept incorporating analytic technology coming out now.
"Today's operators need to use some judgment, but with analytics the technology will be a tool to verify an event ... and will send recommendations to the operator along with the event and prioritize for them whether it's real or false," he said. "The operators will still need to be trained, but will get much more smart and filtered information than when they get today."
ViewPoint's Brad Gordon agreed that operators are receiving better information, but agreed with Boehme on the need for specialized training.
"You need to hire quality people of a different caliber of employee compared to most alarm central stations where the protocol is relatively simple: if alarm goes off, call this number. With [remote guarding], following protocol is fairly complicated because we've prepared for every possible event," Gordon said. "The idea of analytics takes some guess work out of the equation and reduces human error, but operators need to understand how to use the software as a tool."
Gordon also warns central stations about the difficulty of entering the video analytic world.
"I think it is difficult for a central station to become a video monitoring business with or without analytics," he said. "From what we've seen, every monitoring company that tries to really get into video monitoring fails. It's not something you can dabble in, you really have to start from scratch and commit to training people and learning the product."