Playing well with others

Video management software makers now tout interoperability, usability
 - 
Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's no secret. As integrators move more often toward IP-based surveillance systems, the matrix switchers that used to control the video that appeared on the screen in front of security personnel have been replaced by increasingly agile video management software. Depending on your definition of IP surveillance, this might take the form of proprietary software loaded onto a DVR or independent physical security information management software for which video is just one of many systems that can be controlled and integrated.
Part of the promise of this move toward IP communication in the security marketplace is that integrators can satisfy more customers with the efficacy of their security systems. They will have more choices, more control and thus be able to make their facilities safer for the people who pass through them.
So how do you tell a customer, "Sorry, the cameras you want don't work with the software you're interested in."
More and more often, you won't have to. "Integrators do not want to be limited by their software manufacturer," said Oren Feldmann, vice president of marketing at EVT, a relatively new player in the video management space, based in Israel. "We and a number of systems, the Genetecs, the Milestones, are going the open-system approach. That's very important to the integrator, so they don't need to beg for another camera to be integrated to the software down the road. The list will just be growing all the time."
When evaluating a video management vendor, these sorts of questions are at the top of Greg Augspurger's list. As president of systems integrator Pentagra, he's constantly asking, "what are they compatible with? Who's cameras do they work with? So you're not stuck with a small selection of IP cameras. Those guys that are compatible with a lot of cameras, that's definitely a plus. The ones that provide software tool kits, the ones that are more open, that are willing to make changes—that's who we work with. The more open it is the better."
And it's not just about working with cameras and encoders. It's important that video management software be able to easily integrate with access control systems and other software as well.
"Something that's very frequently asked of us in the market is system integration," said Francis Lachance, product manager at Genetec, "to have the access talk to our video system. First, we had more of an interface with other systems, so that exchange from one application to another would just be a link from one to the other. Now, more and more we're talking about integration, so things are going both ways, doing the configuration all in one system. Eventually, it will be more than just integration, it will be convergence, where all the systems are working within the same platform. You won't have a video system and an access system. You'll have one unified platform for all your security systems, and that's what we're looking to do."
This is something the end users are definitely asking for, said Augspurger. They want a system where, "if someone comes in a door, the cameras automatically switch to that door. The IP solutions make that so much easier."
"Looking at the evolution of the product, I think that the biggest trend is the IP access control part of it," agreed Kim Robbins, director of marketing communications at DVTel. "It's getting all the disparate systems unified and being able to control everything from one place. But beyond that is a lot more integration with IT security, getting onto your network with the same token that got you in the door, that convergence piece of it."
Will it eventually be commonplace for the video system to capture footage of a card holder at both the time he or she walks through the front door and logs onto the network, to make sure he or she is one and the same person? Probably, but nobody's talking about that yet.
What they are talking about are some of the simplest features, like actually being able to use the software without needing hours and hours of training.
"There's one brand where the software is a nightmare to get around in," said Bill Herrett, co-owner of Sentry Security in Tuscon, Ariz. "Some can definitely be more difficult than others." He said this usability is important for the first sale, and making sure the customer is happy, but it's also crucial for follow-on sales.
"We got a call one day from a customer who noticed a camera had moved and he couldn't see a specific area anymore," recounted Herrett. "So we said, ‘Let's see what happened,' found the video in about five minutes, and we could see the maintenance man reach up and move the dome. So we brought him in, and it turned out the girl at the front desk didn't like that the camera could see what was on her desktop, so she asked the maintenance guy to move the camera."
When the customer realized that the cameras could easily be used to find video that didn't have anything to do with an alarm, that "consequently ended up in a bunch more cameras," Herrett said.
This jibes with DVTel's Robbins' experience. "There are all these benefits that are reaped from networked video, being able to use it for operations, training, marketing, you name it. End users are getting smarter about how the systems are maturing." She sees training as the biggest add-on value. "We saw that at NC State," she said. "They were recording for security, but they were getting all this video of the cafeteria, the kitchen prep area, their convenience stores, so they used the video for customer service training, too. If we went to most of our big end users, we'd find they were using the video in unique ways." ssn