The surveillance industry has been through many changes over the years, moving from analog to IP and then from video analytics to AI-enhanced analytics, quite often done on the edge. In the midst of the COVID chaos, reading people’s temperatures became a sought-after feature in surveillance cameras (although it was more effective when added to access control systems).
The way people measure or judge surveillance solutions has also changed over time. In the past it was a race to more megapixels which has since calmed down as the images we obtain today are more than sufficient, except in certain scenarios where 4K resolution (and higher) may be required. We have also seen the various manufacturers making strides in collecting colour images in the dark, while thermal and IR camera advances have also kept pace with advancing technology.
Today, however, all the talk is about artificial intelligence (AI) and how that is improving video analytics. At the same time, the processing capabilities in cameras has drastically improved, allowing for complex AI analytics to be done on the camera before video is compressed and sent to a server for storage or other processing – assuming the footage is not also stored on the camera. And when talking about servers, we can’t ignore the growing adoption of cloud services in the surveillance market.
And although it has been a topic of interest for many years, the use of surveillance footage, or data, is also finding more interest from non-security areas of business as efficiency and process optimisation take centre stage in many organisations, from the retail to commercial to industrial sectors and more. And then there is the question of cybersecurity and compliance.
If we had to highlight a single trend about surveillance from the above, it would be all of the above. Today’s customers who want to do more than simply fill in a list of checkboxes to cover any demands from executive management, are looking at integrated solutions that integrate some or all of the above into a solution that delivers value. While vendors, distributors, SIs and installers are still competing in a tough market, educated clients are demanding they also work together to deliver value, not simply a bunch of images in a control room.
To find out what is happening out there in the ‘real’ world of surveillance, which in today’s security configurations incorporates different aspects of security and other areas of business, Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a few people from different sectors of the industry to join us around our boardroom table (for the first time since March 2020) to discuss what they see happening in the market and how they see the industry moving forward.
We started by asking our guests to introduce themselves and give their opinion on the state of the market at the moment
Dean Sichelschmidt, country manager for Arteco South Africa. Sichelschmidt agrees with the previous comments, stating that the market has matured significantly over the past few years. The whole channel , especially the end user is asking smarter, more mature questions. Users are not asking what a vendor or SI can do for them, they are asking if they can do what the user requires and what more value they can add while they are about it. Again, he echoes that it’s not about cameras or access control or fire solutions, but holistic solutions that can deliver measurable value and information. Big data is an IT term, but he is seeing the same concepts being applied in the security industry as more IoT devices appear on the edge and contribute to the masses of data being collected. He also echoes the previous statements that collaboration between the different parts of the traditional channel is more important in the drive to ensure the end user gets what they want.
Dene Alkema, MD of Cathexis Africa. Alkema says the past two years of COVID has been “interesting”, but companies have had to adjust and move ahead. What has also changed is the type of discussions Cathexis is having with its customers. Customers are talking about the value they get from their purchases and getting the most out of their spending as possible. There are also more people involved in these conversations, making the lead time much longer, but on the positive side that means that the industry has to demonstrate its ability to deliver the value clients want and not just sell a good story.
Marcel Bruyns, sales manager for Africa at Axis Communications. While Bruyns says Axis has not seen a dramatic reduction in business because it focuses primarily on enterprise-level businesses, he is seeing more activity in the market with people talking about new projects and blowing the dust off projects that were put on hold because of COVID uncertainties. Part of the discussions he is involved in are from various areas of customers’ businesses where people are looking at surveillance and other security information as a means to optimise business processes. As a consequence of this, he also notes that vendors are being called into these discussions along with SIs more often than before as customers want to maximise the capabilities of the technology they install. The value-add from third parties developing solutions that run on the Axis platform is also increasing, which means customers are in a position to get far more than before from their installations.
MJ Oosthuizen, technology director: ESS (Electronic Security Solutions) at G4S Secure Solutions (SA). Coming from the perspective of an SI, Oosthuizen says the shift he has seen over the past two years has seen SIs having to sell more holistic security solutions rather than a specific surveillance or access control solution. Discussions about brand or pixels are not the primary focus for the end user, rather the value the full solution adds. SIs also have to employ more knowledgeable people as users want their providers to already understand the full scope of the project without, for example, having to get another person in the room to talk about the network and bandwidth implications of solutions. SIs are today tasked with designing a complex platform for future business expansion, not pushing their favourite or most profitable brands.
Quintin Van Den Berg, country business director at Bosch Building Technologies. Van Den Berg says that as the market comes out of its “COVID hangover”, the end users have changed their approach to new projects and now want to have a discussion with the manufacturers, on an elevated level, to ensure they are getting what they need. The strict channel hierarchy is no longer as exclusive as it was in the past and SIs are working with their OEMs to deliver value to the customer (although the SIs are still the ones to deliver the solution). He adds that the focus is no longer the total cost of ownership (TCO), but the total cost of investment (TCI) as the longevity of their systems has expanded, for example, five-year warranties are no longer an exception to the rule and the way software is delivered has also changed with centralised, edge and hybrid solutions available. He also adds that it is more about the data and what can be gained from that data, i.e., the usable information surveillance can deliver to the company.
Ralph Derrick Brown, product manager at MiRO Distribution. While Brown has seen an increase in activity in security business, he notes that there is more significant growth in its primary communications market. WISPs (wireless Internet service providers) are growing their businesses and instead of only offering connectivity, they are bundling smart home IoT packages which can include one or more cameras. In terms of IP surveillance, there has also been an increase in interest after the riots in 2021. Clients are looking for cost-effective cameras, but at the same time they want something they can rely on to send accurate alarm notifications to allow them to be more proactive in their security operations.
Supply chain chaos
Supply chain issues are ongoing, and all the participants are feeling the pinch of having to wait months for stock. This is obviously not good for customer relations as the end user can decide to opt for a different supplier if stock is not available. This has seen an increase in collaboration between companies that are competitors, through to increasing the level of stock holding whenever possible. The cost of bringing in more stock than normal pays off in the end when your company can deliver while others are struggling. Forecasting has also changed, both in terms of quantities ordered as well as communications with suppliers to try and gain insight into what to expect over the next few months.
Manufacturers who are part of larger organisations had a slight advantage in that they could rely on other parts of their global companies to supply certain parts when their usual suppliers’ shelves were bare. Of course, this doesn’t apply to smaller concerns, and the continued shortages of specific components naturally affect them in the long run.
It’s worth noting that the supply chain chaos was not only caused by chipset and other component shortages. The actual shipping of stock has also been impacted and it is not unusual to be told your stock will be shipped in a particular week only to find the ship or plane hasn’t moved a few weeks later for one reason or another, and often for no discernible reason at all.
The software suppliers have not escaped unscathed either as their applications need to run on hardware. Especially when it comes to video analytics, graphics processing units (GPUs) are required (especially for AI analytics), and these have been in short supply. Of course, people buying GPUs to mine cryptocurrencies hasn’t helped either.
Key for all the participants is collaboration and adapting with out-of-the-box thinking to get customer sites secured. Maintaining relationships and managing expectations throughout the channel (especially with the customer) has been key to overcoming the stock problems, as has expanding brand ranges beyond existing comfort zones. It’s no longer unusual to see manufacturers, distributors and SIs in the same meeting, working to fulfil the end user’s requirements.
Another comment worth noting is that COVID has had a positive impact in that customers are looking to their service partners to assist them in creating innovative and holistic solutions. It’s not a matter of reducing guards or going for the cheapest product out there, today the customers want to stretch their budget to the maximum and are looking at ways to extract more value from their security systems than ever before.
Adding value has always been important, but in today’s business environment it entails more than simply offering a camera or cameras that record video, or analytics that catch someone crossing a line. The key is how to make video more important in each customer’s environment.
AI is one of the key areas in which vendors can make a difference, whether it’s on a local or hosted server or on the camera itself. All vendors have realised this and are working, on the one hand to develop AI that really delivers what clients want, and on the other to put the AI applications to work in a way that delivers the basic video surveillance functionality required plus more, so that management will be able to see the value of the system installed.
Of course, all agree that selling AI because it is branded as AI is not the way to go and can even cause significant problems in the long term if it is not the right solution. And it’s not only selling a product and installing it. Implementation and maintenance are key elements to getting continued value from an installation as there will always be tweaks and updates to optimise performance and adapt to changes in the environment. Training clients on how to best extract value from their system is also a key value-add.
To accomplish this, the ability to integrate various systems and ‘ingest’ data from almost any device for analysis and intelligence has become a must-have. What was a ‘security tool’ is now becoming more of a management tool as roles expand. The days of trying to be the sole vendor or supplier are over. Software and hardware companies need to take the approach that value may come from competitive products, and they need to be able to integrate these products, whether old or new, into their solutions with the aim, again, of delivering the value the client wants.
Importantly, part of the value that the industry adds is in helping customers define and refine what their problems are and then offer a solution that addresses the exact issue, plus a bit more. In some cases that value may also be walking away from a deal (which is extremely hard for sales-oriented people) because you know that your solution won’t provide what they need, or even because the client doesn’t actually know what they want and just selling them a solution for the sake of revenue will cause more problems for all parties down the line.
Customers are spoiled for choice and messing up a deal can have long-term implications. As one participant noted, people don’t talk about the projects you did successfully, only your failures.
The value of AI
Perception is often confusing. When talk of AI-enhanced systems first appeared, many people had (and still have) ideas that are more at home in science fiction movies than reality. For example, AI never fails and always does what you require. The first ‘AI-enhanced’ analytics were little more than existing analytics with a new name. However, newer technologies have improved and AI does add value today, but it should not be sold as the solution for everything. Adding value would include telling a customer that an ‘old’ line crossing analytic is all they actually need, not the latest AI system on promotion.
Additionally, AI must integrate into the holistic solution made up of old and new technologies, even from competitors, to contribute to the value added by the whole system.
The old adage of never using version one but being patient until version two comes out is valid in the surveillance market. The latest AI app making all the promises of perfection is likely to disappoint you if you insist your SI installs it. An example given was of watching a rerun of CSI and expecting your camera to perform facial recognition from a reflection in someone’s sunglasses. Rather wait until it has proved itself in the real world before putting money on new ‘bleeding-edge’ technologies or insist on a proof-of-concept project before committing.
It’s been around for a long time, but the task of giving each camera a job description should be standard procedure so that decisions can be made to ensure the client gets the solution that does what is required. This related back to helping the customer understand what they need and why.
Once again, the discussion returns to adding value by educating the customer in terms of what cameras and analytics can really do in specific scenarios. What works on a quiet street that has minimal traffic may not deliver when placed next to a highway where constant headlight reflections will disrupt the image and analytics at night. This becomes more critical when procurement departments authorise purchases (mainly on price) and don’t understand why certain systems were chosen according to the service they can deliver.
When considering the future, the industry of “old white men” is about to undergo changes as the old school gets to retirement age and the younger generation, a generation that is comfortable with technology and don’t have their favourite suppliers who take them on regular trips to Sun City, assume senior positions with decision making and buying power. This generation knows what technology can and should do and will change the buying behaviour of companies.
Looking at expectations for the future, Alkema says Cathexis has been pushed to consider the outcome of the technology it delivers. The past years have made the company’s technology team look closely at what matters to the user and what value the company provides. He is already seeing different expectations from users on pricing models on hardware and software. The challenge is how the company will adapt to customers ‘consumption models’ and decisions as to cloud requirements etc. Flexibility is key as each client will have their own demands, some will move fast, others will move slower, but any vendor needs to be open to the new opportunities and flexible enough to capitalise on them.
The industry’s biggest risk factor is that there is no regulation in terms of installations standards except in very few areas, states Oosthuizen. He sees compliance as a key driver for customers going forward. The ability to understand the data collected and what is being done with it is key to the future. Customers collecting data and using it for security or whatever other purposes they have in mind is the first step, but ultimately they will need to strictly control where the data is, who has access to it, and, of course, adhere to data security and privacy regulations. This is already happening in multiple industries and the regulations, and the need to comply will only increase (for legal reasons, but also, perhaps primarily, to keep customers from moving on). There needs to be serious education on the topic of risk. Security and data risks were previously separate entities, but more people will see them as one and the same at a rapid rate.
Alkema agrees, noting that Cathexis has seen an increase in questions about what the company is doing to secure data its system processes and what is it doing to protect customer data from all the cyber risks out there. Given the nature of the cybersecurity industry, this is a constantly evolving goal. Cybersecurity is a topic that all the participants around the table mentioned as a critical component that will become even more critical in future.
Oosthuizen again brings up the ‘why’ question. Customers need to ask why they are using a certain SI, a certain brand of camera, a certain VMS etc., and the answer will no longer be because they are the cheapest or the reps hand out nice Christmas presents; the answer will be directly related to how they enhance the end user’s security and risk postures in terms of risk mitigation and adding value.
Van Den Berg builds on this, noting that vendors are going to have to “add more horsepower” to their solutions. Seeing an image on a screen is no longer the aim of surveillance. Yes, control rooms will continue to exist, however, that is standard practice at the moment and the end user is looking for more. They want to see a single dashboard in front of them that tells them everything they need to know instantaneously – irrelevant of what technology is behind the dashboard. The surveillance industry is selling information and the ability to get the information that is valuable to the client in front of them immediately, not a cameras or VMS. In the same manner, the cloud or hybrid or onsite debate will be as superfluous as the hardware or software since the client is buying a solution that produces information that is valuable for his/her business.
Of course, this is looking ahead and Sichelschmidt says it will take time for the cloud arguments to subside and end users to get more comfortable with cloud, hybrid or onsite options. It will also take further infrastructure improvements, such as having electricity and reliable connectivity to give decision makers peace of mind. Echoing Van Den Berg, however, Sichelschmidt says the provision of metadata (or actionable information taken from a variety of sources, including surveillance video) is becoming a key driver for the future. The user doesn’t care what camera or analytics delivers that metadata, they only care that it appears when needed and is accurate, and therefore actionable.
Again, the tech-aware youth who will be leaders of the future already don’t care what happens in the background, they want to see the value. Someone else can worry about which technology did what and integrated with what to deliver the results.
Bruyns says Axis is focused on expanding its offerings to market. Axis was the initial driver for the move from analog to IP surveillance technology, and it plans to continue its process of making it easier to get information to the right people at the right time, such as with its AI-enhanced analytics and opening its platform to third-party developers that may have specific applications they want to load onto cameras. Its openness and partnerships throughout its value chain will continue and advance further to ensure the whole ecosystem Axis is part of develops and evolves.
In addition, the company is putting a strong focus on cybersecurity. Bruyns says it is not being spoken about enough and there is a lot of education that is needed throughout the channel. At the same time, sustainability is a key factor in everything Axis is doing, from the components and materials it uses through to reducing power consumption.
Brown believes that ease of use is also becoming a key factor for security products, firstly for the residential market, but increasingly in the corporate sector as well. Nobody wants to struggle to set up their systems, they are only interested in getting the results. In addition, as noted by the others, he sees a growth in the need for usable information from analytics and AI to take away unnecessary work from humans, leaving them to focus on things that are important. Unsurprisingly, MiRO has seen a need to pair surveillance and security systems with power solutions so that users can keep their security systems running independently of Eskom’s failures.
Interestingly, the failures in governance in South Africa has many companies seeing much better growth in the rest of Africa while local growth treads water or stagnates. South Africa may be the hub for stock supplies into Africa right now (when stock is available), but the money is being spent north of the country and there are other countries in line to increase their import revenues by improving their infrastructure and governance processes.
Readers who read the editorial column for this issue already know that this is the last surveillance focused handbook we will be publishing under the ‘CCTV Handbook’ brand. If one considers what we were discussing in round tables ten or even five years ago, it is interesting to see how the market has changed and how the industry has and is adapting to new demands and opportunities.
It’s fair to say that the surveillance market has firmly left the technology age where megapixels were the selling point and entered the information age where metadata – the information extracted from the video (and other) data– is the critical factor. While different environments still need different cameras, what counts today is how the video data can be analysed and actioned in real time to deliver value to the end user.