Follow the Money

For those in the IP surveillance business, the benefits of choosing network video over analog technology seem self-evident: open architecture that enables the end-user to choose best-in-class components, the ability to save installation costs by piggybacking on existing network infrastructure, the freedom to monitor cameras remotely, exceptional image quality and color fidelity, advanced analytics, and more.

From that perspective, IP video seems like a perfect match for high-risk environments like banks and credit unions; yet, in North America, the financial sector has been slow to embrace this more advantageous technology. Why?

To gain some insight into the barriers of adoption, I spoke with Michael Dewalt and Tom Poiner, two product managers from Diebold Inc., a national systems integrator with extensive experience in the financial sector. What I learned about the surveillance issues that banks wrestle with went far beyond the obvious reluctance of financial institutions to abandon their heavy investment in legacy analog surveillance equipment. Here’s what they said:


Nilsson: What makes banks such challenging video surveillance environments?

Diebold: The lighting — so many bank lobbies are glass-fronted; and ATM kiosks are glass-walled, too. In the interior, a lot of banks have light-colored marble surfaces, which create a lot of back-lighting challenges and glare at certain times of the day. You also have drive-up windows and drive-thru ATM lanes that need coverage. So, in addition to extraneous sunlight reflecting everywhere, you need cameras that can capture images in low-light settings and at night. While IP cameras have a number of advantages, analog cameras historically had a slight edge when it came to cost-effectively handling a wide range of lighting conditions. To make network video more pervasive, IP camera manufacturers need to improve true day/night cameras that feature the best in wide dynamic range. There were some IP products shown at ASIS this year that incorporate both wide dynamic range and day/night capabilities, so that’s a promising development.


What about megapixel and HDTV-quality cameras? We’ve seen growing demand in most other vertical markets, but do they make a convincing argument for transitioning to IP video in the banking world?

There are some misconceptions in the banking sector about the capabilities of megapixel and HDTV-quality cameras. We’ve had customers come to us with the expectation that they could replace 15 or 20 standard-definition cameras with a single megapixel IP camera — but that’s just not realistic. Field of view is still field of view; but, maybe if you said it is replacing 15 presets — that would be a more accurate selling point.

Procedural crime shows, such as CSI, are compounding misconceptions, too. We have customers believing they can put up a megapixel camera and spot a speck on a suspect’s face from 600 feet away. They saw it on TV, so it must be true. If network video companies want to create a compelling story, they need to dial back on the hype and instead focus on the real advantages of the technology, including achievable image detail and higher color fidelity that contribute to better forensic evidence.


This is a major reason that we have been pushing the importance of HDTV video, which is an industry standard for resolution, frame rate, aspect ratio and color fidelity. There is a lot of hype around the bigger and better megapixel camera, but 720p and 1080p HDTV video make a lot of sense in these applications. If the “using fewer cameras” pitch doesn’t hold true, will the ability to piggyback on the bank’s existing network infrastructure — which lowers total cost of ownership — matter?

There are a lot of misunderstandings about system reliability and whether running video on the bank’s network is going to wreak havoc with data transaction activity. So, before we discuss the total cost of ownership value proposition, we have to do a better job of educating the IT department on how to best minimize the impact of video traffic over the network.


We saw the same trends at the IT-centric Interop show. Video on the network is often seen as the enemy to IT departments; so, in each industry we need to distinguish between network video surveillance, which is controllable, and the streaming YouTube-type video that most IT folks must contend with. For bank IT departments, do advanced compression standards like H.264 add weight to the argument?

The real issue is the cost of the pipeline. To successfully mitigate risk, banks still need to record numerous cameras with high-image clarity. So, even when using the H.264 compression standard, this high-quality video can put a significant demand on bandwidth and storage. The cost for a secure line that can handle that level of data traffic with sufficient speed can be a higher burden than most banks are willing to bear. Unless everything becomes free, or very low-cost, bandwidth usage is still going to be a barrier to adoption.


Maybe this is why banks across Europe have seen far more success with IP surveillance. Broadband is more widely available and oftentimes faster for less money than in the United States. But still, high-quality video should only be needed at the actual branch, not offsite. Internal pipeline speeds are plentiful and should be more than enough to transmit this video at a low cost. For anything that needs to be transmitted offsite, the bandwidth challenge would be the same even if they were using an analog DVR. But like you mentioned before, this comes down to educating the end-users and integrators on the difference in bandwidth and speed needs for onsite storage vs. offsite archiving. Let’s go back to what you said earlier regarding “secure lines.” Are there any special compliance issues that would impact the use of IP video?

Integrating video with transaction data subjects financial institutions to a PCI (Payment Card Industry) audit. To add value to a financial institution, the video footage needs to be easily searchable. Ideally, we’d like to be able to pull up transaction “123” at a particular ATM and see if someone “borrowed” a debit card and withdrew $50 from the account. However, linking journal transaction numbers, withdrawals and deposits with personal account numbers raises a red flag when it comes to data security standards. It is one of the reasons ATM receipts only print out the last four digits of the account number. Maintaining compliance within the integration can be complex, and the ability to marry video footage with corresponding transaction information needs to be further developed. There’s a fine line between tagging the video for easy retrieval and maintaining compliance. With IP technology, tagging video can be achieved — now, we have to work with the banks to make them feel comfortable with the new process.


Will the efforts by various organizations to create industry standards help ease the transition to IP?

While the analog world is portrayed as proprietary and the IP world is portrayed as an open one, not all vendors truly adhere to the standards they claim to support. In an ideal world, IP video technology would be able to be mixed and matched since everyone would build their equipment to an agreed-upon standard. But standards are applied at multiple levels and when you delve deeper into the technology, you find that some vendors’ cameras will only work with select network video recorders. No one wants to be caught investing in a dead-end standard. The IP manufacturers who will win are the ones committed to an open ecosystem and consistent standards. The biggest challenge to the widespread adoption of IP technology remains the cost. Even with the cost of IP video technology decreasing, financial institutions still need a partner who will help them to understand the cost vs. benefit ratio. It is all about the goals of the individual bank and how technology can help them meet those goals.


If cost is a major factor, and IT departments can sometimes put pressure on a deal, then it is safe to assume that storage is also an issue. Do you think banking institutions will ever embrace hosted video?

There is some hesitancy, but various financial institutions are already sending video to a central location for storage. It all circles back to the strategy: What is the financial institution trying to achieve? Does hosted video make sense for them? Hosted solutions that involve transaction data being sent with video footage raise important questions. How is the data stored? How is it encrypted? How is it transmitted? It is all about what’s going to make IP resonate with the banks — what’s going to make IP “click.” End-users want to know is it secure, easy to use and at the right price. However, the secure connection point is also very important. Solidifying a secure connection method will help financial institutions to adopt the model of storing data virtually.


The entrance of EMC into the surveillance market should provide companies with the confidence that their data is secure, but there seems to be a bit of a climb for IP regardless of the storage mechanism. Given the strong preference towards analog in the financial sector, what will be the main tipping points that will enable IP video to gain traction?

We are starting to see a handful of financial institutions installing IP surveillance technology; but, the real traction will come from a lower price point for the technology. From a functionality perspective, introducing IP cameras that combine wide dynamic range with true day/night capability is critical. Also, configuring the proper settings and compression to reduce bandwidth consumption without sacrificing image quality is key. The industry needs to educate banks on how easily they can architect a more distributed environment by coupling 7 to 10 days of in-camera storage with centralized video archiving. And we need to make the transition as painless as possible by introducing options such as familiar, easy-to-use browser interfaces. The technology has got to be easy to use all of the time. By educating end-users and setting realistic expectations of how the technology can benefit their security operations, the industry can tip the scales in favor of IP video.

Fredrik Nilsson is General Manager of the Americas for Axis Communications and author of the book Intelligent Network Video. He is a regular expert contributor on topics of networked video surveillance systems and cameras, and his “Eye on Video” series can be found in the archives at