What integrators think about video analytics

During the second day of the VCA conference (a conference held earlier this week in Miami, Fla., hosted by IMS Conferences -- see our

Day 1 report

), the audience was treated to a presentation from a variety of integration firms on where video analytics fits into their business. The presentations included a very honest, open assessment of video analytics from Bill Bozeman, who is president and CEO of the PSA Security Network – a network of independent integration firms. Following Bill’s assessment, he was joined for a panel debate by other firms integrating video analytics, including Gadi Lenz, CTO for 4D Security Solutions; Steve Russo, director of security and privacy technology for IBM Global Technology Services; Dr. Youngchoon Park, head of advanced security systems research for Johnson Controls Inc.; and John Delay, director of strategy for new media and government of Harris Corporation.

The presentation from Bill Bozeman was essentially focused around the question of whether intelligent video content analytics was the next big thing? In summary, his answer was “We’re just not sure,” but amid his presentation and the following panel discussion was an overall review of what integrators needed to make VCA a bigger part of their business. Right now, said Bozeman, most integrators aren't doing video analytics, and aren't ready to add it to their services portfolio with some significant changes to their business and their staff's training levels.


Make it easier

One of the top themes from the presentation and the panel was the analytics really needs to be easier for the integration companies. Bozeman reminded the audience that average integrator doesn’t hold a Ph.D. in physics or computer science, and while the technologies are being tested in labs and set up in labs, often with a lot of direct input from the vendors/developers of such video analytics systems, when it comes down to making such systems be deployable, that has to be done by integration staffs whose educational levels are far different from the Ph.D-level brains working in the labs.

One of the suggestions from the panel was that VCA developers should consider adding “wizards” to help walk the installers through the process of setting up analytics on a video system. The wizards concept was compared to the early days when computer users were trying to install Ethernet cards themselves, and it often took days for them to get the installation right; today, of course, simple “wizards” allow users to plug in network cards to their machines and have them running correctly in minutes.


Educate everyone, and then educate them again

Another top theme was education. All of our panel members stressed that there needs to be a lot more education done, and that the VCA vendors need to get active on such topics. As our panel explained, there are two main education issues.

The first education issue is about educating end-users and others in the process about reasonable expectations. It becomes very difficult for an end-user to satisfy a customer if that customers expectations have been set too high by bad marketing and over-the-top sales pitches. Panelists felt that the vendors had done a dis-service to their customers from overstating the abilities of VCA systems, and that a concerted educational effort was needed to correct that misguidance.

The second education issue was about educating the integration companies. As one of our panelists said, “You can’t learn this technology in an hour. You can’t learn it in a day. I don’t think you can even sufficiently learn it in a week’s time.” There need to be extensive educational efforts done by the vendor community to get integration staffs ready for such projects. And the education has to be full-fledged; it has to make integrators fully competent, not just smart enough to make them dangerous.

Finally, one of the panel members, Gadi Lenz, suggested that it might be time for someone to step up and put together a very good, in-depth book that can be used for general industry training on video analytics. Just as there are scores of training books for video surveillance in general (and new books for network video surveillance now on the market, too), it’s time for this info to be available for video analytics.


Get past the architecture debate

One of the dominant discussions in the video analytics field has been the issue of edge architecture versus centralized (server-based) architecture. At the conference, the general consensus was that the best architecture moving forward is a hybrid approach, where edge devices like cameras or encoders create metadata that accompanies a video stream, and that perhaps some of the final processing (generating alerts, using rules engines) is done at a more centralized point. But for now, said Bozeman, the typical integrator believes that the best format for VCA is to put all the intelligence at the edge. There will need to be some further convincing and education of the system integrators of the best models for architectures, and training on the flexibility of different architectures if integrators are expected to get beyond an “edge is best” belief.


Get profitable and consolidate

Integrators pin their business model on working with trusted partners. They may step away from the highest-tech companies if they know the second tier (in terms of advanced technology) is going to get them better service and stand behind their product…and that the companies will be there in the coming years to provide advice and additional support.

With a down economy and many VCA firms running solely on venture capital investments, that makes integrators nervous. Having already seen Steelbox close its doors this year (another company generally thought to have had very good technology, but not enough capital “runway” to get them fully launched and stable), integrators have to be concerned whether today’s partners will be available for them in a year’s time.

Bozeman told the audience that he wants to see VCA companies become profitable, because if they’re profitable, that means they are more likely to be solid partners. There was also a general expectation from our panelists that we would see some consolidation of the small, niche video analytics companies into the big players. We’ve obviously already seen this happen from Honeywell (they acquired ActivEye roughly 2 years ago) and Tyco (they acquired Intellivid last summer), and the expectation is that this will happen with the other “big players”. While many times integrators loathe the day that their favorite, trusted small technology firm become part of a bigger organization because they often lose the personal interaction, the panelists generally felt that associating video analytics with the Honeywell-level types of companies would help build trust. They felt that the end-users/purchasers were more likely to put their trust in this technology if more of the big companies are actively involved in this technology.

Provide the technical data

There was a fair deal of general frustration with the amount of technical data available on the video analytics systems currently available. Integrators on our panel said they need detailed, honest technical information. They generally felt like they could, with a fair bit of training get 80 percent of the way through such systems on their own, but they needed more in-depth the technical specifications to get a job 100% right. In the end, this is part of the greater “education” issue that the video intelligence industry needs to address.


Less false alarms

Companies which install security systems in addition to access control/ID systems and video surveillance have always been very cognizant of the issue of false alarms. On the monitoring side, it can mean unnecessary dispatch. If monitored internally, it can lead to a “boy who cried wolf” scenario for the security department, leading to headaches. At the same time, these integration companies want to make sure they’re not missing alarms. Panel members and audience members were aware that VCA companies have to provide that perfect balance between not generating too many false alarms (if it’s a security application, rather than an operations configuration like people counting) and not generating the alarms that are needed. It was generally accepted by vendors that the more canned video and real-world scenarios that they can test such system on, the better the analysis would be – and presumably that would lead to fewer false alarms.


In conclusion

While the systems integration side of our industry is still very excited about the future, there is a fair bit of work to do, before installing video analytics systems becomes as commonplace for integrators as adding surveillance cameras and recorders. To recap, the industry needs to make the technology easier to deploy for integrators and provide a real boost in education to the integrators before they security systems integration community puts their trust behind this technology and takes it mainstream.