Understanding managed video services, Part 1

[Editor's note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series. Hauhn's second piece will examine the IT impacts and considerations end-users face when deciding to employ managed video services at their organization.]

Outsourcing can dramatically lower costs, even while improving service. That's why outsourcing of key corporate departments is gaining momentum with many large and small organizations. IT, human resources, legal, accounting and other functions are now being handled by outside providers. These providers specialize in supplying equal or superior service, typically at a lower cost than an organization can provide internally.

A recent survey of top chief executive officers by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that nearly 70 percent had or were planning to outsource a business process or function in the past or coming 12 months. Outsourcing gives organizations the option of securing vital services as needed without the need to incur excessive overhead or, where systems are involved, without the requirement of a capital investment. Outsourcing provides organizations with a menu of services to select from, as well as tailoring the service level to their unique need. The chosen services can then be provided at a fixed fee.

This trend is now moving into the physical security sphere, where it continues to grow in popularity. Recently organizations with a need to protect a single door, as well as those needing to protect a large enterprise, have begun outsourcing access control services. In most cases these end users, while deeply concerned about security, don't install, monitor or maintain the system themselves. Managing the functional aspects of the system is a natural extension.

With a managed access control solution, the end user gets a system that requires minimal time commitment from its employees. The service provider installs all card readers and control panels. The system servers are housed, maintained and administered by the service provider. All data entry, including cardholder additions, deletions and edits, as well as access schedule definitions are managed by the service provider, who can then also monitor and respond to system events and alarms. The end user receives customized reports on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Within this managed services scenario, vendors generally can provide customers with robust system capabilities that may have been out of reach with a purchased platform.

Now that same concept is coming to video services. Managed video services use interactive video and optional audio to interact with a customer's facility, staff and customers every day, often in real time. In a managed video services environment, the service provider creates and then maintains the infrastructure - the cameras, servers, software and other equipment - needed to supply a wide range of service options for the customer. The end user's business efficiency is enhanced by the monitoring and reporting capabilities provided by the managed services vendor.

Managed video services can reduce a customer's total cost of ownership as compared to the outright system purchase and operation model. The need for the end user to have employees to operate and maintain the equipment can be significantly reduced and may even be completely eliminated. The vendor can also be contracted to provide regular equipment and software updates. The customer has tremendous flexibility to add or subtract cameras and services as needs change. Those changes may be temporary, such as a government contract requiring additional security, or long term due to a business expansion. As with the access services, managed video services has appeal for small, single-site businesses to large multinational corporations.

Customers employing managed video services can look to increase safety, improve processes, tighten operations and reduce manpower with a lower initial capital investment. Other benefits may include reduced liability, insurance costs, employee and customer theft and false alarms.

The scope of available video services is growing as customers and vendors identify new needs and opportunities. Here is a look at six of the managed video services currently available.

#1: Video Verification - When a burglar alarm is received, the vendor's trained operators use cameras to remotely view the customer's facility indoors or outdoors to determine if the event warrants calling first responders or is a non-critical false positive. This service helps reduce the need for security guards. Additionally, it can help reduce costly fines now assessed by many municipalities for false alarms.

#2: Video Guard Tour - At scheduled times, vendor operators use cameras to "tour" a customer's facility, both interior and exterior, looking for open doors, lights left on and other suspicious activities. Upon suspicion of certain activities, the operators notify the appropriate party. Guard requirements can be effectively reduced and in certain situations eliminated entirely.

#3: Video Escort - Employees can phone the vendor's monitoring center and request to have an operator use the video system to observe them between their car in the parking lot and the facility entrance, especially at opening and closing times. This is ideal for high-risk locations or where employees handle large amounts of cash or other high-value inventory.

#4: Unattended Delivery - Designed for use by retailers, this service allows an operator to monitor the delivery of merchandise after regular store hours, eliminating the need for a security guard or other employee to be present. When he arrives, a delivery driver uses secure methods to enter the facility and to indicate a delivery is in progress. Select portions of the burglar alarm system are disarmed. The operator, when alerted to the event, views live video from pre-defined camera views to observe the driver during the delivery. If suspicious activity is observed, the operator will follow the instructions provided by the customer. The advantages include reduced overtime for store employees staying to oversee late night deliveries, the ability for a store manager to manage instead of supervising a loading dock and increased sales due to new merchandise being available at the start of the business day.

#5: Video Audits -This service takes video to a new level, allowing trained operators to view both live and recorded video and associate it with specific alarm events, procedures and policies. Reports, complete with attached video and still images, summarize a location's performance on a pass-fail basis.

#6: Video Assist - Should a customer's employee notice a suspicious person in a monitored facility, he or she can push a hidden button and connect to the burglar alarm panel, notifying the vendor's operators at the central monitoring station. The operator is presented with appropriate views of the site and an audio connection is established. The operator can then interact with the employee so that the suspicious person becomes aware that his activities are being monitored. The operator can then take appropriate action up to and including dispatching law enforcement. This service can be helpful to convenience stores, gas stations and other retail facilities that are open late at night and are often staffed by a single employee.

The second installment of this 2-part column will address IT impacts of implementing managed video services.

About the author: Jay Hauhn is the chief technical officer for Boca Raton, Fla.-based ADT Security Services.