Roundtable: Transitioning into video monitoring

As central stations look for alternative revenue streams in the current economic climate, the idea of offering video monitoring in addition to its normal range of services has certainly become more appealing.
But as many experts point out, getting into the video monitoring sector isn’t as easy as one might believe it to be. In addition to making a significant investment in technology infrastructure, there are also many other factors that companies need to take into account when thinking about breaking into the business.
In this exclusive SIW roundtable, industry experts across the video monitoring space discuss the challenges involved with getting into the business and what it takes to make it a viable RMR stream for your company.
The participants are:
  • Matt Krebs, executive vice president of Sureview Systems
  • Troy Iverson, vice president of sales and marketing for AvantGuard Monitoring Centers
  • Jose Chavarria, senior vice president of technology at iVerify
  • Craig Sparkman, executive director of ADT’s national account monitoring center in Aurora, Colo.
  • Brian Adkins, unit manager of special operations for ADT
SIW: What are some of the biggest challenges that companies face that want to get into video monitoring, and how do they grow that business once they have all the pieces in place?
Krebs: I think to get into (video monitoring), you certainly have to be willing to make the proper investment in infrastructure, which is typically outfitting your central station with the right types of receiving equipment and the right type of automation software to be able to effectively handle the types of IP-based access control and video systems that are now prevalent in the field. This is a relatively young market space - we’re finding that the general buying population is warming up to the technology and the service offering, but it has taken a little bit of time. Because it’s in such an infancy state, it’s little bit of hard work early on to get things moving.
Chavarria: It’s definitely difficult for a number of reasons. First, because of what’s required to move from traditional burglar alarm to remote video, your staff in the center has to be trained on how to respond. It’s a different category of personnel that sits in a remote video center - because there’s a lot of decision making that has to happen. Video responses aren’t necessarily black-and-white. In a burglar alarm monitoring center, you get a panic signal and you follow a set of protocols. In our business, if you get a video event that’s triggered by a burglar alarm, you don’t send the police out every time. You must have an operator that has the ability to make good decisions. For us, that was the biggest transition. Clearly, one of the biggest challenges is having the right folks responding to the signals.
SIW: In regards to infrastructure, what are some technology investments that central stations must make to provide a comprehensive service?
Krebs: You have to invest in the appropriate server configurations. When you’re talking about video monitoring, you’re also talking about video storage and recording in the central station, because you certainly want to have all this information to archive and store in your station. You must have appropriate storage facilities and server configurations - not only for server capacity, but for redundancy as well. Certainly, video analytics platforms lend themselves nicely to early and accurate detection and notification, and they’re very stable. We’re seeing a large surge in the technology and its efficiency. Audio technologies, voice sounds and two-way audio are becoming key to our customers. Lots of our customers also want to do more with access control technology.
Chavarria: Originally, iVerify started off using off-the-shelf-type items internally. What we figured out a year or so ago, however, was that there wasn’t a product line out there that was all encompassing… so we went out and partnered with a call center solution provider, linked up technology, and developed our own solution. Our focus has been to use off-the-shelf products in the field and not use something proprietary… and then work on integrating controls for those at the central station.    
Adkins: On the equipment side, it’s basically a DVR out at the site that we connect to via a static IP address. We setup a secure connection so that we only go to the DVR and we only actually connect when there is an event that requires us to look in. Some of our customers also use two-way voice modules and there are a couple solutions out there - either IP-based or phone line-based - so that we can open up an audio channel and make an interactive announcement or listen in at the site.     
SIW: Do employees require more in-depth training to perform video monitoring as opposed to burglar and fire alarm monitoring? Is there a particular quality or skill-set you look for?
Krebs: We’re big believers in the fact that video operators and burglary and fire operators have completely different skill sets. Video operators need to pay attention to many more things - it’s more detailed and more involved, so they’re going to need additional types of training to deal with analytics platforms and different types of detection methods. There are quite a few different technological differences that those operators need to be trained on vs. burglary and fire operators, which typically respond to text-based messages that are put in front of them.
Iverson: We make sure our senior operators (those who have been with the company over a year) are familiar with any alarm signal that would come in, but specifically, we feel that they are so familiar (having been here) that they can handle it. It’s just training and getting used to the software. We train them on what to look for, if it’s a tilting camera, how to maneuver it, etc.
Chavarria: We’ve developed an internal training system ourselves. The training is really focused on analytical process - how to process an event that you see, analyze it and deliver a response. I don’t think you take your typical burglar alarm monitoring operator and drop them in there. Historically, we’ve looked for folks with physical security type experience, and law enforcement or military backgrounds. You can’t put a description to every scenario, and you must have a person who can think on their feet and make quick, accurate decisions.
Sparkman: When it comes to personnel, one of the key things we use as an indicator when we build our staffing models is the average handle time of an interaction for whatever solution we’re providing to the customer. We do time-motion studies of the activity when it’s arriving and how long it takes the operator to handle a specific type of activity.
SIW: What are some of the video storage options available to central stations? Can there be on-site storage at the client’s facility, or does it have to be done at the central station?
Chavarria: We do both, onsite storage with a DVR and we offer an offsite storage solution as well.
Adkins: It’s pretty much at the customer’s DVR. We have some platforms where we store what the operators view when they connect to the site, but all the video is recorded 24/7 on the customer’s DVR.
Sparkman: Especially in a real-time situation, we get a good clip of what the (intruder) looks like in there on the video, we can immediately transmit that information to both the customer and police. In several cases, we’ve been able to have a picture of the perpetrator in the hands of the authorities as they’re arriving at the site. 
SIW: What is the model for video monitoring? Do some clients want 24/7 video monitoring at their facilities, or do most prefer it to be done after an alarm of some type is triggered?
Krebs: We have just as many of our customers that do 24/7 monitoring as event-based monitoring. An example would be for facilities that have remote locations that aren’t manned – they are going to want to monitor those facilities 24/7. Other facilities, such as car dealerships, they just want their facilities monitored in the evening.
Iverson: Typically, an alarm will go off and notify the operator, who will go back and look at the camera. The operators can look at a certain time, of whatever the software is programmed for. They can look around and see what’s going on, call a responder, the police department or whatever the client would like to have us do.
Chavarria: We normally do remote event response and some of those events require video interaction, such as in the security industry when you have to log-in and verify that something has taken place. Sometimes we have to intervene. We also do things like remote video escorts - we’ll log-in and watch employees go to their cars and make announcements through loudspeakers to let whoever is around aware that there’s remote video interaction. We’re also a bona fide call center in that we take incoming events and route them to a qualified available operator and tell them how to respond.
Sparkman: That really comes down to how we customize the solution for the customer. We can do it either way. We can do a proactive, 24-hour monitoring solution where we’re constantly watching video. The most effective and efficient is for us to use exception-based monitoring, where we’ve got an alarm point tied to an area of protection where when that alarm point is set off, not only does it send the alarm to the operator, but it sends the associated video. That’s certainly much more cost-effective for the customer - especially if they’ve got thousands of locations.   
SIW: What type of effect has the economy had on the video monitoring space?
Krebs: We think that (video monitoring) is going to be a great way for central stations to tap into new and different RMR streams that weren’t available previously. We’re also finding that guard companies embrace our technology and are using it to supplement their guarding efforts. So, we’re seeing a really broad appeal across the industry for these types of services and they’re going to provide additional revenues for central stations. Central stations that don’t have these products and services will probably remain flat.
Chavarria: I think it has evened out. A lot of car dealerships are closing, which was a huge market for remote video monitoring. In turn, discount retailers and mid-sized retailers are flourishing in the economy and they’re also looking for some cost-cutting and have more capital to invest, so we’ve seen some more business come in from that direction.
Adkins: We’ve seen a shift, especially for guard services. We’ve had customers want to save money by cutting physical guards and replace them with our virtual guard tour. We’ve also had customers that perform their own monitoring who have approached us about outsourcing their monitoring to us to save salary overhead.