Cruzin' with Susan Gareth McClean, Director of R & D for American Dynamics, Discusses the Process of Product Development
Gareth McClean was recently appointed a new role within American Dynamics and I thought a little chat was in order to find out how he feels about trends in video (analog to digital, digital to IT) and where these technologies make the most sense. McClean also offers insight into what types of new products and technology you can expect from American Dynamics.
Susan: What trends do you see in digital video?
Gareth McClean: Obviously, the first initial trend in digital video was the introduction of digital video recorders which basically alleviated the need for videotapes. Now, you're starting to see the introduction of IP cameras and basically the introduction of IP technology where there is more networking involved.
Susan: Does that mean that dealers can offer a complete digital solution?
Gareth McClean: You will see American Dynamics moving more and more into the digital and IP arena. While there is a lot of market hype, the industry has not really started deploying total digital solutions at this point in time. It counts for a very small proportion of the overall install base. Most systems are still analog based systems?analog cameras, analog switches, digital video recorders. In the longer term, that will change. There will be an increase in the deployment of digital solutions with digital IP cameras, ultimately leading to mega pixel cameras.
Susan: Are these in the development stages?
Gareth McClean: Some are. In some cases, you can already buy these products in the marketplace, but they're typically very expensive and not necessarily well defined for the security marketplace. Many of the existing digital products and digital cameras are really destined for the web applications for use with PCs or for video conferencing style applications and not for the security applications.
Susan: What makes them different?
Gareth McClean: The difference is, typically, their mechanical construction in terms of high resistance to vandalism, or their quality in terms of how high they can cater to various light levels where it works from really bright sunlight through to nighttime use. American Dynamics has, in development, these types of products. The first product we are releasing is our Intellex IP, which is an IP-based digital recorder. In the not so distant future, you will also see us following this up with IP cameras designed specifically for the security marketplace.
Susan: You mentioned other auxiliary equipment, such as a switcher. Is that something that has to be digital?
Gareth McClean: In the CCTV marketplace, there is a transition going on which is really the convergence of technologies. You have the analog technology and the existing network technology in the Internet. That's driving the use of IP cameras; you'd no longer require an analog video switch and you can use the network to create what is called a virtual network switch.
Susan: What criteria do you use when you develop new products?
Gareth McClean: We very much base it on what our dealer customers are asking us for and also how we believe we can meet their customers' needs.
Susan: What concerns are you addressing presently?
Gareth McClean: To put it simply, what is happening is there is a continual deployment of cameras. There are more and more cameras being installed. That, in turn, has a number of consequences. First, it means people want to review more cameras. They also want to archive the video footage from those cameras. They need more storage requirements to archive that video, but, at the same time, they want to reduce costs. Therefore they want to reduce the number of people they have looking at all those cameras. That, in turn, is really driving some of the features that you are starting to see companies like American Dynamics include in their products.
Susan: Such as?
Gareth McClean: Such as the ability to actually automate the process of reviewing video. For example, we have smart searching capabilities in our products. The system can identify certain events that have been programmed in advance and notify individuals that there needs to be some action taking place.
Susan: Are there going to be more features than what you mentioned added, or basically, what you have now is enough for every event that could happen?
Gareth McClean: No, I think you are going to see continual development in our product line. We're always adding new features, both in terms of the capabilities in the systems and how we can simplify the use of the system.
Susan: Is there anything in particular that is not out yet that you see in the very near future?
Gareth McClean: We are in the process of introducing in the not so distant future some additional video analysis tools. They allow the system basically to monitor the video for things such as object insertion and removal. Say you have a museum, for instance, and you have a particular item which is maybe a painting hanging on the wall. A camera is positioned to view the painting. The system can be programmed to alarm if that picture should, for some reason, disappear, be moved or taken away.
Susan: Are you building any data management software based features into products?
Gareth McClean: We have introduced a software package called Policy Manager which allows the customers to manage the security of their video networks. They can, for instance, control who can see what video, and when they can see that video on workstations. This obviously has certain benefits for clients such as hospitals where you have to comply with certain regulations. We also have products like Archive Manager where you can specify how long you can actually hold data for.
Susan: How do you suggest dealers become more proactive about new technology, as opposed to waiting to see what is going to be developed and then having to get up to speed on it? Is there a way that they can get ahead of the curve?
Gareth McClean: From American Dynamics prospective, we are presently in the process of introducing a whole number of schemes to try and get our dealers, distributors and end users more involved in the process of product development. We are asking questions about what features they would like to see, how they think the industry is moving forward, and, basically, how we can help them. Historically, we have done that, but now we are actually trying to become better integrated with our dealers so they become informed about where American Dynamics is going as an organization and also have some input into that development process.
Susan: Do you see residential video applications as a viable market?
Gareth McClean: It's a market we're looking at. The area of concern is financial. Basically, for what people actually want to do, what they are prepared to spend, that price point is not quite there just yet. But, it is becoming more realistic.
Susan: On the reverse side, the commercial end, is the total digital solution currently at an acceptable price point?
Gareth McClean: At this point in time, the cost point for total digital solutions is really more expensive than an analog solution. That is why American Dynamics believes in providing the hybrid solution supporting both analog and digital solutions. It is something we are quite committed to in terms of providing an upgrade path for existing customers.
Susan: Sort of ease them into it?
Gareth McClean: It's really a migration path. Our development plan includes a process which will help dealers' existing customers migrate into digital solutions?they can have half analog and half digital. For clients who do not have analog cameras, they would be able to go to a total digital solution. The IP solutions will become much more prevalent and probably account for the majority of the marketplace in the next few years. What really is constraining is the cost of the IP equipment because, while it does reduce your installation costs, it is still more expensive. However, that will change rapidly over the course of the next 12 to 18 months.
Susan: Do you see the IP cameras being used in application specific situations where they might want to just switch out an analog camera for an IP camera because they want it in one particular spot?
Gareth McClean: Yes. IP cameras are beneficial in certain areas such as remote cameras. They are ideal if you need to deploy them across a large area such as an airport or a casino.
Susan: Do you think that dealers are aware of the benefits of an IP camera?
Gareth McClean: I think within the industry there is a great deal of education which still needs to take place about digital technology in general. Dealers are very familiar with existing analog CCTV systems and they are happy with the performance and quality that they get for the price they are paying. It will take time for them to be just as comfortable with digital technology.