Dan Cremins is director of product management with March Networks.
Video surveillance is one of the most important components of a financial institution’s security infrastructure, but a lot of video-surveillance systems out there don’t quite measure up. Senior security executives from various financial institutions have shared the many frustrations they’ve experienced with systems that weren’t able to provide them with the protection or management capabilities they required — not to mention lost time and budget pressures.
So which key features and capabilities should you look for before committing to your next video-surveillance upgrade?
First and foremost is reliability. In most businesses, but especially in banking, your video-surveillance system’s reliability is critical. You never know when an incident will occur, and you need to make sure your systems are always recording.
Two things you’ll want to consider right off the top are which operating system your surveillance solution uses and how the solution handles a power outage. Recorders with embedded Linux operating systems are typically more stable and trouble-free, unlike Windows-based systems, which can be more vulnerable to viruses and often have time-synchronization issues. If the power goes out, you’ll also want a recorder with an internal backup battery that allows for a systematic shutdown. Systems without an internal backup battery and the built-in coding to allow for a systematic shutdown can lose video, require time and date resets, or fail to power up in a severe electrical storm’s aftermath.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from security executives is that their video-surveillance system doesn’t alert them to a potential problem with a recorder or camera. One Minneapolis-based bank security executive who was in the process of replacing a poor-performing system told me, “If I had a robbery or some other kind of theft and I had to tell law enforcement that our video wasn’t working, I’d be a laughingstock.”
My advice is to invest in a video-surveillance system with robust health monitoring capability that will alert you and your team whenever there is a problem with a hard drive, power supply, fan, camera or any other component that could compromise the availability of video.
Additionally, if you are required by state law or company policy to archive video for a prescribed period — as most financial institutions are — you’ll also want to make sure that your health-monitoring system lets you know when you are in jeopardy of falling short of the target. With such advance notification, you can take corrective action by adding a hard drive, tweaking your recording parameters or adding a recorder at the branch in question.
Some banks are comfortable overseeing the health of their video-surveillance systems in-house, while others look to their security systems integrator or vendor to do it for them. Outsourcing daily system health management and monitoring to a trusted team of experts will give you peace of mind and is one fewer task for a busy, overstretched security department. Make sure the service is available if this is important to you.
Video recording quality has come a long way since the days of the grainy, black-and-white images we once had to work with. Today, more and more banks are moving to high-definition IP cameras to take advantage of the vast improvement in image quality. Some banks are adding a few IP cameras to cover strategic areas of a branch, while others are going entirely IP.
One Chicago-based security executive going all-IP complained about poor image quality prohibiting him from having concrete proof to confirm what he suspected. “If someone stole money from the vault and all I could see was pixelated smudges, that wasn’t very compelling evidence,” he said.
IP cameras can also handle difficult lighting conditions, delivering quality images in the variable lighting typical in a retail banking branch, for example. A camera with a wide dynamic range (WDR) capability can eliminate the silhouetting effect of bright sunlight streaming in through a large window, ensuring that subjects in the foreground are clearly visible.
If you are going to make the leap to IP cameras, you’ll need a high performance recording system with the necessary storage capacity and processing power. If you want to start with a few IP cameras and add more over time, you’ll want a hybrid recording system able to accommodate both analog and IP devices, and one that allows you to transition to all-IP surveillance video without having to trade in your recorder or add new hardware.
High-quality video is a sure way to boost security effectiveness, but it’s equally important to be able to find the video you’re looking for with the least amount of effort and expense. If your chosen video-surveillance system offers software tools that help speed investigations, you’ll be able to do more of them and reduce losses from theft, fraud and customer disputes. You won’t always know when an incident has occurred, so look for a system that highlights exceptions and presents thumbnail images that can be quickly reviewed.
Another thing to keep in mind when selecting a video-surveillance system is the vendor’s commitment to backward compatibility. If your vendor releases a new product or video-management system that doesn’t work with the system you have, you could be forced to undertake extensive upgrades or write off your investment prematurely.
Serviceability of a system is also important, because whether we like it or not, the moving parts in any system are susceptible to failure. And when a problem occurs, you want your service technician to get the system up and running as soon as possible. The system should be designed so that parts such as hard drives can be replaced easily in the field, rather than requiring that the entire recorder be sent away for repair.
Technicians should be able to diagnose a problem quickly and expedite a Return Merchandise Authorization for a replacement. LED lights on a recorder can speed a diagnosis, and QR codes are now being introduced for scanning via a smartphone to quickly access product information including product serial codes, warranty status and troubleshooting detail. Not every vendor offers this level of serviceability.
Video-surveillance systems should be able to do much more than capture video. Security executives with financial institutions, including credit unions and community banks, want their systems to help them fight fraud. Using a combination of video, transaction data and analytics technology, the best of the fraud-fighting systems can provide investigators with a daily report highlighting potential crimes. Someone spending an excessive amount of time in front of an ATM without conducting a transaction could be installing a skimming device, for example, just as one individual performing multiple transactions could be indicative of cash harvesting. Sessions such as these can be highlighted in a daily report with a link to the corresponding video, allowing an investigator to quickly review them and take appropriate action. Some systems can also correlate video and data with license plate numbers, faces and even colors, enabling investigators to quickly narrow searches based on specific criteria.
Underlying fraud detection, health monitoring and similar capabilities is another important feature for any banking-surveillance solution — centralized management. If you have more than one location, centralized management is critical. You don’t want to have to rely on branch personnel to monitor the performance of their recorders and cameras, or set user privileges and recording parameters. These are tasks better performed at your financial institution’s headquarters. The same applies to fraud detection. If you’re responsible for 500 branches, you want one report of suspicious ATM sessions, not 500.
Further, if an incident occurs at one bank branch, investigators should be able to quickly search across your entire organization for similar incidents without leaving their offices. The time and cost savings are considerable and add up quickly.
More banks are also starting to explore how they can use video to improve customer service and branch performance. They’re checking customer traffic and staffing levels, as well as merchandising and compliance with marketing promotions. If you think of a video-surveillance system as a window into every branch, you may be able to interest your colleagues in operations and marketing in taking some ownership of it.
Banks today, for example, are already using video analytics in ATM vestibules to alert security staff in a centralized monitoring facility to individuals loitering in the vestibule. With two-way audio integrated into their system, security staff with one bank based in Cincinnati can view video from the ATM, converse with an individual and dispatch law enforcement if necessary. Operations management can tailor teller staffing to customer traffic patterns by using queue-length video analytics, while marketing management can check to make sure each branch is optimized for business development and customer service. If your colleagues are also agreeable to covering some of your video-surveillance system’s costs, so much the better.
Finally, and most obviously, price is important, but it’s only one factor in the calculation of total cost of ownership and return on investment.
Dan Cremins is director of product management with March Networks.