The Hidden Costs of Video Surveillance

What’s nibbling away at your surveillance project profits?

It is basic Accounting 101 — to maximize profits, you need to manage costs. Most project costs are pretty evident. Some are fixed, some are variable; but, you know they are there and you have accounted for them. Then there are the hidden costs — the ones that sneak into the project, catching you unaware and wreaking havoc on your margins. So how do you discover those hidden costs before it is too late?

While every security project has its own unique quirks, in IP surveillance solutions, there are generally three areas where hidden costs tend to lurk: technology, installation practices, and ongoing maintenance and support. Here are some best practices that can help you better manage these hidden costs, get the job done right the first time, meet or exceed your customer’s expectations, and keep your healthy profit margin intact.


The Hidden Costs of Bandwidth and Storage

Once you understand the customer’s requirements, designing and installing an IP video solution should be straightforward — after all, the physical installation process is incredibly similar to an analog installation. But that’s where the similarity stops. IP technology taps into a whole different knowledge base.

Bandwidth and storage requirements are probably the two most misunderstood pieces of a video surveillance project — and the ones most likely to send profits into the red zone, because, unfortunately, you cannot just type numbers into a standard equation and arrive at an accurate projection. A number of factors have to be considered.

For example, the most popular compression format for recording is H.264. It is designed to deliver a variable bit rate based on the movement in the scene. To determine the total amount of bandwidth and storage a given camera will consume, you need to accurately predict the amount of movement a given scene will introduce. Any time you introduce “predictions” into a project scope, you open up room for increasing costs. Those increases might make the difference between winning a bid, absorbing a cost overrun or even getting kicked out of an account.

To get it right the first time, you need to understand the customer’s requirements for each scene: do they need to detect, recognize or identify? How many viewers are there? Is the camera for security, operations or both?

Next, you need to analyze those scenes — the individual field-of-view from each camera — to determine normal, seasonal and emergency traffic patterns. It also helps to understand the growth potential for a given scene. For example, if your customer currently requires 14 days of storage but then hires 50 new people over the course of the year, do you think they will understand that the increased movement in the scene caused an unplanned rise in data, which led to their video recordings to be overwritten after only nine days?

The difference between light traffic and high traffic can be as great as 1-2 Mbps, which can quickly add up. Imagine losing evidence of a critical event because the server reached capacity before the data retention timeframe discussed during system design. Who do you think they will blame? That is why it is critical to educate yourself and your customers on the true impact of scene movement on bandwidth and storage consumption.

One way to make bandwidth more predictable is to use a feature called Constant Bit Rate. As its name implies, this feature creates a consistent bit rate for a camera often at the expense of image quality or situational awareness. It does this by either increasing the compression on the image (decreasing quality) or decreasing the frame rate (decreases situational awareness). Either result often falls outside the requirements set by your customer.

To avoid the hidden cost of recordings, follow good design practices and take the time to truly understand the needs of the customer in relation to the areas they need to secure. To protect your margins, it might also be a good idea to factor an additional 5-10 percent overhead for each camera into your initial proposal. 

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