Increasing DIY Surveillance

Dec. 18, 2007

Is the increasing availability of DIY (do it yourself) video surveillance equipment a road sign for the professional installing firm?

Step back about a decade, and you might recall some IT integrators worrying that the influx of low-end, "plug-and-play" routers and switches might mean that entire corporate networks could be built without needing specialized knowledge. Those worries obviously proved wrong, as the integrators and super-knowledgeable in-house staff have only become more necessary as the technology improved. Simultaneously, traffic expanded and needs became more complex.

Now, in the last couple years, we have seen a massive number of consumer-level surveillance cameras launched, especially consumer-level "network" cameras. I call these consumer-level cameras because they can be set up by your average business or homeowner, and there's no need to get highly specific recording equipment, matrixes or encoders/decoders. Like the old cheap-o cameras you could plug into your family's VCR, this market is centered on the ability to "Do It Yourself." What does the continued expansion of this market area mean for the "professional" installing companies? I've been wrestling with that question for a couple days now and here is what I've concluded:

• These lower-end systems may whet the appetite for the complex, integrated professional systems.
• They're going to whet the appetite because consumer-level, user-managed systems promise to throw in a kink somehow -- maybe the user updates his/her PC's operating system and the camera no longer is accessible or no longer records clips.
• The nicer DIY systems ARE going to take away some sales your installing business might have landed at small businesses.
• But you probably lost that sale because you never called upon that potential client anyway, and when they had the need for video, they decided it was easier to buy a product direct from Black Box Networks than to look up security firms in a phonebook.
• More camera production to meet consumer demand could mean that prices drop on the equipment across the board (pro-level and consumer), however, your expertise for installing professional-grade equipment won't be any less valuable.
• Smaller tech and consumer product distributors might get a leg up on the old standby distributors.
• They can do that because they already have the relationship with the consumer tech product manufacturers.
• Eventually these DIY manufacturers will spec some true pro-grade equipment.

Proof that this might be right? I was speaking with a North Carolina integrator this weekend and asking him how he started into security. Formerly, he was running a computer sales and service business, plus doing some structured wiring for new homes. One day, he received a call from a friend with a restaurant who was having a problem with employee theft and who wanted to go to Sam's Club and buy a surveillance camera system. That restaurant owner called up this integrator and asked him if those DIY systems were OK.

My friend, the security integrator, spent time researching product lines and came back to his friend and installed a professional system with a DVR. His friend the restaurant owner caught a couple employees walking out with money and goods within the week, making the video installation an instant success. Since then, this integrator has expanded his business into DVR-based video surveillance and electronic door access control systems. If there was ever better anecdotal proof that DIY can create professional sales, this must be it.