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The key to IP-based video surveillance's appeal is the ever-expanding roster of applications being attached to it. In other words, surveillance isn't just about security any more.

Digital video surveillance today is more than a security technology; it's a business enabler

When you signed on as a CIO, you probably planned on on digging into some kind of ERP project. You knew you'd do the network architecture thing. Heck, you might even have anticipated that you'd build a presentation for the CEO on the merits of Linux. But, chances are, you never expected to be in charge of building a video surveillance infrastructure.

Well, now you are. Or if you're not, you soon will be.

Look What Found You

Video surveillance is at the front end of an astonishing transformation. Once a world of clunky cameras and closed-circuit coaxial networks hardwired into a room full of cloudy grey 5-inch screens, surveillance is rapidly becoming a land of sleek, intelligent cameras linked to software applications running on the IP network. Some of these applications are basic, such as motion detection setting off alarms. Some are clever, such as a grocery store system where cameras at the checkout counter are linked to the receipt tape. (This way, loss prevention personnel can click on the record of any item purchased and be taken to that moment on the video.) More applications are coming, and they seem to be limited only by the imagination. (Ethicists and privacy advocates are, understandably, on red alert.)

Bill Bowens recently managed a digital video surveillance project for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The system allows for remote control of cameras and improved visual data, meaning he can see objects, faces, whatever more clearly due to better optics, zooming and other technology. The fact that data is stored digitally, not on tape, means it can be retrieved instantly. That brings the decision time on whether to evacuate a terminal down to mere seconds rather than several minutes or more. If Bowens manages to avoid evacuating a terminal unnecessarily just twice, the system will have paid for itself.

Bowens, by the way, doesn't work in the security department. He's a project manager in the IT department. "When I'm asked how I ended up in security," he says, "I say it invaded my world."

The Pan-Tilt Boom

The video surveillance market is already saturated. (Experts believe people have bought more cameras than they have places to put them.) And yet it will grow another 17 percent this year, according to fresh numbers from surveillance expert Joe Freeman, who runs JP Freeman Associates, a consultancy that tracks surveillance and other security issues.

IP-based digital video systems still make up a relatively small part of the overall market (less than a fifth), but Freeman says they will surge, growing by 70 percent to 90 percent this year, and will be the primary factor in the diminishing market for traditional closed-circuit TV. (CCTV still composes almost half the overall video surveillance market, but its share is rapidly dwindling.)

Proving ROI on digital surveillance may not be as hard as you think either. The post-9/11 obsession with security created this surge in surveillance investment, but what's sustaining it is that digital video surveillance appears to be living up to its hype. And, when done well, it provides real ROI for the business. First off, it allows for consolidation of monitoring: You can watch many geographically disperse sites from one control room - something that was impossible with closed-circuit systems. An even bigger benefit of digital is that central control and monitoring allows you to put cameras at smaller sites and monitor them from the central operations centre. With CCTV, you'd require a closed system at that smaller site and onsite monitoring, which itself requires at least one employee. Digital video also beats tape in terms of storage and retrieval. Tape-based systems can require a full-time employee just for retrieval. (For even more benefits, see "The Little Things", page 107.)

But the key to IP-based video surveillance's appeal is the ever-expanding roster of applications being attached to it. In other words, surveillance isn't just about security any more. For example, British bed superstore Dreams recently deployed video surveillance for measuring foot traffic through a store to understand both peak traffic times and also shoppers' browsing habits, which in turn allows them to better configure merchandise around the store. Of course the surveillance is used for security as well, but it's also being utilized to train new employees.

Training, in fact, has become a possible killer applet for video surveillance, due in large part to the increased quality of the images. Video of cashiers at a grocery store doing their jobs correctly (and incorrectly) is edited into video packages that train new hires. Sandy Jones, a surveillance consultant, says Dreams isn't alone in its use of cameras to assist retail; other companies are using surveillance for similar purposes. Still others are using cameras to improve logistics, assembling trains at humpyards (where the rail cars come off boats and trucks), for example, or monitoring assembly lines for quality control. Suddenly, surveillance is a business enabler, not just barbed wire.

The Catch

The newer technology, however, requires a significantly higher capital investment than did CCTV. The cameras have advanced optics that provide better pictures; longer lines of sight; automated panning, tilting and zooming; and in some cases, pictures from other spectra, such as infrared. Some digital cameras have their own IP addresses and become just another device on the network that can be controlled from the Web browser, like a printer or server. And, of course, all of them require networking infrastructure and bandwidth. Digital surveillance camera vendors claim, however, that while their products can be more expensive up front, reduced power requirements, increased flexibility and lower long-term maintenance costs ultimately make digital systems more affordable than CCTV.

Nevertheless, you can show your CEO all the five-year cost-benefit analyses and new applications you want. It's still a shockingly high amount of capital to request, and it's still video surveillance, in which he may be reluctant to invest, since the old CCTV ain't exactly broke.

So how do you get the infusion of capital you'll need? Pilot programs that demonstrate ROI will help, but they must be well planned. (Go see your CSO and find out, risk analysis-wise, where new cameras and applications will pay off fastest.) Also, try to apply as many applications to the video infrastructure as possible - training, marketing, logistics, quality control. Get these groups on board with using the new digital surveillance applications, and then share the burden with them. If the system will be used by them too, why not have them pitch in from their budgets?

You could also ask consultants or systems integrators to help. Be warned. They'll flock to you like birds when you start flashing a stash of breadcrumbs.

Aiming for Easy Marks

We started by saying that video surveillance is now the CIO's bailiwick because the technology essentially shifted to become part of the standard IT infrastructure, the IP-based networks, software applications and related technology that the CIO already controls. This is true. But also contributing is the fact that vendors want to move video surveillance into the IT realm because they can sell more to IT than to the security department.

The reasons for that are obvious. Primarily, the CIO's budget is usually bigger than the security team's, but there are other factors. The CSO often works under more strict risk analysis guidelines on projects. And with so many other things demanding his budget's attention besides just surveillance, if the CCTV ain't broke, he's not likely to fix it. The CSO's product cycles tend to be measured in decades, not months, meaning he goes to market less often than does the CIO. The CIO is looked to for competitive advantage and for advanced applications that enable growth. Finally, CIOs are used to refreshing software and hardware frequently.

Many CIOs say they spend considerable time fending off aggressive surveillance vendors. "I almost cancelled our contract twice over what I thought was really aggressive behaviour," says Greg Meffert, CTO of the City of New Orleans, who is in the middle of a citywide surveillance project that will eventually include 1000 wireless, IP-based cameras. "All they wanted to do was tell me how great I was and then, 'Why aren't you rolling this out faster?'"

"The vendors are coming at us with the 'wow' factor," says Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport's Bowen. "If you don't pay significant attention to it, you'll buy lots of things that can do lots of stuff, but your [total cost of ownership] and integration will be no good."

The Two-Minute Case Study

Meffert provides a great example of a successful, IT-driven digital video surveillance deployment. When the current New Orleans city administration came into office, he says, the city had about two days worth of cash on hand and ranked at the bottom of a list of major cities when it came to technology infrastructure. "Everything we could do had to either be budget-neutral or save us money," he says. New Orleans's paramount problem was its murder rate, the highest of any city in the country, and Meffert believed a high-end wireless surveillance system with motion detection could help. But that would require a huge investment in the neighbourhood of $300,000 just to start a pilot.

To jump-start the program, Meffert piloted the system in one of the highest-crime areas of the city. In six months, the murder rate in this area dropped 57 percent; auto theft, 25 percent; and burglary, 32 percent. He then started a Web site, Iseecrime.com, where neighbourhood watch groups could sign up to become part of the city's surveillance network. For $5000, people could "adopt" a camera, and the city would integrate those views with its overall surveillance operations. In two days, Meffert says 220 groups and individuals registered. "That's a million bucks right there," he says.

All this success convinced the city to up its investment to more than $4 million for the first 300 cameras and to deploy as many as 1000 cameras around New Orleans. (Right as Meffert started his pilot, the American Civil Liberties Union filed two restraining orders and threatened a lawsuit against the city; privacy and ethics issues abound and should not be discounted.)

Keep Up Online

But Meffert believes that the public safety rewards outweigh the privacy issues. He recalls an incident in which someone shot one of the wireless cameras. When damaged, the cameras automatically send a signal to police headquarters along with the last 10 minutes of footage from the location. (There's up to a week's worth of footage archived from every camera at any given time, depending on the camera's setup.) Headquarters reviewed the video and forwarded it to a cruiser in the area. Meffert says those officers quickly tracked down the suspect who, it appeared, had done more than shoot at cameras. He was wanted for murder.

Pretty good ROI.

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