Owners and managers can keep track of multiple facilities. They can take a day off or go on vacation and still supervise their businesses and confirm that things are being done correctly.
Among the current uses of remote video surveillance systems are virtual guard tours in which a central station operator tours an entire facility through its video surveillance system on a regular schedule.
Some companies like the central station to make an announcement over the interactive audio monitoring system that a facility is being viewed. Unruly people at a fast-food restaurant who have not purchased anything can be asked to leave authoritatively through an interactive audio system.
"We find that it's a fast-growing market, especially in the case of absentee business owners to check remotely on the progress of their employees," reports Mitch Brozik, president of Secure US, Morgantown, W. Va.
Among his remote video customers are convenience stores, specialty cigarette shops, nightclubs, taverns, construction and equipment sites and waste management facilities.
"If you want to be able to monitor businesses, it's a great way to keep in contact," he declares. "We just recently did an equipment company. \[The owners\] do leasing of forklifts and ladder trucks and have a home in Mexico, so they leave for two months at a time, three times a year; so they can dial up into their video system and see what's going on at their office and see that their grounds and facilities are OK."
Secure US has another customer who has eight nightclubs in one building and is expanding his video system from 48 to 64 cameras. "We're in a college town," Brozik explains.
Video at the nightclub complex allows employee and cash areas to be monitored on-site or remotely along with doormen, crowd control outside the building and access control, which is tied in with video.
"It's also a good way to prove that his people are [checking identification] at the point of entry," Brozik notes. "He has a verified record that he carded someone."
Brozik holds seminars for video customers and potential customers each quarter. "We call it a video awareness seminar," he relates. "We bring the rep and people with existing systems in to learn about further enhancements on their systems." It also helps for potential customers to meet and talk with actual users, Brozik notes.
Guard Replacement?Jim Boehme, vice president of sales and marketing for National Guardian Security Services Inc., Norwalk, Conn., thinks end users in the United States are behind the curve in remote video surveillance compared with Europe, where it has been in use for approximately 15 years, he estimates.
Despite remote video's introduction to the U.S. market nearly 10 years ago, "It hasn't taken that next step," he maintains. "It's standard practice in Europe. The acceptance in the U.S. is not what the people who invest in these businesses think it should be."
Why is that? "The technology is very good - it's reasonably inexpensive technology," Boehme states. "I don't have a good answer for you.
"Price-wise, there's no real difference between what the Europeans and Americans pay for it," he insists. "It's not a dollars issue; it's more of a mind-set issue. Everybody is trying something, but nobody is really marketing it out here."
Boehme says of European end users, "They use a tremendous amount of interactive video in central stations to eliminate guards. That's the wrong selling feature, but that's what they do. If you're eliminating all the guards in a facility and putting in video, it's sort of chancy. Video can do so much, but it can't do everything. I'm not sure that's the right way to take remote video."
Richard Sampson, chairman of the board of American Alarm and Communications Inc., Arlington, Mass., agrees about the limitations of guard replacement.
"If you can cut back on the number of guards you have on duty, you'll show a real return on investment," Sampson concedes. "The problem is the Internet itself. Sometimes the signals aren't received, and it isn't always clear why."
Guard elimination is cited by Jeffrey Atkins, president of Rapid Response Monitoring, Syracuse, N.Y., as his dealers' customers' second biggest use of remote video surveillance, but often only overnight or on weekends. Guards are retained on weekdays.
"We do a trucking company in a certain state and we actually verify the ID of the truck, we electronically open the gate, let the truck in, they unload or detach the trailer, they leave, we open the gate back up again, and all from Syracuse anywhere in the country," Atkins says of the company's central station location. "Where they had three shifts of guards for the whole weekend, they've saved a significant amount of money. We do that for the dealer."
Ed Mallen, president/CEO of OzVision, Woburn, Mass., thinks guard companies themselves are considering offering remote video surveillance to their customers. "There's no question guard service companies will begin to offer video guard tours in the not-too-distant future," Mallen reveals. "My view is they're doing the tire-kicking now, and they're just evaluating how they're going to market and sell it."
Bill Ford, general manager of Sonitrol of Orlando, Orlando, Fla., notes that his state has high verification requirements, so he sees the future of remote video alarm verification as strong.
"You're going to have to hire a response guard, if you don't have this technology, who will go and respond every time, and that is where it's going, so you need to have the verification technology," he insists.
Alarm VerificationAtkins has observed a measurable rise in the adoption of video verification systems over the past year. "The single biggest thing is there is a significant shift over the last probably two years for video verification, and that's based on the verified alarm," Atkins reports. "We have not seen much of a shift residentially, but there's probably a 10 to 15 percent increase over last year of video-verified security systems commercially."
Adds Sampson, who also is president of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), Vienna, Va., "As far as CSAA is concerned, this is a welcome technology for several reasons. One of them is false alarms. With this, we can have absolute verification whether there really is a need for police response."
Voice verification is the technology upon which Sonitrol built its business, points out Patrick Crane, director of sales for Sonitrol of Orlando. "Sonitrol has always been known as the ears of the alarm industry," Crane notes. "The video verification portion has really allowed us to extend what we've been doing for the last 30 to 40 years. Now we're also the eyes of the industry."
Sonitrol of Orlando installs and monitors its own remote video surveillance and verification systems mostly in commercial facilities and some executive protection systems in homes.
These systems can e-mail video clips to parents of their children arriving home from school. The commercial systems also allow managers to monitor their businesses when they are not there.
"Access is great until somebody steals your card," points out Ford of Sonitrol of Orlando. "Now you run biometrics, we can verify it's Jane Smith, but we don't know if she is being forced. Then you use video, her fingerprint is matched, now you have a video of her going in by herself, so now you catch the crime when it's occurring. It's a combining of technology that gets it up into the high levels."
National Guardian's Boehme predicts, "I think the U.S. market will be alarm verification - a huge market. You can eliminate all false alarms - every one of them. That is probably the single-largest driving force in remote video and also the easiest to deploy. As you probably know, most, although not all, DVRs have remote capabilities.
"If you have a DVR in any of your stores you can, for the most part, remotely go in and view what's going on, and it's not that complicated to integrate the burglar or fire alarm with an existing video system," Boehme says. "It's very simple to do, and you can use that for alarm verification."
Gerald Vento, CEO/owner of Westec InterActive, Irvine, Calif., agrees. "We will see more and more state and county initiatives that require some video-verified response because police resources are stretched pretty thinly these days. Police don't have the luxury of going to retail locations to respond to dumb alarms going off in the middle of the night. We are able very intelligently and cost-effectively to solve that video verification issue."
Standardization - When and How?Boehme and other security professionals bemoan the lack of equipment standardization in the remote video surveillance market. "That is a shame - that is one of the biggest problems this industry could have," he laments. "You have so many manufacturers of central station equipment and everything is proprietary to that manufacturer.
"It's very difficult for a central station to offer all the types of products to an end user because of software integration problem," he notes. "There are dozens of manufacturers of remote video systems and none will talk to central station systems. That's a huge problem. I don't see that changing - it hasn't changed up to now."
Recommending systems to dealers to sell to their customers only works until a dealer or central station wants to sell a company with a large existing base of systems that they cannot afford to replace, Boehme maintains. He also points out that hundreds of DVR manufacturers sell directly to end users. Boehme recalls a central station in London that had 20 different remote video systems.
"They finally cried 'uncle' and hired a company at great expense to take all those video systems and do an interface and build a standalone monitoring package so they could monitor everything," he says. "The problem is if another company comes in with another system, you have to start all over again. It's a problem - it's a big mess."
Rapid Response Monitoring specializes in two manufacturer's systems for which they receive the most requests, Atkins reveals, but writes a custom interface unique to each manufacturer for other systems.
"If someone spent $150,000 for the system - cameras, matrix control system and all - they want to keep that," Atkins points out. "That's the reason why we handle multiple systems.
"The ideal world would be a common protocol among manufacturers so you could have one receiving device that would receive all transmitters, but I don't think that's happening anytime soon," he concedes. "It used to be like that 15 years ago in the alarm control panel arena, but over the last few years everybody's standardized on a few formats."
By the nature of their business, central station monitoring companies that service hundreds of independent dealers must accommodate a wide range of products. For individual security dealers, however, it is easier to standardize on one or two remote video systems.
Sonitrol's Ford says, "We standardize our product line. We guarantee a three-hour response time to fix [a customer's] problem. To do that, you've got to have a standardized program to go and service these things.
Brozik of Secure US, who has his own central station, recommends one brand of remote video surveillance system to his customers to simplify and standardize his installations. He plans to begin monitoring remote video at his central station soon.
Powerful Retail ManagementJoe Lonardo, president of systems integrator Sectegra, based in Highlands, N.J., is finding remote video systems popular with businesses that have multiple locations.
"Through one session of Internet Explorer, they can review 100 recorders simultaneously," Lonardo says of one manufacturer's products. "I have a few clients who use that presently. One is an international firm headquartered in Germany. They view all their retail sites here in the United States using that technology.
"What sold them on that platform was the ability through one session of Internet Explorer to watch multiple sites," he explains. "You're able to make a custom page and pick and choose cameras from various systems and mix and match them like a virtual matrix.
"Remote video is pretty much 95 percent of our installs," Lonardo estimates. "A lot of our systems are sold by showing a potential client the return on investment. We have a lot of people who manufacture a product using an assembly line or labor force. They can see where that weak link is in the assembly process or where the bottleneck is."
Boehme of National Guardian thinks standardizing procedures for his retail customers can be a strong selling point for remote video.
"With retail national accounts, which is our market, they're always transferring managers from region to region and regional managers, too - it's a constant thing," he observes. "Standardization with retail national accounts is almost mandatory - they can't run their business without it.
"There's a big trend to consolidate national account customers under one, two or three central stations," Boehme reports. "I have one customer who uses probably 150 central stations. That's come down - they're slowly but surely integrating under our umbrella. You'll find there's a large trend for that."
What Will the Future Bring?Boehme concedes, "There's no question in my mind that remote video will be the way of the future at some point in time, but I'm not sure when that will arrive. A lot of companies have tried it and are installing it, and it is trying to seek its own level."
"What I find more often than not is that the system will grow just by the normal course of business," says Lonardo of Sectegra. "We try to do business with very intelligent business entities, and if they see success in one area of their business with surveillance, they're going to try to incorporate that in other areas of their business."
And what fast companies adopt for their businesses has a snowball effect in the market, dealers say. "I can only see it increasing," says Brozik of Secure US. "We're just increasing market awareness, and we're actually finding consumers and other business centers that are actually contacting us for the product."
Atkins of Rapid Response estimates 5 percent of his total revenue is from video surveillance. "I think as the equipment gets cheaper and it gets easier to use for the customer, you'll see significant market penetration, plus with the mandated verification of alarm response by the local municipalities, you'll see bigger and bigger increases commercially as the years go on."
Sidebar: Myriad Uses for Remote Video SurveillanceJim Dirkes of central station company SentryNet, Pensacola, Fla., says besides alarm verification, another feature popular with his company's customers is look-ins at convenience stores for personnel wary of suspicious customers.
"In the middle of the night, if someone walks into the building and something gives you that gut feeling that something's not right, you push a button and we look in and make sure everything's OK," Dirkes explains.
An innovation Dirkes is enthused about is incorporation of video cameras into motion detectors. Besides being simpler aesthetically, it also eases installation.
He estimates that approximately 5 percent of SentryNet's business is video verification, but he expects that to increase. "A lot of people in the industry see video as the next thing, especially if it can be over the Internet." he observes. "The Internet is the next big jump in technology, like digital dialers were."
Use of voice verification is decreasing as video becomes more affordable, Dirkes believes.
Ed Mallen, president/CEO of OzVision, Woburn, Mass., thinks mobile and remote applications are becoming popular. "That's clearly taking off," he insists.
He cites two examples where wireless communications send an alarm and video clip to a central station. The first application is monitoring remote antenna installations. Here, if the lights on antennas taller than 200 feet go out and that is unreported, the Federal Aviation Administration can levy fines. Remote video systems can detect such outages.
The other reason for remote video at the antenna installations is to protect the perimeter against theft of the precious metals used in the antennas.
Mobile applications can include buses where a panic button is pushed by the driver to activate a camera in the bus and notify a central station of a disturbance on the bus from unruly passengers or a theft. "In South America, interest is increasing in overall rider safety," Mallen points out.
Westec InterActive, Irvine, Calif., is finding additional uses for remote video systems already in place such as exception-based reporting and rolling audits, relates Gerald Vento, CEO/owner. The company has a strong presence in national convenience and jewelry store and fast-food chains in every state in the United States and in Canada.
"Dozens of corporate requirements are imposed on stores or retail outlets, and if an exception is made, we e-mail the store manager or vice president of loss prevention or security, and they'll know in real time," Vento explains.
Some of these requirements are greeting customers within 10 seconds, sales associates having their name tags on their left lapels, not leaving a cash register open for more than 30 seconds, and never leaving the back door to a store open after 9 p.m.
Rolling audits are used in place of 24/7 surveillance. "As a corporation, you may not want to monitor every single location with two-way audio and video, but you may want us to take your population of retail locations and do occasional rolling audits," Vento suggests.
"We go in once every two weeks or week or whatever the schedule is that is mandated and take a look at corporate compliance or do a point-of-sale interface audit," he notes. "It's a way for us to be a lot more cost-conscious and cost-effective in a customer's premises.
"Rolling audits essentially mean you can't ever tell where we are going to be auditing, so you may have a convenience store that simply has a guard tour three times a day, and on the eighth day, we'll spend 20-30 minutes when we'll look at the clerk handling transactions at the cash register to see whether to do more reporting or inventory," he explains.
Potentially fraudulent transactions can be pinpointed with remote video, Vento asserts.
"It's pretty unusual to ring up a customer's order, fill the bag with goods, leave the store with the goods and have that transaction placed in suspension," Vento maintains. "We can see that happening in real time and know there needs to be more scrutiny on that particular clerk at that time. We can e-mail the store manager in real time."
Central station personnel can help their customers by using remote video systems to spot disruptive behavior in stores or gang activity in parking areas.
"We provide that kind of resource in very challenging demographic areas that are oftentimes struggling to remove illegal activity, such as drug dealing or unruly gang activity outside the building," he relates. "In 97 percent of the cases that we intervene in, we are able to effect some positive action as opposed to calling for police assistance."
Personnel also can assist with alcohol and tobacco age verification.
"We can look at all those transactions and see if a clerk is carding that individual if a person looks under 21," Vento points out. "It's an electronic application of mystery shopping. You don't have to spend $80 to $100 per store to do mystery shopping. We can do it for a fraction of the cost, and do more transactions, and immediately e-mail that video to the appropriate parties in a corporation, so they can get a handle on, for example, age verification or corporate compliance concerns."
Besides providing video and audio surveillance at outdoor auto-dealership lots, auto-key tracking systems are monitored.
"Since we are on the premises 24/7, we often replace burglar alarms," Vento maintains. "If they have our system in place, we can do video verification so if a door is triggered or an alarm goes off, we can look in and determine whether it's a system issue or whether someone forgot their password or is breaking in."
Some security professionals, such as Jim Boehme, vice president of sales and marketing for National Guardian Security Services Inc., Norwalk, Conn., remain skeptical about the profitability of such additional services.
"We've looked at point-of-sale and bringing it in, but that's not what we're doing," Boehme points out. "It's labor-intensive, and I'm not so sure you can sell that technology or service to the customer and find a return on investment to do it remotely versus internally. They do it internally now."
Side bar 2: Recurring Revenue ModelsPricing for remote monitoring of video surveillance systems is still being developed as the capabilities of the technology increase and the hardware costs decrease. Some prices are based on the same model as burglar and fire alarms, with a fixed monthly price.
Last October, when SDM conducted its 2005 Forecast Study, 29 percent of dealers surveyed said they sell remote video monitoring services. They charge an average of $83 per month for this central station service. (Updated survey results will be published in the January 2006 issue of SDM, demonstrating any changes in the percentage of dealers who sell these systems and what they charge.)
Throughout the industry, dealers report that add-on costs to the monthly charge include such extras as event notification, alarm verification, video tours and additional e-mail addresses.
Other price models used in the industry include a per-incident charge or add-ons to a base monthly cost when incidents exceed a certain number. Some monthly charges are based on the number of cameras being monitored.