Upgrading from an Analog Mindset

As the trend towards digital video progresses, we are seeing corporations that are not taking full advantage of the possibilities for enhancing their business with visual data. The big block is not the technology, it is the analog mindset. To gain the full business advantages of digital video, you have to think about video as data and an important element in the IT infrastructure.

Analog video is all about pictures. To simplify it – all you can do with analog video is watch it. There are no integration possibilities, no interconnections to business areas and no future-proofing. The analog video lives and dies in its own closed world. Closed Circuit TV – CCTV: even the name CCTV has a bad ring to it in a digital world that is so much more open and interconnected. Analog video is all pictures – no data. Digital video (or IP video) is all pictures – all data.

All too often we see that a video installation migrated from the data-less analog old world to the digital future is used in the same way as the old installation. This means that nobody has asked the all-important question: How do we utilize this new data source to improve or expand our business?

Digital video is more than just video. Data can be analyzed and used in a business context. Digital video is a data source like all other data sources in IT infrastructure. This means that video data can be fed to other IT systems since true open VMS (video management software) can function as a digital video hub, not only feeding video data to other IT systems, but also integrating business functions.

This is important because a video system often serves more than one purpose. Most video systems are used for monitoring and securing people, perimeters and assets. When other purposes are introduced, the VMS has to be able to keep security functions in a safe environment, while at the same time enabling other systems to freely access the video data.

Digital Video is Data

A real-life example of this could be a video security installation securing a parking lot for a company.  In the case of an analog installation, you would be able to see the video and review it later – that’s all. You would be able to do the same with a digital system, but the digital systems would also enable the video to be actively used for more than just passive watching.

You could use video analytics or integration to other systems to determine how many empty parking spaces there are at a given time, ensuring that customers would not be forced to park at another site.  License plate recognition could be used to detect important customers arriving, alerting frontline managers to prepare a nice welcome. The system could also be used for advanced security purposes that are impossible to do in an analog system. Using metadata (which is data about data) the video could be analyzed and the results compared to external data sources. If a license plate is normally associated with a car of a certain color and the car entering the car lot suddenly has different color than expected, then the security staff can be alerted immediately.

Boost Business with Video

Another example is today’s modern retail shops. The newest trend in retail is mobile shop assistants that roam the shop floor and handle payments on the spot using a tablet computer or a dedicated smart device.  If you want to track this using analog video, you would not only have to install enough analog cameras to ensure that the whole shop floor is covered, you would also need to have a number of operators manually tracking the mobile shop assistants! This is clearly not a feasible approach.

In the digital world the mobile payment units could be linked to the video server, and a camera could be oriented to automatically record the customer session on video together with position and payment data from the mobile terminals. This can be used to improve the customer experience, train staff, optimize floor layout and of course, limit risks. The possibilities are endless when you have the digital mindset.

Best of all, when you use an open platform VMS, you can expand the use of video when you need it. The software is the core of the system, and enables you to expand its use endlessly by adding to the system.  Analog video-systems are all hardware. Digital video has intelligence in the form of software. It is the software that makes the investment future proof and cost effective.

Think Return on Video Investment

Speaking of cost, analog video surveillance systems are often regarded as cheaper than digital systems. Analog cameras cost typically less than digital cameras, an analog video recorder is cheaper than a server with software, and the analog cabling is very simple. However, if you shift your mindset from “Cost of Acquisition” to “Return on Investment,” this picture changes, due to the new possibilities to use video as data.

Intelligent searches can bring down the time spent searching for an incident in the video, smart and mobile clients enable flexible access to the video over digital networks, and video analytics can extract business relevant information. Think of the small difference in cost as an investment in the future.

However, using video as data has more far-reaching consequences than just using open platform technology in a digital network. The organization has to reflect the open digital mindset as well.

Typically, security and IT are regarded as separate functions in a company. Security is often reactive dealing with incidents. IT is more about enabling business going forward. When the concept of video as data comes into play, the organization in a company has to be open. Luckily, this is happening now. Research done by ESG indicates that 91 percent of the surveyed organizations had their digital security systems supported by the IT department. This number was 52 percent only three years ago.

Eighty percent of the IT professionals used video for Business Intelligence. The specific uses were – operational efficiencies (58%), production or process control (51%), inventory control (50%), identifying traffic patterns (49%) and employee training (47%).  This tactical use of video reflects in investment plans, as 88 percent states that the business-oriented use of video helps justify IP video technology and infrastructure investments.   This stresses even more that the IT-department must treat video as a valuable source of video data, not as an intruding force in the network. IT management has to recognize video as a business tool and look at the video possibilities. Enterprise security managers have to look beyond the video pictures and into the business possibilities.

It is all a matter of mindset. Think digital, and think it now to start boosting your business.

Lars Thinggaard

by Lars Thinggaard, President & CEO, Milestone Systems

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