Magazine Article | July 19, 2012

Beyond Security: IP Camera Capabilities Create New Opportunities For VARs

By Pedro Pereira, Business Solutions Magazine

With a focus on innovation, today’s IP cameras can be used in creative new ways to solve customer problems.

IP cameras aren’t just for security and surveillance anymore. As IP-based surveillance technology overtakes analog security systems, users are finding multiple applications for the technology, especially in the retail space. For VARs and integrators, these capabilities present an opportunity to deliver value and increase profits to clients.

These days, IP cameras are connected to sophisticated software that can process and analyze images collected in a variety of environments, to help make strategic business decisions. In retail, where product placement is paramount, cameras capture buyer behavior that tell retailers a lot about how to design promotions and improve store traffic flow. Retailers, who in some cases charge suppliers a premium for shelf space, have the ability to measure the effectiveness of product placement and displays, to tell suppliers how many shoppers linger in front of their products and for how long.

“In the retail environment, display real estate and product location is literally sold or rented to suppliers,” says Adam Lowenstein, business development manager for the Security Division of security and electronics wholesaler Wynit Distribution. “By utilizing IP cameras to monitor traffic and customer-lingering in specific areas, the retailer is able to justify premium pricing for key exposure areas.”

IP cameras help improve traffic flow in stores, says David Liu, national sales manager at video surveillance manufacturer Vivotek USA. “When paired with peoplecounting software, cameras can be used for business intelligence to optimize traffic flow. For example, cameras can help recognize when the heavy traffic times are for a store, allowing management to adjust in-store promotions or staffing appropriately.”

Beyond retail, IP cameras have uses other than surveillance. Municipalities, says Lowenstein, have started leveraging people-counting and dwell-time recording capabilities to control traffic signals and streetlights. Elsewhere, cameras pointed at industrial machinery play a role in maintenance and troubleshooting by documenting functional issues off-hours and giving dispatchers a view of the physical area where maintenance is needed, before sending out a repair team.

Industry experts say other IP camera uses include pairing them to digital signage, keeping tabs on branch locations from corporate headquarters, and integrating them with building-access smart cards and readers to alert supervisors when cards are swiped at specific access points.

The Case For Replacing Analog Cameras

VARs and integrators may find some client resistance to replacing their analog CCTV systems with digital solutions. This is where the added uses and multiple benefits of IP cameras become a key part of the conversation. Such benefits include higher picture quality, integration with smartphones for remote viewing and notification, and increased effectiveness in indexing video image files.

In addition, says Ed Wassall, Ph.D., CTO (chief technology officer) of IP product development and application engineering at electronics giant Samsung, digital systems typically offer a lower total cost of ownership. “An IP network infrastructure is often already in place and used for other applications within an organization, so a network video application can piggyback off the existing infrastructure,” Wassall says. “IP-based networks and wireless options are also much less expensive alternatives than traditional coaxial and fiber cabling for an analog CCTV system.”

VARs and integrators should highlight reliability when making a case to customers. Though an IP camera can cost more than an analog unit, says Liu, “You don’t want to spend $500 on a low-end system but have unusable video when an incident occurs.” IP systems increase flexibility, allowing for deploying a greater number of cameras that can be tied into other security applications, such as access control and sensors, he says. “Increased software analytics mean that users can set a notification for every conceivable circumstance.”

Investing In IP Video Technology

IMS Research predicts that 2013 will be the point when IP-based video surveillance sales overtake analog sales equipment. A recent survey of Business Solutions VAR and integrator readers indicated that 46% of them are planning to add IP camera solutions to their offerings within the next 18 months. The opportunity is there, and solutions providers are attuned to it, but what should they consider as they go head to head for business with traditional security integrators?

To prepare, says Liu, solutions providers must invest in time, money, and people. “From our experience, the integrators that have been the most successful in making the transition are the ones who have spent time to purchase the equipment, learn the technology through training and self-experimentation, and have someone on staff who can talk intelligently about networking and interface with the end user’s IT department.”

Wasall agrees, “Without the appropriate skilled resources and tools, you will not be successful in the discovery, design, and integration phase of the customer’s IP video network.”

The biggest obstacle to offering IP camera solutions, however, is the need for what Wassall calls “field-based intellectual collateral,” which he defines as “the skills needed to discover, design, and deliver a scalable solution. The installation of an IP camera is relatively easy. The integration of that technology requires a working knowledge of network design and implementation. Without this specialized knowledge, the integration is bound to fail.” If VARs and integrators learn the technology and how to implement and integrate it, he says, they stand to win the business against less savvy competitors.

Lowenstein notes the trend toward plug-and-play technology and open platforms that has lowered the barrier of entry, but adds that proper overall education and training on specific products are a prerequisite. “While in-depth networking expertise is no longer required for configuration, it is extremely important that VARs understand how each network device communicates with the system.”

Targeting Growth Verticals

IP cameras have made their way into markets where video surveillance typically was deployed, such as retail, banking, and warehousing. However, integration capabilities with data networks, scalability, and flexibility have opened new markets. Lowenstein believes opportunities exist in education and healthcare, where sales cycles are long but the need is growing.

Liu is convinced that every vertical market can benefit from IP-based surveillance systems. “Even for home users, people want to be able to see what’s going on while at work or on vacation,” he says. “With an IP camera, an SD card, and a mobile app, viewers basically have easy access to all the video from anywhere in the world.”