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Exclusive: Transforming CCTV from surveillance to a solution

CCTV

Phillip Antoniou, Vice President Sales, Europe South/West & MEAPAC at MOBOTIX looks at how the perception of CCTV has shifted.

Walk down any street, public space or shop and chances are, you are going to spot a CCTV camera. Often the first thing that springs to mind is who is looking at me?  Isn’t it just another way in which Big Brother is spying on our private lives? This is certainly the common view, or at least it used to be. Over the last few years there has been a growing acceptance that CCTV is more than an invasive tool for surveillance. That function remains and it is an important one, but it is as a means of protecting people and property rather than spying on us. There are several factors, particularly technology developments, that are driving a change in how governments and business use CCTV systems for more than just surveillance and how perceptions are changing.

Also, a plethora of things, like reality TV programmes about the police or shoplifting along with our own use of mobile devices as cameras, have started to change negative views. From the conversations we have with customers all over the world there is definitely a shift in attitude from the CCTV camera being somehow an intrusive surveillance tool to one that offers you protection.

Of course, what CCTV does is collect images of a situation. But what they do and what people are starting to appreciate, is to act as a positive protection rather than a so-called ‘sinister’ surveillance device. If there is an incident, CCTV captures the situation in real time, alerts the relevant emergency service and provides evidence for follow up investigation. So, it is a balance of understanding that essentially surveillance is what enables protection. Protection is a better and more acceptable way to position CCTV technology than calling it surveillance.

Focus on data

There the story could have ended. But several advances in digital technology – broadband and wireless connectivity, cloud computing and data storage for example – are transforming how CCTV is used. The focus has shifted from device to data.

The camera is still important because it captures the images, what is now much more significant is data and how that data is used. Data is the key. If you use CCTV to capture information and just sit on it then, yes, it’s surveillance. But if you are doing something with that data to improve the situation or application, to me that is protection, as well as health and safety.

It is important to note at this point a divergence in the market. On one side there is a wide range of low-cost, commodity CCTV devices that are essentially point and click, easy to replace, but have a limited lifetime, scalability and Return on Invest (ROI). They film what is going on, store or communicate the images for historical view or as a record in case an incident needs to be reviewed. These systems are standalone. Typically, you would find this type of device in a small shop or garage forecourt. For less than €100 it is possible to install a CCTV system inside a home and view images in real time from a mobile device even when you are on holiday.

Although technology is improving the quality and capability of equipment at this end of the market – as in internet-enabled home CCTV systems – this market sector is probably starting to contract.

It is at the other end of the spectrum where dynamic and exciting change is taking place. Here, there are CCTV systems that leverage technology to become highly intelligent, reliable and robust solutions with scalability and long-term investment value. As an example, half of the MOBOTIX range of cameras have no moving parts, fewer single points of failure, need less maintenance and offer a meantime before failure of up to nine years.

This kind of high-end CCTV equipment delivers a significant expansion in scope of capability. They use new technologies such as IoT (Internet of Things), artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics and integration with other systems like building management, fire and even industrial and asset recovery. Interestingly, MOBOTIX was a bit ahead of the game in that it had IoT capability embedded in its camera technology long before IoT became a buzz word.

Transforming retail marketing

The retail sector is a good example of how CCTV is focusing on the importance and value of data. Initially, a typical CCTV system in a retail environment such as a department store or shopping mall, would have been installed primarily as a security tool to prevent shoplifting, for example. It would store images on disk for retrospective viewing or enable an operator to monitor shoppers in real time.

Now retailers are starting to realise the value of CCTV and importantly, the data it captures, to deliver a host of additional benefits. The data can be used to analyse how customers move around a store, where there is a concentration of people, how long they browse a particular department or aisle.

Sales information will tell you if a product is selling well or not, but it can’t tell you how long someone spent looking at it before purchase or indeed if they spent time viewing, but then didn’t buy. It is common knowledge that supermarkets place certain items at checkout because they know there are people standing waiting to pay for their shopping.

CCTV, on the other hand, gathers data about how and where shoppers move around the whole store. It can reveal, for example, if most people pass a particular shelf but seldom select anything from it. Again, CCTV can deliver real marketing insights into queue management, how many people are queuing, at what time of the day and how long does it take to serve customers. Instead of CCTV being a costly but necessary security asset it becomes a solution for improving customer experience, increasing sales and revenue and streamlining operations.

CCTV

Flexibility and adaptability

As we see traditional CCTV shifting from a standalone security system to an integrated management solution, the technology needs to be more adaptable. That means building solutions that fit the application, such as mixing different camera types and viewpoints and applying different sensors depending on specific areas of a site. Cameras with 360o capabilities are more appropriate for large open spaces while 180o-cameras are a more cost-effective solution for single line-of-sight situations. Cameras themselves also need to be configurable so they are better able to meet specific needs. That allows organisations to modify a solution to almost any environment to get the best results.

One transport company has deployed a MOBOTIX CCTV solution at its bus depot. It acts as a security system for the site. But it also integrates with the lighting system so that when buses return in the evening, lights are automatically switched on depending on where the bus is on site. The system also turns on lights so that drivers feel safe moving from their vehicle to the depot office. Interestingly, this enhanced CCTV application complements the traditional security role since multiple light switching on and off is an additional deterrent to potential criminal activity.

Security is critical

Cybersecurity continues to be a constant challenge and CCTV is no different. Stories about CCTV systems being hacked and secure, private video images appearing on public websites are now all too common.

I read about an incident back in 2016, where ransomware infected 70% of surveillance cameras in Washington D.C. The problem is not just access to video images. An insecure camera is an open door to the corporate systems to which it is connected. Cybersecurity is critical, especially as CCTV systems are integrated increasingly with networks, databases and other business systems. The cost of damages in this situation is immeasurable.

Cybersecurity is something that MOBOTIX takes very seriously and, from the start, has embedded security protocols into the platform of its technology. MOBOTIX equipment has been and continues to be rigorously subjected to third-party and industry-standard security testing. It confirms that robust security protocols were already well established in the technology by design and continues to revaluate on how it can further improve and evolve in today’s market to be able to provide as secure a platform as possible. Not only does that approach make existing technology more secure, it means you can quickly and easily adapt and deploy future security protocols as criminals come up with new and smarter ways to infiltrate systems.

Countering COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on every aspect of our lives and has thrown up several questions in this dialogue. The pandemic and the need to lockdown society has catapulted digital technology to the forefront of almost everything we do from online schooling, connecting with friends and family and remote healthcare to homeworking, digital marketing and online recruitment. Suddenly the ability of CCTV to facilitate remote working and operations and reducing the need to visit locations has come to the fore.

One of the main roles of CCTV in relation to COVID-19 is one of health and safety.  But here the industry needs to be careful since there have been several claims made about CCTV as a fever detection system. CCTV cannot do this and it is not a medical device, but it can be a critical part in a package of measures to help tackle COVID-19 and make processes and operations more efficient.

Since lockdown, MOBOTIX has seen an increase in demand for its thermal imaging solutions. Several airports around the world have deployed thermal monitoring systems as part of a package of measures to safeguard and mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Much faster and more efficiently than handheld devices, thermal cameras can measure surface temperature ranges. A bit like an early warning system. Staff can then draw the individual aside for further investigation to see if they might be ill, allowing other travellers to carry on unimpeded.

In other instances, MOBOTIX thermal technology has been deployed to reduce the risk and potential cost of fire. Because thermal cameras sense heat – the parameters can be customised to the environment – these systems can often detect the beginning of a fire hazard long before a human is able to see, hear or smell a fire. In several cases MOBOTIX has enabled its customers to realise cost avoidance savings of up to 40% dependant on the application.

Recently we have seen significant advances in the use of AI, deep learning and complex automation that are enhancing what CCTV solutions can achieve. I see the next evolution of CCTV as one of convergence where you have truly integrated and open-platform solutions. Systems like security, access, fire, facility management on industrial sites, border control locations and even homes will come together and communicate seamlessly to enable operational efficiency. The technology to do this is already there or at least well advanced, but it also needs common standards if the industry is going to deliver the kind of quality and reliability that customers will expect.

AI is still at an early stage, but it is gathering pace and there will be more edge-based solutions. As internet connectivity and bandwidth improves – with innovations like 5G networks – we are going to see more wireless and cloud-based systems and developments like private cloud environments which offer greater control and security.

If I have one message to the market, but especially to customers and users, it is to make sure you do the research and ensure you have the best product set and solution for the application. And as CCTV manufacturers it is our responsibility to make sure that we deliver a broad portfolio of capabilities in our devices which can be used across multiple verticals and applications, that the technology behind the products is robust, high-quality and secure and that it can scale as the needs of customers change. COVID-19 has shown everyone, you never know what is around the corner.

To find out more about MOBOTIX video protection solutions, contact www.mobotix.com

This article was originally published in the September 2020 edition of International Security Journal. Pick up your FREE digital copy here