ISJ Exclusive: How VMS could be making your video system smarter


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Jason Burrows, Sales Director, IDIS America explains why choosing the right VMS is the most important video investment you can make.

Video management software (VMS) is the backbone of every modern video surveillance system. It drives functionality – for better or for worse – and the choice of which to use is one of the top factors affecting your overall system performance.

Users and systems integrators often underestimate the importance of VMS. Instead, they often focus on specifying top-of-the-range cameras, including high performance, edge AI and specialist models from the huge choice now available. In addition, they’ll often advise customers to invest in ultra-HD video walls and data-crunching NVRs or servers.

But, without the right VMS that pulls everything together, none of those investments will deliver to their full potential. Get the choice of software right, however, and you can transform the value of your camera system – and increasingly reap the added value benefits of AI. But first, what are the core benefits that good VMS will give you?

Reduced upgrade costs

If you are undertaking a system upgrade, the best VMS will significantly reduce your implementation costs. Choosing a VMS that is part of a true end-to-end solution (i.e., where you get all the components you need from a single vendor, with instant compatibility assured) is a good place to start.

Make sure it’s also flexible enough to let you easily and affordably retain existing legacy analog and IP cameras and peripherals. This route will let you migrate easily, adding as many new cameras as you need and still run your legacy cameras alongside them. With the right encoders, you’ll also be able to mix third party analog cameras with IP, eliminating the disruption of “rip-and-replace” and extending the lifecycle of existing equipment.

This greater focus on reducing waste at every opportunity will become increasingly important and will influence all areas of our lives as well as making a positive contribution to organisations’ ESG policies (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance).

With the best VMS, users find they can get surprisingly good results, even from cameras which previously disappointed. That’s because the problem with older systems is that it isn’t often the cameras themselves – or at least, not all of them – but inflexible software with a clunky user interface that makes it hard to operate the system.

Poor VMS can generate latency and even a slight lag will impact user comfort, making it harder for operators to manage live incidents and make it more time consuming to find footage and export evidence. Choosing the latest VMS along with AI functionality solves those common problems.

Reduced operating costs

Another big gain from the best VMS is that it will deliver meaningful savings on ongoing operating costs (OPEX).

With many older systems, it’s common for users to pay for bundled functionality and features, many of which they don’t need or use, or to overspend on complicated annual licensing fees and device connection costs, which means being locked into perpetual maintenance agreements or limiting flexibility to upgrade sites or specific cameras without incurring further significant costs.

These excessive fees drain security budgets and prevent funds being better used elsewhere such as adopting new technologies to better mitigate risks and improve security team performance. By choosing a modular VMS, you can minimise annual licensing fees or avoid paying them altogether in some cases – and you can specify exactly which tools and functions you want, so that you only pay for what you use.

And tailored VMS options are available to suit different sizes of applications. Small and medium-sized customers can have VMS software at no cost, particularly with an end-to-end solution. And, although it may be effectively free, it’s still feature rich and easy to upgrade to a full enterprise solution, as businesses expand or want to centrally manage multiple sites.

Users are finding increasing value in the advanced mobile apps that come free of charge with well-designed VMS and allow a high level of system control for operators working outside the control room, including live stream and playback of 4k video.

In addition, these apps can be configured to send alerts and notifications to phones or tablets, allowing faster and more consistent responses to potential threats. And, they are reducing the need for security team leaders and loss prevention managers to visit sites in-person, saving travel time and costs.

Failover is another important benefit that needs to be considered, with in-built protection against loss of data in the event of network instability or drop-out. Guaranteeing an uninterrupted video record of events, without gaps, not only improves security and allows every incident to be investigated, it’s also important for organisations in regulated sectors that could face non-compliance fines for poor video retention practices.

There are many other OPEX savings too, the result of greater operational efficiency, which we’ll look at in a moment. Adding these savings together means that upgrading to a best-in-class VMS can pay for itself very quickly.

Ease of use

Which brings us to the next big benefit: Great VMS is much easier to use. This is the most common feedback from users following an upgrade – they are impressed, more than anything, by their new system’s usability.

A higher standard of operating expertise and training is often de facto in dedicated security control rooms, but in many cases video systems need to be used by people who don’t have specialist surveillance experience – senior teaching staff in schools, local branch managers in retail, operations managers in logistics, for example.

The best VMS is designed with both control rooms and non-specialist, often dispersed staff requirements in mind: It makes video systems comfortable and easy to operate, even for occasional users. And this can be a game-changer.

Core functions can now be operated by any authorised member of staff, without extensive and expensive training or the kind of familiarity that can only be built up through repeated regular use. With current staff retention challenges, it’s important that new hires working outside of security teams can get up to speed quickly with familiar features like drop down menus and intuitive functionality.

To improve control room performance, users want automation that can help them meet standard operating procedures. Intuitive visual tools – driven by the user’s own processes – will improve the ability to detect, verify, analyse and respond.

Operators also want to relay critical video events in real time, to senior managers and, in some cases, to relevant stakeholders such as heads of departments. With good VMS, smoother PTZ and fisheye camera controls make it easier to track suspicious activity and video walls can be easily configured to suit operational preferences.

It’s surprisingly common for mid-level and smaller surveillance systems to become gradually redundant, with even basic features falling out of use, simply because the person responsible for managing it has left and nobody else has time to grapple with the control interface. And, when this happens – when evidence is never retrieved – word spreads surprisingly quickly in some environments, undermining the deterrent effect of the cameras, leading to increased insider threats. 

VMS and the rise of AI

Today, the most exciting benefits of choosing well-engineered VMS relate to advances in AI. With the right VMS, adopting AI is now easy and affordable and it’s a practical option to transform your surveillance with the addition of deep learning analytics.

Whatever the size of your system, AI now has useful tools with the accuracy needed to supercharge your cameras. For small to medium systems, a new generation of AI boxes is available that can be simply added on to deliver highly accurate alerts and notifications to threats and actionable insights from tools such as people counting and heat mapping.

Today’s more powerful analytics can significantly elevate your security posture with automated detection of events of interest (line cross, loitering, fall, fire, object detection, etc.). Moreover, they can do so much more consistently and with minimal false alarms – for example, our in-house developed IDIS Deep Learning Engine has been rated by the South Korean national video surveillance testing agency (K-ICTC) as reaching an industry-best accuracy of up to 98% and deemed as the best choice for use in military and defense applications.

There are many established environments for the enhanced capabilities of AI and the list continues to grow. In crowded locations – airports, transport hubs, shopping malls, events venues, public spaces – abandoned bags can be detected more quickly, even in busy scenes, allowing faster investigation by security staff.

Alerts can be triggered if fire extinguishers are moved or high value assets are taken. And, increasing use is being made of functions such as fall detection and fire detection. In all these cases, AI enables faster responses and better outcomes. For larger applications, with enterprise-level VMS, these AI functions can be implemented and tailored to specific user needs, to operate with cameras of choice, from domes and pinholes in luxury retail settings to ultra-HD PTZs in logistics and warehousing.

And, if you want, you can add value with a host of business intelligence tools. So, in addition to all those other benefits, having the best VMS makes it easy for you to start benefiting from AI video, right now.

This article was originally published in the March 2023 edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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