By Fredrik Nilsson, General Manager of the Americas for Axis Communications
There were 900 exhibitors reported on the show floor at ISC West 2010 last March. At October’s ASIS International in Dallas, organizers expect more than 700 booths to be filled. Rest assured, if you asked any one of the thousand polo-clad sales and marketing reps if their solution is the best, you can bet that you’d hear a resounding, “Yes, of course!” It’s tough to find an unbiased opinion on show floor products.
Opting to skip the events and research on your own can be equally frustrating – if not more so. A quick Google search of video+surveillance yields “about 9,470,000 results in .33 seconds.” It’s an understatement to say that the surveillance market is saturated with vendors and their many products. While this is good for the economy, it’s not so good for your peace of mind as a security decision maker.
If you’re one of the lucky few with a budget to hire a security consultant to recommend a solution, then you have a leg up on your industry colleagues. But if the decision to secure the organization is yours and yours alone, here are some basic tips for cutting out the vendor fat and evaluating a new security solution:
• Is the vendor in good financial shape?
This is an especially important question to ask nowadays. You’ll be left in a terrible position if your vendor of choice goes out of business in the middle of your project or during your product warranty period. It’s prudent to work with an established market player as opposed to an emerging vendor with a brand new solution that is relying on investment dollars to survive. A profitable and growing company is typically one with solid products, experienced management and excellent partners – all of which are characteristics you should leverage before, during and after the install.
• Is the solution open? Will this product work in a best-of-breed system?
By selecting products and software that can run in an open ecosystem – meaning that they can integrate with different products from different companies (even competitors) – you will typically be guaranteed the lowest total cost and best performance for your specific needs. Additionally, you’ll avoid locking your company into one vendor, which is important when considering the scalability of your system. Ask to see a list of the vendor’s partners, and then ask those partners if the vendor you’re considering is their product-of-choice for your application.
• Be wary of sticker shock. Instead, consider the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return on Investment (ROI).
Every industry has companies who survive solely on a low price point, and security is no different. These vendors will explain how much money you’ll instantly save by buying their product. But security investments are for now and the future. Ask the vendor for information on TCO and ROI, which should include scalability, quality, false alarm deterrence, product warranty, and business intelligence.
• References, references, references.
All datasheets look nice and glossy, and many competing products offer similar features, at least on paper. To put a tangible slant on your potential purchase, ask for several references from other end users who can attest that the technology is as good as promised. Word-of-mouth is still the best and most reliable advertising.
• Confirm that the technology is mature.
Again, this goes back to tangible, real-life results. Find out how many units are installed globally, nationwide and in your region before making the purchase. No matter what you’re buying – from video surveillance, to access control, to alarm systems, to analytics – you want to make sure that you’re not the de facto Beta tester.
• Check the support after warranty.
The product warranty is an important failsafe when buying a new security solution. But after the warranty expires, will the vendor still stand behind its product with great customer and technical support? If your system goes down unexpectedly, you’ll suddenly be very interested in how long it takes to get someone live on the phone or to receive a response via email. It’s better to research this information before you have a problem. Here’s a tip: Try calling the support line and see how long it takes for a live person to pick up the phone.
• Local partnerships and training will be invaluable.
Does the vendor have a list of qualified integrators in your area who you can leverage for both installation and expertise? To that end, does it provide certification training to those integrators to guarantee the quality of service and know-how? Both factors will be important not only for the initial install, but also for maintenance and upgrades to your system.
• Does the vendor invest a substantial amount in R&D to keep up with new requirements?
Today, especially when installing network-based surveillance equipment, the best systems are designed with the future in mind. Ask any potential vendors to provide a roadmap so you can verify how many new products have been launched the last 12 months. This will give you an idea if they too have their eyes on your future.
While the security landscape is a vast – and perhaps at times overgrown – one, there are many well-educated vendors, integrators and consultants who will happily spend time to answer all your questions. While you’re likely to encounter different viable opinions on what products are best for your installation, if you show up to the next tradeshow armed with a checklist of your questions and qualifications, you can cut through the marketing hype and narrow the vendor pool down to the ones worth following up with.
Fredrik Nilsson is General Manager of the Americas for Axis Communications and author of the book Intelligent Network Video. He has authored numerous articles about networked video surveillance systems and cameras.