Axis | Make video security a secure long-term investment


Kieran Byrne, Architect & Engineering Manager at Axis Communications, explains the value of considering every possible outlay over the lifetime of a security system – from installation to operational and maintenance costs

The video surveillance market is rapidly expanding, set to be worth over $157 billion by 2030. When considering a new security system, choice is abundant. But making the right selection is not simply a case of opting for the most affordable at first sight.

The total cost of ownership (TCO) of that system – and all the costs which can be expected during its potential lifecycle of perhaps ten years or more – is a far more critical metric.

Security systems create value, whether protecting property, instituting health & safety benefits within the workplace, streamlining processes, or delivering more creative uses of the advanced sensors they contain.

But the only way to generate a true return on investment is to weigh up those potential benefits, which will be different for every business, against the TCO of the system. To do that, one must be aware of every possible cost to bring a system’s operational load into focus from the very beginning and minimise the risk of unforeseen expenditure.

What does a security system really cost?

Whilst there are variations between installations depending on the operational requirements, there are clear trends when we’ve analysed different system examples. The TCO case studies we’ve examined show that acquisition costs can account for around 30% of a system’s TCO, with the other 70% involved in its continued operation, maintenance, and later decommissioning.

Even the makeup of the initial 30% may not be as clear as it appears. A new security system requires investment in hardware, certainly, but just how much hardware is required can only be determined by creating a detailed system design, considering all requirements surrounding camera coverage, access control points, additional hardware, bandwidth calculations, and the network and power infrastructure required to operate the system.  

This point in the process is an opportunity to fully investigate the potential features of that hardware and draw smart conclusions which may reduce the number of individual devices and, with it, the cost of the system.

A ceiling-mounted dome camera could be split and de-warped into multiple distinct views, for example, or the output of a single high-resolution sensor could be divided into multiple points of interest to help security personnel cover large areas with maximum clarity.

Today’s security devices, boosted by higher-resolution imagery and powerful software tools, do not have the limitations they once did. Getting the most out of as few devices as possible is vital: the fewer individual devices are involved in a security network, the lower ongoing power costs will be, and the simpler the process of administering the network as a whole.

Direct and indirect running expenses

The demands that an IP camera security system places on internal infrastructure – notably those of power and network bandwidth – must be considered, as they make up a large part of the system’s TCO.

Every device must constantly draw power. Cameras need to offload footage. Reducing the number of individual devices is, as we have discussed, one way to reduce this load – but, again, clever planning and hardware choices can help keep system overheads to a minimum without the need to make sacrifices.

Many of today’s network cameras are designed to draw minimal power. They may also employ compression techniques which reduce their bandwidth and storage requirements without causing any reduction of quality or image fidelity.

Security devices may also include powerful processors, which allow them to perform complex tasks on the network edge. The lower server demand which follows means fewer energy-hungry devices are required on the back end – leading to reduced power draw and system administration load.

The right security system – or a timely upgrade – could help remove indirect TCO costs, too. Cameras placed in dark areas may, for example, demand a secondary light source, one which uses power even if the space the camera covers is unoccupied.

Opting to replace that camera with an infra-red model, a radar sensor, or a camera sensor sensitive enough to maintain colour vision even in very low light would eliminate the need for additional illumination.

Maintenance and ongoing expenditures

Surveillance systems must be maintained and protected over their lifetime. This again forms a part of their operational cost, and this will rise if, say, hardware placed in hard-to-access locations happens to fail.

Working with reliable third parties for hardware supply, installation, and maintenance can mitigate potential system downtime – but it is most important to select and invest in quality hardware with high reliability, even if this adds a little to initial purchasing costs.

A solid and easily administered warranty programme pays for itself if the worst happens. A knowledgeable and readily available support service helps solve small problems before they become a costly issue. Concrete firmware update plans keep devices hardened against cybersecurity threats which could if left unpatched, cause a network to fail.

Surveillance networks need these assurances – but they also need them to be straightforward to administer because any time spent managing a security system contributes greatly to its TCO.

Look for systems with simplified licensing plans and those that support user-friendly device management tools that support firmware upgrade paths and the necessary software maintenance required to maximise uptime and reduce time-consuming manual tasks.

Expansion and decommissioning expense

Plans change, things move, and businesses grow. Planning for the unexpected is just as important as creating a detailed outline of known variables. If new hardware happens to be required within a system’s lifetime, a hardware and software platform which is ready to accept it will have a lower overall TCO than one which requires significant retooling to make changes happen.

However strong a surveillance system’s hardware and software, it has a finite lifespan. It is vital also to consider decommissioning that system as part of its TCO. The smoother this process, the better.

All devices must be able to be cleanly deregistered, data sanitised, and ideally recycled – a vital point given today’s mounting governmental pressure for environmental compliance and the fact that restrictions will likely be even more stringent by the time a security system reaches end-of-life.

Adopting a more wide-ranging perspective, and using a TCO model in the buying process, can help evaluate competing offers more effectively, and determine, for example, if a high-quality solution that is more expensive upfront will save costs and deliver more value in the long term.

Overall, our studies show that 30% of costs occur before system start up, while 70% occur during operation, so clarity of vision from the outset is the key to maximising ROI, and a smarter, safer world.

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