There sure is a lot of talk these days about cameras: Cameras are showing up on street corners, cameras being installed on buses and trains, cameras are even being installed in summer homes and city parks. Cameras are everywhere. But the thing that surprises me most is how unimportant that little camera is in the grand scheme of things.


When I asked a homeowner why she wants to install cameras at home, she replies, “It allows me to watch the babysitter when I’m away.” When I asked the car dealership owner why he wants cameras, he said, “It helps me cuts costs for guards.” When I asked the casino manager, he talks most enthusiastically about the ability soon to identify high rollers walking through the door.


To just about everyone I talk to, cameras are really not interesting. But the software and services associated with the cameras certainly is. I think the age of the camera has passed, and the camera itself is now mere a data collection tool that feeds information into other systems. It is these other systems that produce the value we are looking for.


Video surveillance will draw lessening value from cameras themselves, and more from software and hardware complementing cameras. Technical issues such as increased bandwidth availability, innovative storage solutions and manufacturing breakthroughs that reduce implementation costs will outdistance new hardware technology in their impact on video surveillance markets. Developments in software control, intelligence at points of observation and improvements in backend operations of recording, storage and retrieval of video data, will also play key roles.


I Think, Therefore I Am

The ability of cameras to detect motion opened the market for IP cameras by transmitting only potentially important images across data networks. When event-driven (camera plus analytics) cameras become more versatile and cost effective, potentially replacing other intrusion technologies, video analytics will make tremendous advancements in the coming 18 months to add chromatic sensitivity and other enhancements, which will enable video surveillance systems to identify or locate specific people or objects in a group (e.g. a five-foot woman wearing black jacket; a blue Fiat, not a blue Mercedes).


These and other innovations at the “edge” where cameras are located (onboard storage, higher compression) have opened the door to the more widespread use of video for surveillance. The growing use of the Internet, as well as expanding corporate intranets, promises even more potential for transmitting video. Growth in sales and improvements in resolution and efficiency will continue with no end in sight and no expected slowdown over the next ten years.


Better, Faster…and More Pixels


It is undeniable that more rapid advances will be made with respect to high-resolution cameras and embedded software controls, but it’s unlikely that an immediate impact will be made on common video surveillance markets. Where many would have predicted more rapid transition to what might be called a “pure digital” environment, it is appearing that the actual application of surveillance technology is following a model not unlike that of consumer camera technology. In the view of many consultants and integrators, only when price points inevitably become lower and setup becomes easier will more buyers move from existing analog installations to a distributed digital environment where intelligence in software will play a much greater role.

One Global 500 financial organization based in the has over one million square feet of office space under management, but continues to buy analog cameras. “Network cameras have many advantages that we wish we could utilize,” the CSO told me. “But someone has to pay for all those switches and T1s. So our IT department charges us $500 for each new IP address and $250 per year maintenance” to guarantee the service level. The largest companies in the world will view IP camera deployments with the same eye toward networking cost.

Nevertheless, just as I walked into a store to buy a point and shoot camera, I bought a digital format camera, higher and higher resolution network cameras will steadily encroach on the analog camera market. In my own home and in my office, I have a mix of analog and digital (IP) cameras. But when I’m away from home, I get the most value from the data collected by the IP cameras, processed by the analytics, and transmitted over three different network types (cable modem & DSL, Internet and telecom). The value I get from the cameras has more to do with the software, hardware, storage and networking services in play than with the camera itself.