Get Customers to Stop Worrying and Love Digital

By now, everyone has heard of digital video and everyone wants it. Digital video has garnered plenty of attention, and convincing people they want to upgrade is like convincing them they would rather be looking at color images than black and white.

This article is less about the advantages of going digital and more about overcoming the objections and trepidations of customers to make it happen sooner, rather than later.

What will it take to retire the VHS cassette once and for all? To end users considering digital, it is important to match expectations with the appropriate technologies.

A video system is usually comprised of several subsystems, not all of which benefit from digital. In fact, there are some areas where analog performs better. Often, hybrid systems provide the right mix of technology, upgradeability and expandability.

Discussions of digital with prospective customers usually center around two areas: ensuring that they understand what we mean by “digital video” and overcoming what usually turns out to be a small list of predictable objections. The first is important because it sets the framework for the second.

To some extent, people are becoming immune to the word “digital.” In an age where so many consumer electronics devices are branded digital — even toasters — it is only natural that there is some confusion on what a digital video system encompasses. For the purpose of clarification, let’s divide a video system into four distinct areas — image acquisition, camera control, archiving, and remote viewing.

Confusion Arises Concerning Methods to Capture the Image
Image acquisition generally refers to the process of capturing the video image. Believe it or not, there is more confusion in the eyes of end users in this area than any other — mainly because there are so many choices.

The choices start with cameras. Since the early 1990s, manufacturers have been calling all cameras digital, referring to the digital-signal processing. Today, most cameras say “digital” prominently on the packaging, adding to the confusion.

To clarify the issue, refer to all cameras that output a composite video stream as analog cameras, while units that convert the analog signal to an Internet protocol (IP) data stream are IP cameras.

Unfortunately, the distinction is not always that crisp in the eyes of the client. When some customers (or unscrupulous integrators) talk about IP cameras, they may really mean “Cat-5 cable” —l that is, using unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable to transmit analog signals from point to point. This can offer many of the advantages of IP cameras — low installation costs using an upgradeable infrastructure — without the associated complexity or bulk.

Thus, it all goes back to image acquisition. Will your client really benefit from IP cameras acquiring the images? The answer to this will depend on specific jobsite conditions.

IP cameras are tremendous for locations where multiple people will be monitoring images — there can be a cost savings in that a matrix switcher may not be required. They are good for geographically disbursed environments that can leverage infrastructure. This would include a campus or multisite location where network infrastructure (and bandwidth) was already in place and cameras are not clustered in groups.

If you’re not sure that a particular application meets these conditions, read on — you might be a candidate for a hybrid system.

Controlling Cameras Factors Into Digital Decision
If the application will require extensive control of remotely positionable pan/tilt/zoom cameras, the decision on whether to switch to digital might be more difficult. Many digital systems include dome cameras and the ability to control them, but they don’t always have the sophisticated levels of password authorization, prioritization, or accessories and integration that mature matrix switch product lines have been developing for years.

Retrofit applications that already have analog matrix switches in place will almost always benefit from hybrid systems, utilizing the existing matrix to control analog devices with digital storage, and remote viewing and control added. This area is the sweet spot to digital systems and is almost universally what clients are referring to when they are talking about digital. In fact, when we discuss overcoming objections, we are almost always referring to the retrofit market.

Archiving Ability Attracts End Users to Digital Video
With new systems, there is such a wide variety of digital recording alternatives that few customers are considering analog for new construction. In fact, the greatest selling points to digital are in this area.

With advanced search features, video clips of alarms presented for summary review, and immediate access to any image without searching stacks of VHS cassettes, digital video can change how a system is used regardless of its size. Small standalone systems benefit from the elimination of the unreliable VHS cassette, while large installations gain features that allow them to operate more efficiently.

Remote Monitoring Comes as a Cheap Add-on for Digital Systems
There used to be a product category for remote video monitoring that included telephone line transmission, remote video servers and other devices, but digital video has largely done away with this. For the most part, remote monitoring is frequently added to a digital video system at little or no additional cost.

The distributed nature of a digital system provides for proprietary (and secure) software clients, Web-based viewing and control, streaming video over cell phones and other specialized applications. That feature alone can justify the conversion to digital or selection of digital in new installations, especially if remote monitoring is required.

Overcoming Objections: The First to Overcome Is Always Cost
Once you’ve determined the appropriate technology to use (see the “Making the Digital Decision” chart above), there are some predictable objections to overcome. These largely boil down to cost, complexity and reliability.

Cost comes first on almost everyone’s list. This is made more acute by the difficulty in justifying the return on investment (ROI) for a digital system in tangible terms an accountant can relate to (see sidebar on page 74). However, the modular nature of digital systems allows for numerous ways to control costs and ease into digital without sacrificing functionality or performance.

Two things usually drive the major expenses with digital video: storage time required and the level of data redundancy. This often comes as a result of an unfair comparison aided by the information technology (IT) folks who get involved in such decisions.

Data redundancy is the first area the IT department sees, and with good reason. These are people trained and skilled in assembling large, complex computer networks, and that is exactly what we are doing with digital video.

However, there is a key difference in the value of the data. With a traditional network, every bit of data is precious and will ultimately need to be retrieved.

A security network is, except for specialized applications, a different animal. Roughly 95 percent of the data recorded in a security system will be thrown away. In fact, the bar has never been very high for most CCTV system
s, which have traditionally relied on a VHS cassette that costs less than $2.

Storage time is another savings opportunity. Longer times for image retention equal more hard drives. This adds to cost, system footprint, and the consumption of cooling and power. There are many tools to reduce the amount of storage required — from decreasing frame rates for cameras until motion is sensed, to reducing image quality where detail is not required, to using storage schedules based on camera prioritization.

Remember that storage costs are always dropping as hard-drive capacities increase, so there is absolutely no benefit to buying more storage than is absolutely needed. Determine minimum requirements and devise an upgrade plan to allow for system growth.

Hybrid systems are also an excellent way to reduce costs. By combining analog cameras with digital recording, the customer can often realize the same benefits of digital – migrating the cameras to IPbased ones as needed or in key areas where they were absolutely necessary. For an example of a digital/analog hybrid system, see the sidebar “Digital Desires Turn to Hybrid Happiness” on page 76.

User Interface Improvements Reduce Complexity

Another concern with digital systems is their complexity, both in deployment and in operation. Unlike the cost issues, this is easily addressed.

While the traditional CCTV dealer may have had to overcome a learning curve when installing digital CCTV systems, people moving from the IT end have a far easier time.

IP cameras and DVRs are tied to well established and documented networking and computer standards, and most facilities have access to such IT expertise. Getting the IT department involved in the decision-making process will usually help remove objections over a system’s complexity.

The user interface has come a long way as well. Often, a test drive shows that it is easier to use a digital system than an analog. With everyone used to the buttons on a VCR, most DVRs have been designed so their front panels mimic a VCR. They also feature accessible icons, onscreen help and other software tools to ease the transition.

If an end user feels that they will have trouble adjusting to the operation of the video control and viewing software, try a different product. Try having clients look at DVRs from four or five different (prequalified) manufacturers, focusing on the ease of use and intuitiveness of the software. A clear winner will likely emerge, although it may be different from client to client.

Analog May Be More Reliable, But Digital Is Quick to Adjust

Analog video has stood the test of time and, for better or worse, is relatively bulletproof. Not so with digital systems. They are more sensitive to power fluctuations, require special considerations for cooling in certain environments and the hard drives will ultimately fail.

If you make any claims to the contrary, the inevitable failures will cost you your reputation and a chunk of your profits as well. So how do you overcome this one?

Careful design will allow you to work around these problems, and you will be well served to point out the design elements you will use to prevent problems.

Remind the client that, while VHS may have been reliable, jammed VHS tapes and murky video quality could not be prevented the way that digital video reliability problems can. Use this opportunity to point out the benefits of your service and maintenance agreements.

Make Sure Upgrades Make Sense to Customer and Their Pocketbook

In most business situations, there is an overriding concern that funds are spent appropriately, without purchasing more than is required for short-term needs.

While digital video is clearly the way of the future, our industry has often gotten to the future before our customers. Looking at customers’ requirements, it is important to make them understand where the available technologies fit into their application.

Work with them to capitalize on areas where digital provides tangible benefits, and provide an architecture that allows future upgrades to digital technology where it makes sense.

By guiding your customers through the digital selection and upgrading process, you may not be seeing every available dollar during the initial system sale. However, you will earn their respect and loyalty.

In the long run, that will reap greater financial rewards for all involved.

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