By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine.
VARs can boost education line cards with networked video surveillance offerings.
IP video solutions are receiving increased attention from IT VARs looking to expand their line cards. For resellers and integrators with experience in the education vertical (both K-12 and university-level), the lower cost of IP video equipment and ease of integration present an opportunity to help education clients leverage their existing networks to either upgrade from analog surveillance systems or to deploy a video system for the first time.
Additional functionality enabled by network-based security solutions is also helping make the business case for these solutions in education settings, too. “The increasing media attention given to the need for more security measures on campuses, and the evolving adjacent uses of IP cameras for non-traditional applications — like people or car counting for staffing or parking operations, for instance — in addition to security and loss prevention uses are providing solid cost justifications and improved ROI in shrinking operational budgets,” says Vince Ricco, business development manager, technology partner program, at Axis Communications.
IP and digital video solutions provide improved image quality, thermal detection capabilities, and the opportunity to leverage analytics and business intelligence to turn visual data into actionable information that can not only guide security decisions but also help manage other types of applications like parking lot access. Although many institutions do not allow cameras in the classroom, those that do could potentially use them to link the video to a teacher’s “duress button” that could allow the main office to respond quickly to in-class emergencies or incidents.
“IP video provides many advantages; the higher resolutions provide greater detail with advanced image signal processing, providing clearer images under all lighting conditions, with wide dynamic range being critical for entrances and window areas,” says Bob Germain, senior product leader, Hikvision USA. “Coverage can be increased using 360-degree cameras for hallway intersections. Video verification of visitors is a basic function. Also, remote access for first responders is essential and can be provided through wireless or cellular networks.”
That idea of external access to the video feed can be important for both emergency and non-emergency scenarios. In emergency situations, police or fire departments can view the camera images prior to entering a facility. Administrators could also potentially view the visual data from home or from a smart phone.
“Both of [those scenarios] will allow fast access into a school remotely,” says John Centofanti, director of sales engineering at Pelco (by Schneider Electric). “Also, megapixel IP cameras can help with facial recognition, allowing the video surveillance system to become more proactive than reactive.”
In addition to safety and security, application-based analytics can provide intelligence via license plate recognition, heat mapping, and location dwell times. The video data can also be integrated with emergency call boxes or a dormitory access control system that would allow the video to help manage alerts and streamline security resources.
Forward-thinking districts could expand their use even more. “While generally used for security, and while cameras may not be generally deployed in classrooms, they could also be used for administrative monitoring or for remote learning applications in some organizations,” Germain says.
IT Owns The Network
School districts and colleges operate on a different management model than private businesses, so it may be challenging to identify the best initial contact. Security solutions may be under the control of school administrators, the building management team, or the IT department, depending on how the organization is structured.
For larger campuses or K-12 districts, there may be a safety and security department. “At a minimum, this safety and security department will be making decisions on cameras, video management software (VMS) platforms, and the use of policies and procedures associated with this solution,” Ricco says. “They may or may not rely on their IT departments to make network and server recommendations, or even procurement decisions.”
Mid- to large-sized campuses may delegate these solutions to the facilities management department, possibly with some involvement from IT. The more common model in K-12 and at smaller universities is that the IT department makes the key decisions for both networking and security.
“In any of these models, the one clear thing is that the IT department owns the network and will certainly have influence over the buying decisions,” Ricco says. “VARs should leverage their existing relationships here.”
Sales cycles in this vertical tend to be long, due to issues around power placement, component selection, and collaboration requirements with local emergency services, as well as concerns that could be raised by school boards, administrators, parents, or teachers’ unions. Purchasing and installation also tend to follow the school year calendar. “Purchases for this vertical tend to start in the late spring, so the installations can be completed over summer break,” Centofanti says. “It usually runs through the summer and ends late August, lasting about four months.”
Education For VARs
For networking VARs that are just entering the video surveillance market, there are plenty of opportunities to quickly get employees up to speed, thanks to programs established by the equipment and software vendors. "There is a unique resource dedication being supplied by manufacturers and distribution partners to help VARs enter into this market with high competence," Ricco says. "Primers, training, and system certification classes are available in local classroom settings and online. Customized training programs from manufacturer partners should also be an option for VARs, but only if they know to ask for it."
VARs should find out about local and regional licensing and certification requirements for security solution installers. Outdoor camera installations may require lifts, ladders, or other specialized tools. Also, ask vendor partners for recommendations on low-voltage or cabling contractors who can assist with these installations, where appropriate.
"It is necessary to know the rules and regulations of the institutions you are working with," Centofanti says. "For instance, many school districts do not allow cameras in the classroom, and often it is necessary to check with teachers' unions or school districts."
Another area that can't be overlooked is understanding procurement contract eligibility and funding sources. For instance, the Universal Service Fund's E-Rate schools and libraries program provides funding for networking infrastructure, but not IP cameras. Some products and services can be added to a VAR's existing state, local, and federal purchasing contracts, depending on the source, however.
There are also some potential integration obstacles that new IP surveillance VARs should be aware of. "One challenge could be that the school district may want its access control system integrated with the video system," Centofanti says. "Other challenges could be limited budgets, limited bandwidth on the school's network, and limited understanding of the technology by the school administrators. Also, since schools are public bids, the margins on these projects tend to be thinner than negotiated work."
If a VAR decides to proceed into the market, it has to make the investment in education and training to make sure it is providing a quality offering. "The return will be a higher margin and repeat business with an add-on revenue stream," Ricco says. "Take advantage of the tools readily available from the supply channel. Don't be shy; leverage the knowledge base and strong partnerships of the established manufacturers of digital security systems. Since IT VARs understand IP networking, they already know 90% of what's needed to install an IP surveillance system. The manufacturers and distribution partners can easily teach the final 10%, which includes security best practices. This goes back to the importance of selecting the right camera manufacturer that is dedicated in network video."