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Grow Your Business Technology

Video Surveillance Systems: A Buyer's Guide

Video Surveillance Systems: A Buyer's Guide
Credit: Pixinoo/Shutterstock

When you pour so much time and money into a business, it is critical to make sure it is kept safe and secure.

Since most small businesses can't afford security guards patrolling their stores day and night, many invest in video surveillance systems to keep watch. Video surveillance systems are comprised of two main components: video cameras and recording devices.

The cameras monitor what is going on both inside and outside of a business, while the recording devices store all the video so business owners can watch footage either live or at a later time.

"A video surveillance system allows users to view and record live video footage from cameras located inside or outside of a business," said Luis Orbegoso, president of ADT's Small Business Unit.

Willem Ryan, a senior product manager for the surveillance system provider Avigilon, said the surveillance industry started off as an analog system. He said businesses would run their video over coaxial cable into a recording device, most likely a VCR. Ryan said that was known as closed-circuit television (CCTV) system.

However, the industry has come a long way since then. Ryan said most of today's systems are IP-based and use digital cameras that transmit their footage over Ethernet cables to either a digital video recorder (DVR) or network video recorder (NVR).

Ryan said more and more businesses are turning to video surveillance because of the value they place on their employees and customers.

"You want to provide them with a comfort that they are safe," Ryan told Business News Daily. "You want the assurance that the investment you made into your business is protected."

Orbegoso said past research has shown that video surveillance cameras definitely give the majority of burglars second thoughts about targeting businesses where they're located. He points to a study from the University of North Carolina that discovered 60 percent of convicted burglars said they consider the presence of cameras or other video equipment when selecting a target, while more than 40 percent said video surveillance cameras would be a factor in prompting them to choose another target. [14 Video Surveillance Systems for Small Businesses ]

Hank Monaco, vice president of marketing for video surveillance system provider Tyco Integrated Security, said in addition to the beefed-up security video surveillance systems provide, many businesses are also using them to improve their operations. The video cameras allow businesses to monitor their employees and how they're working as well as to get a better understanding of their customers.

"There are a variety of ways that businesses are beginning to leverage their investment in video and using it for much more business profitability than just standard security," Monaco said. "We more and more see progressive businesses using cameras for analytics and for helping improve their business operations."

The first key component when installing a video surveillance system is choosing the type of camera that will best suit the business's needs. While video surveillance cameras once provided grainy and nearly unusable footage, high definition and megapixel cameras have changed all that.

Ryan said businesses used to get extremely frustrated with the footage their cameras produced.

"Something would happen, they hopefully got it recorded and they would go back on their footage and it would be these grainy, less-than-detailed images," Ryan said. "They would look at these images and wouldn't be able to see any detail of a person's face or couldn't read a license plate."

Today's HD cameras now provide businesses with a crystal-clear view of everything it is recording.

"All of the sudden all of the details come out," Ryan said. "That means when you zoom in, after the fact or live, you can see the person's face or you can read the license plate."

Monaco said today's cameras are infinitely better than what was being offered 10 to 20 years ago. He said the size of the cameras, their resolution and ability to display a variety of viewpoints, including wide angles and narrow views, have all improved dramatically.

"Some of the advancements made in camera technology are just remarkable," Monaco said.

When choosing a camera, small businesses should really consider options that are commercial grade, Monaco said. Rather than buying cameras that are made for use in a home, which some businesses do, commercial-grade cameras will stand up to the wear and tear that they need to withstand, he said.

"If you are in an environment, whether it is a small restaurant or a small manufacturing facility, or any kind of an environment that is a commercial harsh environment, the housings and some of the robust cameras that are available are really something businesses should be on the lookout for," Monaco said.

Ryan said businesses should also factor in what the lighting is like outside of their building. If they will be used outside and at night, businesses want to find a camera with low-light and infrared capabilities, Ryan said.

For indoor cameras, appearance should also be taken into consideration, according to Ryan.

"You want cameras that fit the aesthetics of your business," Ryan said.

Editor’s Note: Considering a video surveillance system for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

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Once cameras are chosen, the next step is selecting where the video footage is going to be stored. Options include storing it on-site on a DVR or NVR, or storing it in the cloud.

With a DVR, cameras distribute their information straight to a recording device, Monaco said. He said an NVR takes that to the next level by distributing that footage not just to a recording device, but all throughout a business's network.

"That can be to a laptop in an office, or it can be to another location," Monaco said of an NVR. "It is a terrific way to start taking advantage of network environments."

Monaco said the main factors to consider when choosing a recording device include how much storage the small business will need and whether or not the business will want to store it on-site.

"Do you want to store it on your network or do you want to store some of that information in the cloud, which is becoming more and more of benefit, particularly to small businesses," Monaco said.

Regardless of the recording option selected, businesses need to ensure it is secure from potential hackers, Orbegoso said.

"Whether video is stored in a cloud platform or streamed through a DVR, security is key when it comes to accessing live video feeds within a video surveillance system," Orbegoso said.

Keeping businesses safe and secure aren't the only benefits that come with video surveillance systems.

Besides keeping a watchful eye out for criminals, video surveillance systems also provide small businesses with an abundance of insight into how their business is run.

From being able to monitor their equipment around the clock to keeping track of what their employees are up to, small businesses owners say they have found a wide range of uses for their video surveillance system, many of which go beyond security issues.

"I think it is so important that people use this as a tool for their business," Ryan said.

To showcase the different ways video surveillance systems are being used today, small business owners outlined nine of the biggest benefits they are getting out of their systems.

Security

Anja Smith, CEO of Sabai Technology, said that, above all, their video surveillance system provides them with the security needed to keep their business protected at all times.

"We use video surveillance because we have inventory to protect," Smith told Business News Daily. "If we were to have a break-in or internal shrink issues, our video
surveillance provides a record and evidence."



Watch over employees

Video surveillance systems also provide businesses with the capability to watch over their own employees, said Rich Kahn, CEO of eZanga.com, a search engine and online advertising firm.

"We have cameras set up throughout the office, and have used them in the past to catch employees leaving early, or being where they were not supposed to be," Khan said.

Overnight deliveries

Annette White, co-owner of the northern California Italian restaurant Sugo Trattoria, said one key benefit to having a video surveillance system is that she can let her suppliers make deliveries when she's not there without fear that something might get stolen or damaged.

"The system has allowed me to feel
comfortable giving a key to and allowing regular distributors to do their
drop-offs in the middle of the night," White said.

Brainstorming

Bryan Phelps, founder of the digital marketing and creative
agency Big Leap, said one use of their video surveillance system that they hadn't anticipated was being able to
replay some of their brainstorming sessions and pull out ideas that didn't
make it onto the whiteboard or in a summary email.

"It's helped us make sure
no details were forgotten," Phelps said.

Monitor equipment

One big advantage IT solutions firm Camino Information Services gets from its video surveillance system is that it allows the company to monitor its equipment at all hours of the day, said Sarah McMullin, a project coordinator and customer development
specialist.

"Our company deals in IT solutions and as such our equipment cannot go
offline without causing disruptions to our clients," McMullin said. "It gives us peace of mind and allows us to quickly
check servers from wherever we are and assure clients that we are up and
running."

Staffing levels

Keith Miller, co-owner of the Minneapolis area dog wash business Bubbly Paws, said the video surveillance system allows him to monitor staffing levels at each of their three locations and make immediate changes when needed.

"We can watch real time to make sure our staffing is correct during busy times," Miller said. "It also lets me know if I need to run in and help because it is super-busy."

Employee safety

One benefit to video surveillance, especially with outdoor cameras, is that it reassures employees that when they need to work outside the business that they are still safe, said Jamie Thomas, executive director of the Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, in Redmond, Washington.

"We want to have that available for their added peace of mind, and as a deterrent to anyone thinking of something unscrupulous," Thomas said of the video surveillance.

Added company insight

Dale Lemons, owner of the communications services firm PhoneWave, said the video provided valuable insight into how the business operates that goes far beyond just ensuring protection from criminal activity.

"Beyond security, [our video surveillance systems] provide real-time business intelligence," Lemons said. "Everything from tracking the peaks and valleys in customer traffic, optimizing staff schedules and maintaining consistent franchise-branding standards to helping employees hone their customer service skills and build repeat business."

Fraudulent sales

Gillian Fealy, owner of the Chicago-based triathlon store Live Grit, said the store was able to put its video surveillance system to good use just three months after opening when it was  realized, after the fact, that a customer had paid for equipment using a counterfeit $100 bill. Fealy said that, using the video, they were able to pinpoint the exact time the transaction occurred to determine who the offender was.

"The Live Grit team was also able to use the video to train staff on things to look for during sale transactions to mitigate loss or theft in the future," Fealy said.

While video surveillance systems can provide small business with a wide range of benefits, it is important that the business consider all the legalities before installing them.

While there are no federal laws strictly prohibiting the use of video surveillance systems, there are some limitations to how they can be used, especially when a business's employees are being recorded, according to Ann Margaret Pointer, a partner with the labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP.

The first rule all businesses should be aware of is to make sure employees aren't being recorded in areas where privacy is expected.

"Employers would need to be careful not to make even photographic recordings in areas in which employees would expect privacy such as restrooms, locker changing rooms and the like," Pointer said.

Pointer noted that businesses that have unions and are subject to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) have to be extremely careful when using video surveillance systems. Under Section 7 of the NLRA, employers cannot monitor any union meetings or gatherings. So, in those situations it is critical that business owners turn the cameras off.

"This could reasonably be perceived by them as 'chilling' or interfering with their rights to unionize or engage in what are called 'concerted protected activities' under that law," Pointer said.

In addition to the federal limitations, numerous states also place limits on when employers can and cannot use video surveillance systems in the workplace. Pointer advises businesses to check their state labor laws regarding video surveillance before installing a system.

"Increasingly, many states regulate the circumstances under which employers may engage in video surveillance of employees, even in connection with their work performance and the physical workplace," Pointer said.

Pointer also advises businesses to have employees sign a document that says video surveillance is being used on the premises.

"Requiring employees at least to acknowledge receipt of notice that the employer, in its discretion, will make photographic video recordings at the workplace, is a good idea so employees cannot claim they had an expectation of privacy."

Since the laws can vary by state and type of business on when employers can use video surveillance to monitor employees, Pointer also advises businesses to work closely with their legal counsel when installing a system.

"The best way to make sure they are not breaking laws and potentially getting into situations in which they could be subject to punitive damages, as well as other adverse consequences, is by working regularly with labor and employment counsel who can guide them in connection with the requirements in particular jurisdictions and in connection with the use of particular technologies," Pointer said.

With such a wide variety of video surveillance systems and providers, it can often be difficult for small businesses to choose the equipment and a partner that are going solve all their needs. When searching for a system, there a number of factors business owners want to keep in mind.

Ryan said one key element is how easily the system can be expanded.  Since many businesses grow over time, businesses want a system that is scalable.

"It is important that the owners are considering how they are going to grow and can the system grow with me," Ryan said. "Can I [easily] connect these [systems], add more cameras and add more storage."

Another important feature business owners may want to look for is whether or not the system can be accessed remotely. Ryan said many systems today give business owners the ability to tap into their video feeds via their smartphones and tablets.

"Does the system provide mobile apps that allow you to connect your iOS or Android device directly to it," Ryan asked.

Business owners also want to look for a system that has some added intelligence capabilities, such as alert notifications, Ryan said. Some of today's systems can be programmed to send alerts for certain actions, such as when people approach a back door or customers walk into an important area of the store and a sales associate might be needed.

"You want to be alerted every time someone comes to that sensitive area," Ryan said.

Another tool some businesses may find helpful is an offsite monitoring service. Monaco said since many businesses can't afford to spend all their time monitoring their video feeds, some video surveillance system providers offer services where their own employees monitor the video to ensure nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

"We can check in at random times or periodic times on their business and then we will alert the owner if there is anything that they should be notified about," Monaco said. "Anything from somebody who shouldn't be where they are or anything that looks like it might be out of place."

Monaco said when choosing a video surveillance system provider, businesses want a partner that has experience working with businesses like theirs. This will ensure the provider has the breadth of knowledge to provide them with the equipment and services that will best fill their needs.

"I think first and foremost, businesses should be asking their provider about the businesses they protect that are like their own," Monaco said. "Someone that has really deep subject matter expertise."

Businesses will also benefit from a video surveillance system provider that offers a wide range of products and isn't tied into one specific brand of equipment.   

"Rather than being locked into a particular brand or manufacturer, you can ask your provider what your options are," Monaco said. "It might be options based on their budget, it might be options based on the functionality they are looking for, and it might be options based on where they want to be today and where they want to be tomorrow."

Costs should also be a consideration for businesses. Video surveillance systems have a pretty significant range in price. In general, businesses can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $3,000 for the equipment and its installation. In addition, depending on the services being provided, monthly charges may also apply.

Knowing that the cost of a video surveillance system can be an obstacle for some businesses, another factor to consider when choosing a provider is whether the provider offers flexible payment options, Monaco said.

"Whether that means paying a little upfront and more downstream or paying it all up front or whatever fits into your budget," Monaco said.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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