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Five common mistakes to avoid when implementing a CCTV solution

CCTV solutions have become an integral component of many security systems in South Africa, both in the home and in the office environment. If designed, implemented and installed correctly, these solutions deliver not only an added measure of security, but can also be used to keep an eye on operations and enhance operational productivity.
However, there are several common mistakes that organisations and individuals make when it comes to implementing such a solution. These mistakes can negate the benefits of CCTV and, in many instances, render an investment practically useless. Thankfully, they can be easily avoided, ensuring that CCTV users leverage the maximum out of their investment.

Mistake 1: The camera sees what the eye can see

The first mistake that is typically made when implementing CCTV solutions is to assume that a CCTV camera can see what the human eye can see. The fact is that cameras simply do not have the same flexibility and in-built intelligence as the human eye.

The human eye is capable of glancing around and, with the brain driving it, constructing an all-round view, whereas a camera has a fixed field of view and focus (with no brain behind it). It is also wise to bear in mind that a fixed camera can only focus on a single area. This means that if you require two areas to be in focus, you will need two fixed cameras. Pan-tilt-zoom cameras deliver some flexibility, but this needs to be controlled by an operator and is not automatic. It is still limited by the selected field of view.

Lighting is another issue to take into consideration. The human eye can automatically adjust to changing lighting conditions, but not all CCTV cameras have auto-iris capability. It is important to note that the ones that include this functionality have a higher price point than ones without. If the sun is likely to shine directly on the camera at any time of the day, it will effectively blind a non-adjusting camera and render any footage useless, thus making the additional investment in auto-iris capability cameras well worth it.

Mistake 2: DIY is as good as a professional installation

Inexpensive "do-it-yourself" (DIY) camera kits are widely available and can be easily purchased at retailers and online. Unfortunately, a common mistake is to assume that a DIY CCTV solution will deliver the same quality of solution as a professionally installed system. Off-the-shelf packaged products may look the same as a more expensive solution on offer, but the features and intelligent capabilities usually differ dramatically. Using a DIY solution may also mean that cameras are not placed correctly, will not give the correct view and may even deliver inferior quality footage. These products are often not supported by a local agent, which could result in minimal or non-existent after sales service. Another mistake, which is linked to this, is to use an unreliable installer who may also fail to install correctly or deliver after sales service.

The main challenge is that CCTV usually forms part of a security system, which needs to be up and running constantly if it is to have any effect. Poor quality products, unprofessional installations and lack of after-sales service, should something go wrong, will all compromise the integrity of the security system, which, in turn, diminishes the value of the investment.

Mistake 3: Multiple issues caused by poor installations

The above two mistakes can compound into a third mistake, where the footage recorded by the cameras is of such poor quality that it is practically useless. Poor camera placement, incorrect equipment, bad lighting conditions and the like can all compromise video quality. If the camera is pointing in the wrong direction, if it is not in focus, or if the picture is blurred for any other reason, this leads to low-quality recordings that do not deliver on the expected benefits.

Mistake 4: Buying on price rather than functionality

The adage "you get what you pay for" applies in a variety of scenarios, and CCTV is no different. When it comes to cameras it is critical to purchase the features and functionality you need, rather than simply opting for the cheapest solution, as all CCTV solutions are not created equal and a one-size-fits-all approach will typically lead to multiple problems.

Conversely, the functions of the camera must meet the needs of the home or business and, importantly, must be practical. This includes aspects such as remote monitoring. While many solutions are capable of streaming video for remote viewing, it always pays to check out how much bandwidth this requires and whether this requirement is feasible. For example, if a company wants to monitor vehicles remotely using CCTV, it needs to ensure that the cameras and DVR are capable of streaming in low-bandwidth scenarios, as 3G coverage is not available everywhere. The expense of bandwidth required for streaming also needs to be factored into the total cost of ownership of a CCTV solution. Users should also take care not to let technical jargon and technology confuse the issue here, as megabits and megabytes are often used interchangeably to refer to the amount of bandwidth required, but are, in fact, very different. One kilobyte is equal to eight kilobits; therefore if a CCTV camera streams video footage at four kilobytes per second, it sounds impressive. However, this is the equivalent of streaming at 32 kilobits per second.

Mistake 5: Not allocating a responsible person to review and monitor footage

The purpose of CCTV is to ensure that security remains tight and, if the solution is being used to improve operational performance, that employees are doing their jobs adequately. If nobody is responsible for viewing the recorded footage, this is practically impossible to achieve. A proactive approach to monitoring will also ensure that the system remains up and running as it should, in the event that footage is required as evidence or for any other purpose at a later stage.

Resolving the challenges

Resolution for the final mistake involves appointing a responsible person to monitor and review footage. The most effective way of preventing all of the other mistakes is to use a reputable, reliable supplier and installer for CCTV solutions. An established company with sound, demonstrable references will be able to conduct a proper site survey and make recommendations as to the correct type and placement of solutions depending on the specific needs of an individual or organisation. Such a provider will also ensure that after sales service is in place and that maintenance of the solution is available when necessary. Furthermore, a reliable supplier and installer will ensure that all solutions are fit for purpose and deliver as required. In order for CCTV to be an effective solution, finding the right balance of cost and functionality to meet your needs is necessary along with a reputable supplier and installer.

Selecting the right product that is optimally designed for the environment and having a professional install the solution is critical to ensure optimal security and productivity management, as well as achieving a return on investment (ROI). If this is not approached correctly from the outset, purchasing a CCTV camera or solution can prove to be an expensive mistake.

About the author

Mark Chertkow is the MD of Graphic Image Technologies.