Regardless of market, the challenge of commoditisation is very real for manufacturers as companies producing lower-end products continue to imitate the most advanced technologies. This creates a perception among customers, and the marketplace in general, that even leading-edge products with greater features, functionality, and value are indistinguishable from others on the market. As a result of commoditisation, this inability to easily distinguish one product from another creates an environment where price often becomes the sole differentiating factor.

In the professional surveillance and security market, commoditisation has become more of an issue in recent years. This is especially true with surveillance cameras and other video security solutions. Global competition, outsourcing, and offshoring have combined to make product margins very slim, putting significant strain on manufacturers of higher-end solutions to recoup costs associated with technology innovation. This often makes it difficult for developers and manufacturers of leading edge technologies to compete with low-cost suppliers who have been flooding the video surveillance market with commoditised products.

Innovation as a differentiator

To retain (or re-establish) differentiation between brands and avoid falling into this commodity trap, security manufacturers must rely on innovation. If you don’t continually develop new technologies and solutions, you’ll eventually be competing on price alone. And with other global suppliers developing their cameras and recorders inexpensively, market prices generally drop to remain competitive, especially in bid situations. Lower prices mean lower profits which typically hampers innovation in commoditised product categories due to the financial resources and dedicated R&D efforts necessary to sustain product innovation. Long story short, companies that fail to recognise the importance of innovation may find themselves on life support as their margins become slimmer and slimmer while their market share continues to erode.

A popular mantra in business is ‘Innovate or Die’, which can be found posted on office walls everywhere. This is particularly true for security technology manufacturers. Any manufacturer who does not actively focus on innovation is accelerating towards tough times. These providers will be the first to feel the pressure that comes with commoditisation, and their pain points will be magnified. Innovation is not an end goal but an ongoing process that must be sustained, as each new development will itself eventually be incorporated—again at a lower cost—by commodity-level products.

Lower prices mean lower profits
which typically hampers innovation
in commoditised product categories
due to the financial resources and
dedicated R&D efforts necessary

Ongoing process

Innovation must be an ongoing, never-ending process as every innovation that gains traction in the market will attract the attention of competitors who will incorporate similar features and functionality into their products. Whether the innovation is cutting-edge or an incremental improvement to features and functions, in time, it will become commoditised. And in today’s market, the timeframe between innovation and commoditisation is shorter than ever and shrinking every day.

Once competitors have succeeded in copying innovative developments—or at least creating the perception of providing comparable functionality—manufacturers of cutting-edge products may find themselves once again in the unenviable position of competing on price alone. Unless, that is, they continue to innovate. Therefore, developing an innovative feature or function cannot be a one-off goal; it must instead be part of an overall long-term strategy to improve products and solutions to stay at least ahead of the marketplace—and the commoditisation process.

The need for innovation has never been greater than it is at this moment. However, it’s not enough to simply innovate for the sake of innovation. Any and all product improvements and enhancements must be developed with the goal of better meeting customer needs and/or to provide upgrades to current capabilities that will meet or exceed new specifications and expectations in the industry. With this in mind, there are four main areas where innovative manufacturers’ products outshine commoditised cameras.

If you manufacture your own chip sets and develop your own firmware you are in control of the innovation process and development planning
Many manufacturers rely on third-party providers who specialise in particular components to provide the building blocks for their cameras

Owning the technology

At their most basic level, surveillance cameras, for example, are made up of the same basic components: lens, imager, processor, and so on. While the quality of these components and the advanced technology they enable will vary from one provider to another, they basically perform the same role as image capture devices. Such generalisations are not unique to video cameras and surveillance solutions, and are common in other product categories such as mobile phones, computers, cars and many others.

Standard interfaces and the development of useful and accepted guidelines and standards like ONVIF has made commoditisation even more of an issue. Many manufacturers rely on third-party providers who specialise in particular components to provide the building blocks for their cameras, which may seem like a good idea in the near term but can actually hinder innovation.

It’s simple. If you manufacture your own chip sets and develop your own firmware—as Hanwha does—you are in control of the innovation process and development planning, which yields established timeframes for these advancements. Conversely, if you source technology, your ability to innovate is restricted by other companies’ ability and willingness to create and release technology advancements, as well as their commitments to numerous other partners who may have priority. Unfortunately, many component manufacturers are content to offer the lowest price for their solutions, rather than increase costs by delivering improvements. Therefore, manufacturers who develop and own innovative technologies are in much better position to deliver superior products ahead of the curve.

Performance and price

Another reality of innovation is that increased performance and functionality comes with a higher price tag. In fact, this is often not the case when economies of scale are factored into pricing models where the cost of R&D and innovation are amortised across broad product lines with high manufacturing volumes. Even when this is the case, there are many ways to cut corners to reduce the cost of goods, which makes it difficult to compete on price alone for commoditised products. As a result, manufacturers need to educate security professionals on how new technologies deliver greater overall value, and often lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Manufacturers need to educate
security professionals on how
new technologies deliver
greater overall value, and often
lower Total Cost of Ownership

Advanced features and functions are important to every security product and solution, but these aren’t the end-all. Instead, security manufacturers of higher end products continue to shift the focus from features and functions to systems integration, scalability, and versatility. As the applications for video surveillance continue to transcend traditional security applications and migrate to business intelligence, manufacturers will continue to strive to deliver the right balance of price and performance.

Quality and reliability

In the professional security industry, good-enough just doesn’t cut it when reliability and product integrity are compromised. Commoditised products rarely, if ever, offer the levels of quality and reliability of the innovative products they’re copying. In nearly every case, these products tend to be based on previous generations of technology rather than the latest, most innovative versions, making them significantly inferior on several levels.

Quality and reliability are the hallmarks of strong security. Recognising their ability to compete and succeed based on price-driven products alone, lower-end manufacturers tend to focus their strategy on sales volume. This may make their products more attractive to buyers today, but it’s a short-sighted approach that can compromise security—which contradicts the main objective of every security and surveillance solution. Security manufacturers who continue to invest in new and improved technologies and products provide the highest level of protection for people, places and assets.

Innovative manufacturers build strong security and encryption into their products and continue to release new or updated firmware versions
Without proper cyber security measures, networked surveillance cameras are vulnerable to hackers

Cyber security

Another key area where commoditised products often trail innovative solutions is in the all to critical area of cyber security. Many of the most high-profile cyber-attacks, such as the Target data breach and the recent DDoS attacks that took many of the most well-known websites offline for a period of time, were made possible by internet-connected devices. In the case of Target, hackers gained access to the corporate network and were able to acquire customer financial and other information through software used by a third-party HVAC contractor’s system. In the DDoS attack, hackers were able to turn web cameras for the most part into “bots,” which were used to send the large numbers of requests needed to flood a site’s server and bring it down. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A greater number and variety of devices—beyond traditional computers, smartphones and tablets—are networked today. The phenomenon known as the Internet of Things (IoT) has us networking everything from more high-tech products like surveillance cameras and data networks to thermostats, refrigerators, and light bulbs. Because far too many of these devices have their own IP addresses that can be hacked over the Internet, each represents a potential vulnerability that hackers could use as a doorway to gain access to overall networks.

Innovative manufacturers build
strong security and encryption
into their products and continue
to release new or updated
firmware versions to ensure
cameras are protected

Without proper cyber security measures, networked surveillance cameras also fall into this category of vulnerabilities. Innovative manufacturers build strong security and encryption into their products and continue to release new or updated firmware versions to ensure cameras are protected from emerging threats and vulnerabilities. Reputable manufacturers are also entrusted not to incorporate back-doors into their devices by enabling IP addresses to be easily customised by partnered installers.

Those providers whose focus is on delivering lower-cost commoditised products open potential back doors for hackers to exploit. Considering the potential damage a network breach could cause, from disruption of operations to theft of sensitive assets like customer or financial data, these lower-priced products could end up being very, very expensive in the future.

Staying ahead

Well-known management consultant Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying, “In a commodity market, you can only be as good as your dumbest competitor.” With apologies to Mr. Drucker, who has made significant contributions to shaping the way numerous corporations do business, this axiom doesn’t necessarily apply to professional security products and technologies. Innovation is the key to staying ahead of the lower-cost commodity products that are flooding the professional security market. Those manufacturers who invest in ongoing R&D and manufacturing are committed to innovation and the long-term needs of their customers. There’s no doubt that commoditisation has its benefits, but the safety and security of people, property, and assets requires far more analysis and consideration than price alone.

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Thermal cameras and smart cities: Preventing COVID-19 in public places
Thermal cameras and smart cities: Preventing COVID-19 in public places

With the pandemic still in full swing and no certainty as to when exactly it will come to an end, the world has been battling anxiety for months now. And with each day, circumstances change quickly and almost make it impossible to predict what will happen next, how events will unfold, and what actions to take in light of a new situation. But one thing is certain: the world has been shut down and paralysed for way too long, and the eventual reopening is unavoidable – in fact, it’s well under way. In this situation, what is possible to control is how the world will continue reopening – and specifically, how to ensure the safest possible reopening that will ensure the return of some degree of normalcy to people’s lives and business operations, while also managing the risk of COVID’s spread in the most efficient way. 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This “collaborative security” application includes a synthesis of smart video analytics, facial recognition, object identification/detection, and thermal cameras that can support the reopening of businesses globally when installed within those facilities frequented by customers. With such a level of sophistication that can ensure uninterrupted monitoring and analysis of large public spaces, these AI technologies can ideally operate best as cloud solutions to ensure a collaborative network with maximum scalability and widespread implementation. As these technologies increase in ubiquity and find their way into daily operations of businesses globally, the cost of the smart solutions will decrease proportionally to the growth of their reach. There are some highly specific ways to create this collaborative network of interconnected safety tools in the current climate. Here are some applications that have been successful to date and will increase in usability in the foreseeable future, creating “smart cities” working together towards a safer, more secure world. Maintaining social distancing practices The most important step everyone around the world has taken to contribute to the effort of slowing the spread of the virus has been social distancing. A six-foot-distance has become a new social norm that has quickly been adopted globally and become a habit to people who are naturally used to being close to others and socialising without giving distance a second thought. The star of the past decade has been artificial intelligence So, it is natural that such distancing measures take time to get accustomed to – and it is also natural that individuals may forget about them from time to time. To help maintain the six-foot distance between people at all times and give them slight nudges to keep the rule top of their minds, AI video technology can be trained to estimate the distance between individuals in public and commercial areas and identify the cases in which people get too close to each other. By notifying local merchants or authorities about such cases, the system can help ensure the safety of everyone in the area at all times while positively reinforcing the public to gradually get more accustomed to maintaining the distance and thus helping stop the spread of the virus. Detecting the virus through facial recognition Perhaps the straightforward application of such high-level technology is using video surveillance to identify persons of interest who have tested positive for the virus. Modern AI has the ability to identify facial features and characteristics with a unique level of granularity, making it possible to identify individuals whose records show they have antibodies from those who can be potential carriers of the virus. After the initial differentiation and identification, the system can then notify the employers and employees of the facility about the results of the conducted analysis and the pursuant results, allowing them to be more vigilant and take action where necessary to ensure a safe experience for everyone. PPE reinforcement Wearing a mask or some sort of face coverage in public spaces and especially within facilities (such as stores, for instance) has been - and will continue to be - a requirement for maintaining a safe and healthy environment for people to continue with their day-to-day lives and businesses to resume regular operations. To this extent, the object detection and identification abilities of smart cameras can further reinforce this requirement and ensure that the absence of protective equipment doesn’t go unnoticed.  Essentially, these cameras can easily identify if an individual has coverage at any given point of time or not, notifying the local authorities about any risks immediately and helping them maintain necessary safety measures without having to interrupt their workflow or worry about missing a visitor without a mask. Detecting high temperature One of the key (and the most widespread) symptoms of COVID-19 is a high fever - a certain indicator of whether an individual may have been infected with the virus or not. While identifying fever with a regular human eye is nearly impossible, AI can do so at a fraction of time by quickly scanning body temperatures of any incoming individuals and determine whether it’s above CDC’s recommended temperature of 100.4F in order to determine the risk factor and notify the local authorities to take action. Modern AI has the ability to identify facial features and characteristics with a unique level of granularity This technology is a good tactic to objectively assess potential risks that come with elevated temperatures - and sometimes, the people themselves might not realise they might (unconsciously) be carriers of the virus and thus endanger the safety of others in their vicinity. The technology is yet another step towards ensuring a safer reopening of the global economy and a more streamlined way of getting back on track while minimising the risk of spreading the virus further. It’s not all about the theory  We have tested the described approaches in our own R&D campus in Europe. The latest release of the IREX cloud enables remote fever detection and monitoring of social isolation and mask policies with AI. We have integrated thermal cameras to detect people with elevated temperature and CCTV cameras for identification and notifying those who potentially ill. In case of any health threat, the venue manager gets an instant message with a picture and exact location. These preventive steps helped our employees return to the office months earlier than it's happening in other countries. Moreover, personnel coming back to the office by their own wish as now they feel a virus-free environment in the campus - even safer than in their own homes. Now we are launching a pilot project for a well-known pharmacy chain in Florida, USA. With the help of a Computer Vision platform, staff will be able to divide customer traffic into those with normal body temperature and those who come in with elevated temperatures, as well as effectively monitor social distance norms. The goal of our potential client is to maximise the safety of customers in the post-pandemic period. Also, IREX is already deployed across hundreds of locations in the UK and will add health monitoring capability soon.

Why cloud-enabled physical security must be part of your long-term digital strategy
Why cloud-enabled physical security must be part of your long-term digital strategy

COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown saw an unprecedented demand for cloud-enabled technologies across Europe. Such services enabled people to stay connected and allowed some businesses to relocate personnel and continue to operate successfully. With enterprise-focused video conferencing mobile app downloads showing a weekly 90% increase in comparison to pre-COVID-19 figures, it’s clear that cloud services have proven invaluable in these challenging times. Now, as the benefits to business of cloud technology become apparent, and the grip of COVID-19 begins to loosen, senior decision makers must consider the learnings from the past few months and look to apply them to boost productivity, streamline costs or become more agile in the long term. Digital transformation presents some enticing advantages for those companies that have been slow to adapt. The physical security industry, traditionally video surveillance cameras (CCTV) and access control, will have witnessed how cloud infrastructure is not only cost effective and safe, but is a force multiplier for connecting platforms, services and people with potent business benefits. The future is VSaaS and ACaaS In today’s modern, connected world, dated technologies are giving way to their cloud-enabled successors, video surveillance as-a-service (VSaaS) and access control as-a-service (ACaaS). In this context, cameras and readers are added to a network as IoT devices that bring security systems up to date and represent a vital component in any modern, cyber-secure digital strategy. Frictionless access control has meant touch free access to buildings But better security is just one benefit of a much greater system that can bring real value. Built in analytics, for example, that utilise the data from network video cameras and smart access control devices, produce valuable business insights that help to inform and automate decision making. In the recent pandemic, frictionless access control has meant touch free access to buildings; while occupancy tools have helped retailers adhere to strict government guidelines on social distancing. And as more security equipment becomes connected to the wider IT network, the advantages have not been lost on the IT industry that is expressing more than a passing interest in the adoption and management of such systems. Morphean recently conducted a survey of 1000 IT decision makers across the UK and Europe, with the purpose of providing clarity around their security purchasing intent in the 2020s. Findings revealed that as many as 84% of IT managers are currently using or considering VSaaS or ACaaS systems, pointing to an appreciation of the convergence of physical security and IT security, and a willingness to embrace systems when integrated with IT in the cloud. An adaptable business model with recurring revenues Of course, it is not just the IT industry that is changing mindsets towards hosted physical security. As a result of COVID-19, end customers are demanding it too and found it easier to scale at speed when business circumstances changed. Rather than being tied to fixed IT infrastructure on premises, a hosted solution offered greater dexterity as operational challenges around the pandemic arose. Businesses were able to customise and scale quickly to meet ongoing need without the need for large upfront capital investment, instead, paying for the convenience as-a-service out of operational expenditure as a monthly cost. 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Facial recognition: Contactless solutions for a safe, post-pandemic world
Facial recognition: Contactless solutions for a safe, post-pandemic world

Facial recognition technology has come a long way since it first came to market several years ago. Initially plagued with technical challenges and widely viewed as a futuristic solution, facial recognition is now firmly implanted in numerous consumer and business products and applications. New advancement in software, specifically in the areas of algorithms, neural networks and deep learning and/or artificial intelligence (AI), have all dramatically improved both the performance and accuracy of facial recognition, further expanding its use for an increasing number of applications. From a purely business perspective, facial recognition’s powerful identification and authentication capabilities make it ideal for two primary applications: first as a security tool, and second as a workforce management solution. The touchless, accurate credential solution Facial recognition readers meet the new emerging need to limit physical exposure to germs and viruses Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the touchless nature of facial recognition as an access credential was gaining traction with physical and cyber security professionals. By using an individual’s face as an access control credential, facial recognition eliminates the need and expense of physical cards and proximity devices, or the need to physically enter PIN codes. In addition, facial recognition readers meet the new emerging need to limit physical exposure to germs and viruses by offering a highly accurate touchless access control credentialing solution. As a workforce management tool, facial recognition helps preserve the health of employees checking into work, while providing management with an infallible means of documenting employee time and attendance while providing a detailed history of overall workforce activity and individual personnel tracking. Both of which have been longstanding challenges due to easily compromised time tracking systems and practices. Now, nothing is left to question based on hard data. With the growing popularity of facial recognition technology, there are many choices already available with more undoubtedly on the way. Selecting the right solution for your specific access control and/or workforce management application is dependent on a very wide range of variables. But there are a few core characteristics that you should look for when evaluating facial recognition readers. Wide and near-angle LEDs Most facial recognition terminals employ some form of IR (Infrared) technology to help ensure high visibility by the unit’s image sensor. This often limits where the unit can be installed such as outdoors or near windows due to strong ambient light. More advanced facial recognition readers employ as many as 80 wide-angle near infrared LEDs and 60 narrow-angle near infrared LEDs, allowing the unit to recognise faces even in full daylight and brightly lit environments (not direct sun). This enables installation at indoor locations near windows, lobbies and building entries. 3D pixel intensity distribution analysis Another facial recognition reader advancement to look for involves three-dimensional pixel intensity analysis. Ambient lighting contains ultraviolet rays which can negate near infrared LED lighting, and can also cast shadows making it difficult for a facial recognition reader to pinpoint the facial recognition points required for identification and authentication. Three-dimensional pixel intensity distribution analysis minimises the effects of ambient light when acquiring facial images by minimising lighting contrasts. As a result, it is easier for the algorithm to recognise the shape of the face, enabling it to extract more facial features and create higher quality face templates, which are critical for accurate facial recognition. Functional ergonomics This results in a faster, more comfortable, and convenient user experience The angle and position of a facial recognition reader directly impact the performance of the unit. Facial recognition readers with different viewing angles for built-in visual and infrared cameras allows users to stand at positions that are most suitable for facial recognition with little or no effort of contortions. This results in a faster, more comfortable, and convenient user experience. High performance processing Like any intelligent edge device, the performance of a facial recognition solution is directly reliant on its processing power. New advanced facial recognition readers deliver exceptional performance by employing enhanced face template extraction technology combined with powerful processor. For example, a facial recognition reader with a 1.4 GHz quad-core processor can perform up to 3,000 facial database matches (1:N) within one second. More advanced solutions also feature Group Matching functionality capable of executing up to 30,000 matches within one second. Live face detection It is most important that the facial recognition readers you evaluate are capable of analysing faces in real time to maintain fluid entry/egress even during high volumes of employee traffic. Hardware-dependent live face detection systems employing technologies such as facial thermogram recognition and facial vein recognition require expensive hardware components, provide less accurate matches and slower authentication performance, which is counterintuitive for mainstream access control and workforce management applications. Dual authentication for added security Although the use of an advanced facial recognition reader provides the convenience, health benefits and cost-savings of touchless identification and authentication, there are many applications where more than one credential may be necessary to ensure the highest levels of security. Advanced facial recognition readers with multimodal, multifactor credentialing capabilities provide this added security benefit. For example, facial recognition readers that support multiple RFID proximity devices supporting 125 kHz and 13.56 MHz provide varying degrees of protection and greater implementation versatility. Videophone or intercom capabilities Facial recognition readers with multifunctionality can solve several challenges with one solution Facial recognition readers with multifunctionality can solve several challenges with one solution. A perfect example includes devices with SIP (session initiation protocol) videophone capabilities which effectively eliminate the need and associated expense of  installing separate intercom devices while adding another layer of security to one’s facility. The COVID-19 pandemic, and hopefully soon to follow post-pandemic world, have surely accelerated the need for highly accurate, cost-efficient, and reliable facial recognition technologies to help get people back to work safely. Selecting the right facial recognition solution for your specific access control and/or workforce management is now more important than ever before, making a little extra due diligence during the evaluation process a smart decision.