When buying a security system, decisions often come down to the price tag of cameras, storage, and installation, yet taking this approach can leave the end user with major challenges ahead. Surveillance systems last anywhere from five to 20+ years, so condensing all cost considerations down to the initial expense fails to consider the bigger picture.

By: Ricardo Marranita, Product Growth Manager, Axis Communications; E-mail: ricardo.marranita@axis.com

The initial costs to purchase and set up a security system tend to account for just 30% of the total costs experienced during the lifetime of the system – also known as the total cost of ownership. Despite this, many end users may even make their decision based on the price of cameras alone. In effect, they are making their choice with just a 10-15% view of the total security system costs. The reality is that roughly 70% of expenses come after the system has been installed. Sadly, these can come as a nasty surprise for those end users who have not considered the indirect security system costs.

Taking some time to think about how the system will be used and the costs associated with that use can create significant savings in the long run. Initial choices – such as the type of device to deploy –impact future expenses, from power consumption to monitoring and maintenance. While we’ll focus on cameras specifically here, this principle applies to any device within a surveillance system. Considering the total cost of ownership will help you to identify the questions to ask as you make your decision on which new security system to purchase.

Look Beyond the Cameras’ Price Tag

Filtering is an important step in the purchase process: setting out your surveillance requirements and the available budget is key to narrowing down your choices. Unfortunately, too many initial conversations around requirements focus on the cameras alone, without considering the broader requirements of the system as a whole – from energy use to storage needs.

It might be tempting to focus the budget conversation on cameras, rather than where money will need to be spent to operate and maintain those cameras. Yet the security system will need to support your needs for the foreseeable future. It’s worth remembering that the costs to operate, monitor and maintain certain cameras often exceed the devices themselves and must therefore be weighed up before the purchase is made.

Forecasting Storage Costs

If you’re in the market for a new surveillance system, it’s very likely that you’ll need to consider how to store footage once recorded. On average, legislation requires potential evidence to be stored for a month. Yet in some regions or use cases, this is extended to 180 days – making storage a considerable factor in overall security system costs.

To avoid being caught out with significant server and electricity expenses after cameras are installed, it’s critical to consider the different storage costs associated with each camera model you’re considering. It can be a false economy to purchase cheaper cameras to cut down the initial outlay if they come with vast storage requirements, forcing you to spend more on servers and energy costs in the long run.

Equally, if you plan to reduce storage costs by shrinking the size of the video stored, you will need to carefully choose the right devices to ensure that compressing the video doesn’t compromise evidence quality by pixelating or blurring images to the point that it’s no longer possible to identify a suspect. Ending up with poor-quality footage that cannot act as useful evidence can defeat your objective of installing the security system in the first place. Some cameras come with sophisticated technology that can reserve all the important forensic detail you need while lowering bandwidth and storage requirements, and therefore long-term costs. It’s worth checking any claims of high-quality footage with low storage requirements before you install the system to ensure it meets your expectations.

Each set of requirements is unique. For example, you may require high-quality images even in the dark. While some cameras might compensate for low light levels by increasing the gain and therefore, storage requirements and costs, other options use alternative light-optimizing technologies that do not have the same large-scale impact on storage costs. They might even help you to save your budget by removing the need for additional external lighting.

Anticipating All Indirect Costs

The type of device you choose will influence costs far beyond storage. To forecast the full security system cost, monitoring, maintenance, and electricity use must also be considered.

Once you crunch the numbers, the costs can start to build up quite quickly but crucially, the devices you choose will have a knock-on impact on the extent of these figures. Opting for more economical cameras and devices at the start can result in staggering indirect costs. By contrast, choosing higher-quality cameras and devices at the outset can enable you to cut those indirect security system costs in the long term, introducing savings that you can use to reinvest in and grow your business faster.

As one example, owners of surveillance systems installed in tough environmental conditions, such as a maritime port or chemical plant, may face significant maintenance bills to clean salt water and dust off cameras. By upgrading to more sophisticated cameras that offer remote cleaning functions, or have been designed with self-cleaning materials and components, such as a hydrophilic dome, they can reduce the maintenance – and therefore costs – required.

Turning a Purchase Into an Investment

By considering how your initial decision on which type of camera to buy can impact the chain of future costs, you can shift the purchasing decision into an investment. Achieving this can be as simple as asking yourself just a few questions.

The first concerns the features you want to get with the camera, as well as the need for storage space that getting such a camera entails. Another question concerns the projected costs of powering such a system in the long run. It is important to get a picture of the role of supporting technologies in the camera in the formation of total costs. Finally, it is worth looking at their share in general costs.

The question ‘How much does a security system cost?’ goes far beyond the initial purchase. Making the right choice for you based on the bigger picture can mean a slightly higher initial outlay, but it pays itself back in the long run.

In short, taking the time to ask the right questions at the outset – and finding partners who are open to answering those questions and helping you calculate the long-term costs – allows you to avoid any nasty surprises in future electricity, storage, operational, or maintenance costs. Importantly, it will also ensure that you end up with the security system that is right for your specific requirements.

Five Steps to Optimize Your Investment

Deciding which security system to purchase demands careful consideration. After all, security systems can last for five years or more, so weighing up all relevant factors at the start can lead to significant cost savings and an improved return on your investment (ROI) in the long run. While it may feel daunting, there are five straightforward steps you can follow to ensure you are making the most of your investment. Following these steps enables you to decide on the right security system for your organization, while also optimizing your investment.

Choose the Camera According to the Value It Adds

It may seem obvious but as an initial step, ask yourself “Why are you buying cameras?” Device price and features are important considerations, but it’s vital to understand what your organization needs the cameras to do before you start to weigh up the value of the different functions on offer in each.

Clarity here is vital to figuring out if the cameras on your shortlist will perform in the way you need or provide the evidence you require. For example, are you installing a security system to protect profits in a retail environment by tackling theft and fraud? Are you aiming to optimize production and avoid downtime in a factory? Or are you looking to ensure the safety and security of your employees and passengers in a public transport setting?

There are many different ways in which security systems can be deployed to help your organization – from improving security to creating business value. Narrowing down why exactly you are purchasing the system is a key first step to ensuring you are set up to optimize your investment.

Calculate How the Device Influences the Rest of the System

Next, you will need to figure out how your camera choice affects the rest of the system. Storage is an obvious factor in this calculation. More inexpensive cameras may seem appealing but if their compression technology is limited to reducing bitrate to lower bandwidth and storage requirements, that saving comes at the cost of quality footage – jeopardizing the very reason you’re installing the system in the first place. On the other hand, more sophisticated cameras may have a higher initial cost but come equipped with intelligent algorithms that preserve relevant forensic information in full resolution and at a full frame rate while requiring a lot less storage space. As a result, you can recoup the initial price through lower storage costs in the years to come.

Yet storage requirements and costs are only one piece of the calculation to consider at this point. What about ease of installation? Or how fast it will be to configure the devices and add everything to your system?

It’s also worth thinking about what accessories you will require to ensure the security system meets your objectives if you choose certain camera models. For example, if the cameras you have chosen require extra accessories to mount, this will have a knock-on impact on installation – making it slower and more costly than initially predicted. If you realize this on the day of installation, there is a significant risk of delays to the whole project. To optimize a security system investment, the full picture of all costs – not just the devices themselves – is important.

Estimate the Cost of Using and Running the System

It’s also important to ask, ‘What happens once the system is up and running?’ This step is often overlooked: some may accept the system’s operational costs as the natural cost of doing business, while others may not put too much thought into it if it ends up under another department’s budget. Yet spending some time to think about the costs required to keep the system up and running is important for all decision-makers involved in purchasing a security system: it’s where the bigger losses creep in. While it might not affect you or your department directly, it impacts your organization. And if your company loses money through the system’s high running costs, it could eventually impact your budget too.

This means that it is worth thinking about the electricity usage, required maintenance and the costs of monitoring the system. But how can the different cameras in your shortlist affect these costs? You can assess this by writing down a few key questions.

First, you need to consider how much power your cameras use and how this might affect your electricity bill? On a related note, how much storage do you need for specific cameras and how does that affect your electricity costs in the long run? Finally, you need to know if the cameras offer any smart functionality to reduce the overall cost. For example, do they offer superior analytics performance such as deep learning and edge analytics, reducing false alarms and speeding up forensic search to reduce operational costs? The devices you choose will ultimately impact all the costs to come throughout the security system’s lifecycle.

Predict the Impact the System Will Have on the Business

Once you have mapped out the bigger picture cost implications for the cameras on your shortlist, consider the end result: how will the system help your business? Will it drive greater efficiency, reduce theft, improve the service you provide to customers, and improve employee retention by creating a safer workplace?

Ultimately, the correct security system for your organization can create business value, which translates to improving the bottom line. It’s important to quantify how the security system will impact your business so you can weigh those benefits up against the total costs when making your decision.

Thinking this through often involves collaboration across departments, ensuring the bigger picture of the system’s impact on the business as a whole is considered. As an added benefit, cross-departmental cooperation also opens up the possibility of tapping into bigger budgets and getting additional buy-in on the surveillance system as well as the advantages it can bring to the business.

Make the Best Decision for Your Organization

This final step is about evaluating the information you have uncovered in the previous stages and factoring all of those insights into your final decision. As long as you are taking some new insight from this process, whether considering the value added of the device you are choosing or calculating its associated running costs, you are taking a step in the right direction – moving from purchasing a security system to making an investment that can reap better rewards for your organization.

Completing this exercise of working through the various scenarios attached to purchasing different security devices will set you up to optimize the system you buy to your company’s benefit. Rather than making a choice based on upfront cost, you are making a decision with the long-term view in mind and reducing the risk of unpleasant surprise costs cropping up in the years to come.

Working with the right partner to select the right system

Importantly, you don’t need to do this alone. The process of asking these questions helps you identify which partners are invested in your organization’s long-term success. It’s critical to find the right partner who will work through these scenarios with you to find the system that works in your best interest – both in terms of a total cost of ownership that works for you and a system that meets your requirements to drive long-term value.

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