• Starchild

So, What is a CCTV Management System

Security cameras are used just about everywhere from Shopping Centres and around your home, to more interestingly Prisons, Casinos and even City Centres. They are usually being recorded 24/7 for review later on after a security breach has already occurred. Although they can provide valuable evidence to help solve a crime (after the fact), they generally do little to prevent crime occurring nor do they provide a safer environment for people to work and live. As I am a sceptic, I feel many camera systems are installed these days to satisfy an Insurance requirement or maybe to offset a legal responsibility, such as for “Work Safe”.

In the 1980’s, my business partners and I began our 3 person business providing cheap security camera repair and camera system maintenance for the companies we each had previously worked for. That’s where we had our contacts so we could get a little work. We quickly realised that many of the security problems (and reliability issues) our clients were facing were primarily due to either the wrong equipment being installed for the environment, or the stuff was just poorly installed.

We even designed some of our own electronic products;

  • Motorised remote controlled video cameras for tracking stage performers, such as live bands, with a joystick.

  • Small video switchers for queuing video music clips (from VCRs) and presenting the video music clips via large video projection screens at pubs and clubs.

  • I even re-wrote the EPROMs in a Commodore VIC-20 and added a battery-backed RAM expansion to perform a Video Library search and retrieval solution to assist the video DJ.

  • I designed an automated “Video Chaser” for switching several VCR video signals around dozens of video screen placed around the club floor, as entertainment. (switching was based on a user programmable pattern and the detection of the music beats)

We never made more than one, two or three of anything. But what we were learning was how to apply electronics to solve specific problems for our clients. Always supplying a proprietary solution, not just what we could buy “off the shelf”.

After a little (3 year) diversion with a radio telemetry data product I had created and the subsequent formation of a public company around it, we eventually went back to our roots of small business and video security. I will talk about “our public company” exploit another day.

Now a business consisting of 4 people, we got our small business onto various tender lists and started talking to the consultants involved in medium to large commercial projects around Perth and WA. We cut our teeth - putting together our own tender bids. We quickly realised however; how much this environment was controlled by the equipment suppliers themselves. To survive, we needed to source our own cameras, lenses, pan/tilt mechanisms, monitors and video switchers in order to put together our own bid. Often, without even adding any margins for ourselves, we could not be competitive in the market. The suppliers had their preferred bidders which they supported through favourable pricing. I suppose this was to be expected as we were a small business with a limited prior project history.

We decided that to become competitive we needed to source equipment from other new suppliers/importers (from outside WA) instead of the usual established suppliers and their branded products. As the largest component in these projects was usually the video switcher itself, and due to the limited choice of brand, the pricing of these products was extremely high (most were from the USA). So, I said with my usual audacity “I can design and manufacture our own video switcher product”.

I didn’t want to copy any existing approach. I wanted to do it better and try to solve many of the problems I had experienced servicing other established products in the market.

I chose a modular design. Slide-in modular cards which slotted into 19” rack mounted open-front chassis’. Several of these racks could be mounted together to create video switching arrays of virtually any size. In fact, the racks could be placed in dispersed locations while still working together as a single system. The electronics needed to be low cost to manufacture. Standard video switching ICs were very expensive (upwards of $25 each) so I chose a generic analogue signal switching chip (about 20 cents). I included many other low-cost design choices to get our product “super cheap”.

I also decided I didn’t have enough time to develop all of the software required to control everything for the entire system. At least not yet. So, every 19” rack had its own microprocessor controller (another slide-in card) that obeyed simple switching commands and communicated back to a “PC computer”. No hard drive to fail here, it was floppy disk based with auto-reboot on power-on. I here you say “yeah”, “so what”. But in its day, this was the “first time” (in the world) a security video switching system was controlled by a PC computer. It ran my own Borland-Pascal application that could be simply updated as new enhanced versions were developed. A replacement floppy disk could be sent out to site, or a backup floppy kept on-site. Why a floppy and not a hard-drive. Well, once the PC was booted the floppy doesn’t spin anymore, so less chance of media failures.

I must admit, I did not appreciate the significance of using a PC computer at that time, but it turned out to be the key to our world-wide business success.

As new slide-in cards were developed, like video text overlay, video/camera failure detection, hidden text insertion “video water-marking”, pan/tilt twisted-pair communications, infra-red control interface of video recorders, and probably the most significant of all was the idea I had to include alarm input cards and relay output cards, so the system could be automated and interact with the world around it. This led to our own programming language being developed. Now each client’s operational functionality could be tailored by the commissioning engineer at the time of installation, to allow the system to become the perfect solution for every project.

This is why we called it a “CCTV Management System” and not just another video switcher.

We tendered our first CCTV Management System for a new iron ore mining project near Paraburdoo, WA in 1989. We did not have any product yet. Only ideas as to how it may look if we actually needed to make one. This audacity paid off. We won the job in October and demonstrated it working to the consultant just three months later. I admit there was a lot of “smoke and mirrors” as the PC software was only a dummy version for testing the hardware. But with rehearsal, we were very convincing that it all worked. As the system was not due to be installed for another six months it gave me the time necessary to develop a “real” working and debugged software application to support the hardware we had already supplied.

As we took more and more work away from the usual players in the security market in Perth and around Australia, we started being asked if they could become distributors for our CCTV Management System. Although many of these security companies were already using PC computers as part of their Security Access Control products, we quickly realised not everyone was capable of working with our product. The required support became draining on our time and resources.

We decided to employ professional trainers and ran our own in-house training school which distributors had to send their engineers to (from all over the world) in order to become CCTV Management System certified. We had various courses from sales orientation, system design, engineering work practices, to introductory and advanced programming courses. Without certified staff we refused to allow companies to distribute our CCTV Management System.

“What a great business strategy”. As we placed a high quality value on our product, everyone assumed it to be so.

Our CCTV Management System continued to evolve (hardware and software) as we were exposed to new applications and new foreign markets. Smart buildings, City Centre surveillance, Airports, High Security Prisons, Military, and finally Casinos.

We visited our local casino to find out how they did things. We quickly learned Casinos are not like any other security application. It is incredibly specialised with very skilled operators using the surveillance system to tackle the many types of casino fraud that can take place. Unfortunately, they said they had just ordered a large system upgrade from an American supplier. We invited them anyway, to a demonstration of our CCTV Management System. We tailored our demonstration based on what we had just learned, presenting some innovative functionality for solving their existing operational problems that they had discussed;

  • Logical Gaming Table selection (Blackjack-5, Roulette-8, etc) instead of the usual physical camera selection (CAM-624) and the impossible task of remembering which one is where!

  • A single PTZ-CALL button, provided automatic association of movable pan/tilt cameras with the current gaming table,

  • Automated video recorder management for continuous 24hour recording, standby, bypass and interactive control/playback/review for every camera (several hundred VCRs).

  • Multiple concurrent operator consoles with audit trails of their activities and VCR interaction.

The local casino quickly cancelled their order with the American supplier and they soon became the first of our casino clients.

We grew rapidly, opening offices in the UK, Singapore, Sydney and finally in Las Vegas, Nevada. We presented our Company and Products at Security Trade Shows like IFSEC at Birmingham UK and the Gaming Show in Las Vegas.

There were many stresses associated with the rapid growth; finding good staff, financial management, intellectual patent registrations and the scaling up our manufacturing. It was always a constant juggle of time and money.

We formed many alliances with complimentary companies for such products as;

  • Open-Air RF-field proximity detection fencing systems (from Texas),

  • Optic fibre mod/de-mod video and data equipment (Norway),

  • General CCTV suppliers of cameras/lenses/monitors/VCRs/PTZs (Asia, Europe),

  • Optic fibre cable, coaxial cable and electrical cabling (Australia),

  • Explosion proof camera housings and Inert gas filled pressurised camera housings

  • Video freeze-frames storage and Video printers,

  • Concrete power poles re-purposed as 10M camera towers,

  • Exterior flood lighting, lightning arrestor solutions and it goes on.

It didn’t take long before we attracted the attention of the American competition. It was the 1990’s what can I say. We accepted an offer and sold our business.

The purchaser was a small, growing NASDAQ listed company (at least small in American terms) and they continued to acquire many other small security companies like ourselves all over the world; South Africa, Italy, France, Germany. They themselves were finally purchased a few years later by a much larger American Security Company.

We all knew that analogue video switching was going to be replaced with digital cameras. As we can now see everything is network streamed security cameras to a NAT array of hard drives forming a networked recording system. Everything security now uses networking and computer technologies.

We all knew that analogue video switching was going to be replaced with digital cameras. As we can now see everything is network streamed security cameras to a NAT array of hard drives forming a networked recording system. Everything security now uses networking and computer technologies.

Not bad in this changing world. Not bad for a small business out of Perth.

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