Q&A: Iain Cameron, Mirasys

Finland-based Mirasys develops and supplies the software that helps organisations manage the information captured by digital video and CCTV cameras. It was founded in 1997 and remains privately owned. Mirasys software controls over 300,000 video surveillance cameras across the world. It employs 50 members of staff, based in offices in Finland, Germany, Spain and the UK. It also has a network of sales partners across the rest of Europe, and in North America and Asia. BCW spoke to the company’s MD, Iain Cameron, to find out a little more about the digital video market.

What does Mirasys do and what is your role within the company?

Mirasys is one of the world’s leading providers of open platform digital CCTV and video surveillance solutions. Headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, with offices across the world, Mirasys provides innovative security solutions to small, medium and large enterprises across the globe. Mirasys flagship products, NVR Pro and NVR Enterprise, protect banks, retail outlets, schools, cultural and heritage sites and government facilities. More recently, Mirasys has expanded its product range to incorporate innovative mobile surveillance applications designed for use with the iPhone or iPad. I have been the managing director of the UK office since 2009, and have 20 years of experience working with technology.

What have been the major issues to do with CCTV in 2010? How are these likely to develop in the coming year?

The most polemic debates within the CCTV industry have stemmed from two primary areas: The first concerns the technological advances that CCTV technology is undergoing, and the second centers on the ethical ramifications that privacy concerns bring up. Technologically, CCTV has gone through huge developments since the first camera and surveillance solutions emerged half a century ago in the 1960s, and the transition that CCTV surveillance technology is making from its analogue roots to a digital internet protocol (IP) function has been a major consideration for businesses looking to implement new surveillance systems.

The ethical issues that surround the surveillance and CCTV industry have also been particularly prevalent in 2010, with particular concerns being raised about inappropriate use of CCTV cameras in Birmingham where cameras were installed under the premise that they would reduce crime, whereas in truth, the cameras had been installed for anti-terrorism purposes, earning an industry reference as the “Terror Camera” incident.

Privacy issues and the efficacy of CCTV, particularly when substandard installations have prevented CCTV images from being used to solve crimes, have also been under the spotlight. These concerns will never be fully out of the public eye, but as CCTV technology becomes more advanced, and more guidelines such as the recently ratified Protection of Freedoms Bill are put in place to ensure that CCTV systems are being installed and used in the best possible way to protect privacy, the image of CCTV as being part of the “surveillance state” may gradually be dispelled.

What are the differences between analogue and IP CCTV? What types of businesses could benefit from each?

Whilst the main differences between analogue and IP reside in the transmission method, other differences extend further than this, and individual businesses should consider their own existing infrastructures and requirements before deciding on which option is best for them.

Analogue solutions offer less flexibility and scalability, requiring a direct cable connection to the recording system and power source as well as alternative transmission methods. Analogue cameras generally provide lower quality resolution. However, they also typically require less maintenance than more advanced systems, and for businesses that require more images per minute (higher frame rate), but at a lower quality, analogue systems are appealing.

IP cameras, on the other hand, can connect to the recording system remotely by plugging in to the nearest local network switch, meaning that additional cameras are easily added and disparate sites can be covered and existing infrastructure used. The ability to transmit data over a wireless network further facilitates remote monitoring. In terms of actual surveillance footage quality, IP generally also offers a more efficient and flexible style of camera, providing improved image quality and advanced monitoring features such as range of video analytic solutions.

Hybrid platforms, which support both analogue and IP cameras, can be an excellent compromise for businesses which may have an existing analogue system but who want to move the higher levels of functionality offered by IP. Hybrid solutions allow easy migrations from the older, analogue systems to the digital age. Analogue systems can be augmented with high-resolution IP cameras in places where this would be of particular benefit.

Greater differences than those between analogue and IP, however, reside in the recording method: embedded Digital Video Recorders (DVR) provides only low performance functionality. PC-based recording systems, however, provide high functionality, high flexibility and easy expansion.

These PC-based systems work easily with Windows Operating System, making them easily maintainable and highly usable, with simple and straightforward user interfaces, most likely able to fit in easily with existing and third-party systems, and easily scaled up or down according to requirements. PC-based systems tend to provide their own support, and can be syndicated for use with any number of client devices, such as browsers and even smartphones, making them an ideal recording solution for any business.

What are key considerations that organisations should take into account when choosing a CCTV platform?

An important consideration for any business is the evaluation of existing infrastructure. In order to make to move towards IP cameras, businesses must first ensure that their existing CCTV monitoring devices, the DVR or NVR (Networked Video Recorders), can support this type of system. This is another prime reason why installing open platform and scalable solutions in the first instance is advisable. Additional infrastructure considerations include ensuring that IT systems are up to the job, particularly networking and storage, to be able to support the image data created by an IP system.

This aside, different businesses all have different objectives when it comes to their security installations. For example, growing businesses often prize scalability requirements as a key consideration in order to make installations future-proof. For those that have forensic requirements, higher resolution cameras and more sophisticated analytics platforms will be key. In addition, the size and scope of the site to be monitored will have a large impact on the nature of the CCTV installation. Requirements will differ between large, disparate sites, or small and compact locations. Working with a good installer should assist companies with identifying these requirements and then choosing the right CCTV solution for their specific needs.

Who within an organisation should be involved in implementation of a security solution?

The advent of technological innovations such as IP, HD and video analytics such as object classification, dwell time and advanced number plate recognition (ANPR) can dramatically improve the quality of CCTV data, however, they also add a layer of complexity which means evolving infrastructural requirements that do not necessarily solely fall under the remit of the security manager.

For example, the additional bandwidth demands that come hand-in-hand with IP technologies mean that CCTV is increasingly becoming an issue for the IT department. Recording resolution, compression and increased frame rate will all impact the amount of storage required, and indeed the bandwidth required to get it there.

Businesses therefore need to consider both the security demands in conjunction with IT capabilities such as the levels of storage available. By using a PC based system, it is possible to “piggy-back” on existing internal IT support in order to maintain the servers that provide the CCTV data. These considerations should be decided by both the security and IT teams at the outset, ensuring that requirements of both departments are addressed.

Of course, this process will vary widely between large enterprises and small businesses. Small businesses may not have the internal physical or personnel resources to dedicate to these tasks and in this situation it is particularly essential to choose an installer who will give small businesses the support, guidance and maintenance that is required. More and more, the IT and CCTV realms will merge. As this develops, IT staff will need to get a better understanding of the incumbent security technology in order to make appropriate use of these installations.

How can businesses best make use of their CCTV security systems?

In order for businesses to get the most out of their CCTV installations, they must ensure that they sufficiently evaluate all of their requirements, both strategic and environmental, to ensure the most appropriate installation. On a practical level, implementing a highly scalable standards-based CCTV platform which can monitor IP, HD and analogue cameras from multiple vendors, while supporting any required analytics software, will ensure that the security system in place performs to the highest possible standard. Integrating databases, alarms, and even video-textual information will allow a business’ security systems to really perform at its best.

What are the biggest barriers to CCTV success?

Designing a CCTV installation around budget specifications rather than security requirements runs the risk of implementing an inappropriate installation which will not provide image and video data at the quality required by the business. Unsuitable placement of cameras, inadequate equipment and failure to fully consider environmental changes such as lighting may all impact CCTV quality. In addition, failure to train staff in how to effectively utilise CCTV systems could result in a huge barrier to success. In addition, utilising proprietary, vendor specific platforms will impede a company’s ability to integrate more cameras or new software as the security requirements change, or as maintenance upgrades are required.

How can these challenges be avoided?

Effective planning and evaluation around the requirements of an implementation can help to avoid any major challenges. When all internal decision makers from both IT and security departments are involved in an implementation, in addition to the installer and the vendor, most major challenges which can impede the effectiveness of a CCTV installation can be avoided. Scalable, flexible, open platform solutions which allow you ’grow as you go’ enables a security solution that permits businesses to expand, develop and change security solutions naturally.

Why is CCTV becoming more effective in solving crimes?

It is true that recent statistics show that within the London Metropolitan area, for example, more crimes than ever are being solved thanks to CCTV. According to figures recently released by the Metropolitan Police, the number of cameras in Britain has gone up from 21,000 in 1999 to 59,753 in 2010and the number of suspects who were identified using the cameras went up from 1,970 in 2009 to 2,512 in 2010. This increased success is largely down to developments in camera technology, video monitoring solutions and video analytics.

Whilst utilising cameras that provide high quality footage is undeniably of value, crimes are increasingly solved through the use of sophisticated but straightforward analytics platforms. Products such as Mirasys’ Open Video Content Analysis (VCA) platform supports full featured detection rules and filters which enable users to quickly and easily detect security incidents, filtering out irrelevant content.

As an example, Mirasys’ Open VCA works as a bidirectional interface which can work with video analytics systems which detect loitering or movement—the system can then actively alert camera operators to suspicious behaviour while disregarding non-suspicious content. This not only saves time and allows security personnel to work more efficiently, but also is essential in identifying and preventing crimes.

Where is the future of CCTV headed?

The CCTV and surveillance industry is increasingly taking advantage of the latest developments in communication and web-based technologies. For example, as mobile access to video data is increasingly becoming important, and more of us depend on devices such as iPhone and iPad’s, applications such as the Mirasys Spotter Mobile have been developed to link to CCTV systems, allowing CCTV monitoring on-the-go.

Moreover, as CCTV is tied in so closely with the IT industry, it is likely that we will see rapid leaps in performance of CCTV systems, such as in processing power, for example, meaning that improvements in content analysis and video analytics such as facial recognition and gender identification will grow ever more advanced.

The scope of work for CCTV is ever expanding. CCTV is no longer considered exclusively for security. Now other business areas are adding CCTV to their toolkit: advanced analytics platforms which track behaviour are being utilised by marketing departments in shopping outlets, for example. Also, cloud computing offers us a new way to store video data, reducing the need for organisations to be concerned with data management, hard-disk failures and remote data access. Moving data offsite means regulations can be applied to CCTV data in a central and controlled manner, following government guidelines on privacy and data protection; thus in some way helping to address public concerns.

SHARETweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestDigg thisShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.

  • Great post !! We are suppliers of CCTV Security Product at competitive rates all over in India.