The monitoring sector is no stranger to technical innovation with new security solutions continuously appearing on the scene. The challenge, not just for alarm receiving centres, but for all control rooms, is how to provide users with a reliable and efficient monitoring service in the context of a constantly changing procession of security products.
For example, the very latest DVR may be evaluated by a user on the basis of its image quality and onsite recording capabilities. However, different measures need to be applied if the product is to be used for remote alarm monitoring. For remote monitoring, image quality is less important than ensuring incidents are reliably and accurately communicated to the receiving centre. There are no generally adopted standards for CCTV alarm signalling, although it is sometimes assumed by users that there are. There is also a range of opinions about what constitutes an alarm signal from a CCTV system. In an environment of economic austerity, where cost is often the first and last consideration and some of the functional essentials can be overlooked, assumptions can be dangerous.
There is a fine balance to be sought between usability, innovation and price. Quality of the images from a remotely monitored system should be sufficient to validate the cause of an alarm and to help determine the level of response, but need not be so prodigious as to slow the whole process down. Alarm and video receiving centres with a successful track record in remote monitoring tend in the main to avoid offering to monitor any and all CCTV systems for this, amongst other, reasons.
There is no single or ‘best’ way to provide a monitoring service. Broadly, there are two choices. One is to use the control software provided by the product manufacturer – with the advantage that it will probably be low cost or even free and should almost certainly work reliably with the product supplied. The major disadvantage is that it will be limited to working only with that products, so of little use for an integrated solution. However, it would be churlish to refuse free software if integration is not a requirement, though not a good option where different product types from various manufacturers will be monitored.
The other possibility, for handling a range of different products and integrating them in a way that is efficient, automated and generates better quality information, is to consider a platform solution. These are the systems generally found in monitoring control rooms and the supplier of such software is usually manufacturer independent.
THE PLATFORM SOLUTION APPROACH
The platform software developer works in partnership with a multitude of manufacturers, enabling the control room to need only one software solution to monitor all their systems. These include fire, intruder and panic alarms, as well as CCTV, audio, lone worker and access control. To accommodate the ever-changing product environment, new integration modules are constantly added, usually in response to user demand. Further advantages offered by the platform approach is that only one database is needed in addition to only one common user interface, one set of servers (minimising energy and space requirements), a single report generator, one training program and only one contact number to remember for technical support.
This is the type of monitoring solution used in many Bold commercial accredited alarm receiving centre. Gemini software has been developed by Bold for the UK integrated security monitoring market over the last 8 years, and is now used in over 170 control rooms. Gemini’s success owes it to ‘customer led’ design combined with leading development technologies. As one of a very few monitoring solutions providing full integration across all alarm types with IP CCTV, lone worker protection and audio monitoring, the focus is on providing a close fit with an ARC’s needs and avoiding the ‘one size fits all’ approach commonly adopted by software providers in this sector.
Using the Gemini platform enables the user to rationalise hardware, dispensing with the need for a server for each application. This reduces the need for technical support for each machine, and the time and cost of maintaining multiple operating systems. Multiple points of failure and power consumption are minimised, therefore reducing the company’s carbon footprint, in addition to the amount of space needed in the equipment room. All this adds up to operational efficiency and provides significant cost savings.
Key amongst considerations is the design and layout of the user interface. Clunky and outdated interfaces which have been a feature of ARC software for many years. The Gemini interface is immediately familiar to users of the current Microsoft Office suite, with functionality accessed by tabs and the .NET ribbon, rather than the icons and drop down menus of the 1990s. This makes it intuitive and easy to learn, accessible to all levels of control room operator.
A comprehensive range of stable and well-designed receiver interfaces is also an essential feature of any monitoring platform. Off the shelf, Bold supports all industry standard alarm formats and signalling methods, together with those CCTV systems commonly used in Remote Video Receiving Centres (RVRCs), along with audio monitoring, lone worker and telecare systems. The Gemini feature range is constantly being enhanced with new interfaces and modules designed around users’ requirements.
Workflow alarm processing means that the quality of operator decision making is improved, with the need for thinking being minimalised at the same time as streamlining the whole process. The workflow approach ensures compliance with customer service level agreements (SLAs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), all customer data is maintained within a single database and the comprehensive audit and reporting features provide access to all activity.
Bold Gemini processes data, video, audio and event signalling from non-security applications, for instance, SMS and emails, as well as alarms, CCTV, access control and tracking applications. This diverse data is pulled together for total situational awareness to create a complete overview and response. The Gemini feature range is comprehensive and, to access those features and maximise system usage, Bold have developed a range of operator and administrator training courses, accredited by the UK Skills for Security body.
Remote monitoring spans a wide range of security products, IT, mobile and fixed data networks, software applications, high volume contacts and processes, and numerous other elements, not to mention the human factor. The job of the platform supplier and the user is to work together to leverage all these aspects to maximise the quality and performance of the service provided. This requires a sound operational strategy and effective organisational approach as well as the right security products managed by a software platform that has been carefully thought through, meticulously designed and is comprehensively supported.