Body-Worn Video and Storage: Why I Wouldn’t Bet on a Single-Vendor Solution

Dan Salazar
Director of IT Services, Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc.
11/07/2017
Blog

In a move designed to further solidify its market leadership, the largest and most aggressive company in the body-worn and in-car camera business for law enforcement has adopted a “lock-in” strategy–tightly integrating their choice of camera hardware, evidence management software, and data storage into a fixed solution. Time will tell if this is a smart decision—as other providers scramble to lock in their own integrated, cloud-enabled services—but there are risks, to be sure. Especially if you’re the buyer.

When Lock-ins Work

Lock-in is certainly nothing new to the business world. Apple, Google, Amazon, and others have relied on it for years, getting customers to go all-in with their deep integration of hardware, proprietary data, and cloud-based software. Once customers have invested in these systems, it’s difficult to break away.

In the case of Apple, a lock-in strategy made a lot of sense. Highly complex applications like Apple’s iOS require that the company have tighter control over what other tools and apps can integrate with it. The end result has been a quality, consistent user experience that customers are willing to pay a premium for—even with so many other comparable, less expensive computers and mobile devices on the market.

Keeping It Simple, Flexible and Affordable

However, this same logic doesn’t necessarily apply in the body-worn (or in-car) camera space. Unlike the computer or mobile device industry—where there are literally thousands of products and related peripherals—the body-worn camera system uses just three components: the camera, the evidence management software (running on a server), and the storage platform. And it’s this simplicity that has made the solution so popular with police departments and law enforcement agencies. If suddenly these budget-conscious organizations are forced into a single platform with limited choice or flexibility, the pushback could be significant. Especially since the technology is still evolving.

Just Getting Started

It seems like there are breakthroughs in video capture and processing every week. Body-worn camera technology now leverages AI and machine learning, location awareness, facial recognition and motion analysis, to name a few of the advancements. How much more effective will police officers be when this technology matures? Who’s to say today’s locked-in market leaders will still be ahead of the pack in innovation and affordability? At this early stage in the game, should any law enforcement organization bet on a single-vendor solution?

For instance, camera quality and resolution get better every year, even as the cost of hardware drops. Higher resolutions capture more information, making it easier to zoom in on a license plate number or a suspect’s face. Higher resolutions also mean increased storage and associated costs. Will the storage solution you’re locked into scale economically?

Technology Advances Will Change Data Storage Strategies

Advances in data analytics, computer vision, and machine learning are enabling law enforcement to discover patterns in video data that are impossible for a human to detect–at least cost-effectively. These advances will likely alter current data storage strategies. To ensure that data is readily accessible for processing, organizations will want the flexibility to migrate away from cold storage (whether on tape or in the cloud) to next-generation hot storage cloud services. The increased investigative value of video will also require departments to save data for longer periods of time.

Fundamentally, it is unrealistic to think that one company can be the very best at every facet of these systems and to maintain this dominance over an extended period of time. The opinion here is that it’s too soon for any organization, let alone cost-sensitive police departments, to lock-in with a long-term body-worn camera solution. If it doesn’t work out, the cost to switch will come with a sizable fee as well. As you may have noticed, many of these providers are giving away cameras to entice customers to sign up for their platform; they’ll have to make up for this expensive “freebie” somewhere along the way.

Important Questions to Ask

If you are weighing your options between a lock-in solution or a more open, multivendor approach, there are some questions to ask: Can you gain fast, easy access to recordings and metadata for integration into third-party systems? Is there full transparency in what you are paying? How much of the subscription fee is for storage, software, and hardware? And how difficult will it be to integrate other evidence into the evidence platform?

Solutions that use open standards for video formats and metadata—along with next-generation cloud storage solutions like Wasabi—drive competition for price, features and customer benefits. In the still-developing public safety video market, that freedom of choice may be the preferred choice for law enforcement departments and agencies