James Wickes, CEO of Cloudview, looks at the impact cloud technology is having on traditional CCTV for housing providers.
As both observers and the observed, we all have a ‘view’ on what CCTV is. We’ll have seen the grainy, frame-by-frame footage, often used as evidence against criminal or disruptive behaviour. We’ll have noticed the cumbersome cameras mounted on poles or gantries around estates. We may be aware of the dedicated control rooms with multiple monitors where events are observed and recorded.
In fact, many people working for housing providers will have direct experience of working with CCTV when it comes to combatting anti-social behaviour. And many will understand its drawbacks in terms of practicality, quality, accessibility and cost.
But many of these perceptions of traditional CCTV are being outpaced by new technology. CCTV itself is an outdated collective phrase for a type of static and cumbersome visual monitoring and recording system. Today, visual monitoring has been transformed thanks to the power and flexibility of the internet and cloud computing.
Cloud creates a new age of visual surveillance
The cloud has now become part of the vocabulary of technology. Thanks to it, the way we use computers for both business and pleasure has undergone a quiet revolution. Rather than making sizeable and often risky investments in hardware and software, computer power can now be bought in the same way we buy electricity, gas and water, paying only for what we use, when we use it.
A good example of this, and one that has particular relevance and benefits in the housing sector, is the ability to capture and record large quantities of visual data to remote servers from cameras that are connected to the internet.
It means CCTV has given way to ‘visual surveillance as a service’ or ‘VSaaS’. The architecture, functionality and economics of these are entirely different to CCTV, enabling VSaaS systems to be deployed in circumstances where the use of regular CCTV would be regarded as impractical, intrusive, uneconomic or even impossible.
It means housing providers can now enjoy the benefits of systems that are secure, flexible and easy to install. What’s more, they give much wider access to stakeholders via smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC. These networks of cameras bear as much relation to traditional CCTV as an old-fashioned ‘brick’ mobile phone does to today’s super-powerful and user-friendly smartphones.
The bottom line for housing providers is that there are now systems available that do far more than simply tick a very expensive box on their checklist of strategies to combat anti-social activity. Cloud-based VSaaS offers unprecedented scalability, with the ability to cost-effectively add or remove cameras to and from a network without having to invest in expensive upgrades of local facilities.
Secure and privacy remain paramount
Data security has, and continues to be, a vital issue for housing providers. And recording to a local device, as with traditional CCTV, is a process fraught with risk. Footage can be viewed on a monitor that is directly connected to these devices, so in practice the data can be accessed and viewed by anyone with the right technical knowledge. Regular CCTV systems are also vulnerable to hacking over the internet. All of which leaves them open to abuse, and often in breach of data protection legislation.
State-of-the-art VSaaS systems, such as the one we’ve developed at Cloudview, ensure that all recording and data management infrastructure is remote. So, unlike traditional CCTV, data cannot be physically accessed by unauthorised individuals and there is no risk of equipment theft, data theft or unsanctioned data deletion.
Cutting-edge VSaaS networks ensure that data passed from connected cameras to cloud-based servers is always encrypted, making it very difficult, or even impossible, to access it without the right permissions. If for some reason the internet connection fails, visual data will be recorded locally and then uploaded to cloud-based servers when the connection returns.
Privacy issues go hand-in-hand with data protection and these concerns are vital in environments where there is minute-by-minute interaction with people’s lives. With traditional CCTV, there is no way to assure the privacy of personal, sensitive visual data as cameras can be physically accessed. In contrast, cloud-based VSaaS systems can be configured to accommodate multiple individuals and locations, all with varied privacy needs.
Access to this visual data can be granted by creating authorised and auditable client accounts. These accounts can in turn be accessed using internet-enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. VSaaS systems are so flexible that the images and areas captured on camera can also be redacted to protect highly-personal data. In cases of anti-social behaviour, this level of access and flexibility can be a powerful tool, where vital footage can not only be recorded as evidence, but acted on in real-time.
The hardware-heavy nature of traditional CCTV has long been a drawback for housing providers working with limited resources. VSaaS systems are not hampered by the same restraints. Cameras can be quickly installed, switched on and switched off for multiple clients at multiple sites. With a system such as Cloudview’s, even existing CCTV systems can be upgraded to a cloud-based one.
Perhaps the most impressive advantage of VSaaS systems is that they can be set up without the need for expensive technical help or long-term infrastructure support. It’s simply a matter of plug in and play. Upgrades and bug fixes are implemented automatically so new hardware is not needed to keep up with new advances in technology. In fact, no formal training and no proprietary software or technology is needed with a system such as ours; the principles will all be familiar to anyone who uses a PC regularly.
And, while we can’t speak for other providers, the Cloudview network and system has been built to be both resilient and reliable with redundant backups over multiple locations to prevent the slightest possibility of data loss. The service is designed to achieve 99.999999999 per cent durability and 99.99 per cent availability; compare that to traditional CCTV where footage is often lost, corrupted or simply unfathomable.
A more powerful tool for tackling anti-social behaviour
Housing providers around the country are already making the most of the new opportunities presented by cloud-based VSaaS. And while we may still be stuck with the phrase ‘CCTV’ for a while, we should make no mistake that the new generation of visual surveillance systems can massively improve our ability to deal with anti-social behaviour.
James Wickes is CEO of Cloudview.