Home > Intelligent Video > Uncovering a monumental disconnect between vendors and end users

Uncovering a monumental disconnect between vendors and end users

Somewhere along the lines, as Mike Silva pointed out to me, manufacturers and integrators came up with a product and every subsequent competitor simply parroted that product.  Mike was talking about access control, and how all the product essentially look and function the same – equally complex and convoluted.  I noticed the same thing happening in video surveillance architectures.  The products and their deployments simply do not qualify as efficient effective responses to customer needs. 

I know. I can't just say that and leave it.  I need to expand on the problem and propose a solution…but right now I have to get ready for a meeting.  Thoughts in the meantime?

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Categories: Intelligent Video
  1. March 25, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Hi Steve,
    I have been writing on that recently: http://ipvideomarket.info/report/why_do_all_products_seem_the_same
    I think products tend to be similar because, unfortunately, it makes good business sense.
    Best,
    John

  2. March 25, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    One cause of this problem is that products seem to originate in the engineering department of many manufacturers, and then are pushed out to the sales and marketing channel and then ultimately on to the customer. Many engineers create the product in a vacuum, and if they do look outside for information, tend to look at competitive products rather than reaching out to the customer.
    In my opinion, product development should begin and end with the customer. As terrifying as this may seem to them, engineers should be required to actually spend a few days a month with end-user customers to get a better understanding of real-world needs and problems. I guarantee you that if an engineer had to spend a few days working the typical security/reception desk at one of my client’s buildings, he or she would quickly discover just how dysfunctional most security management software is.
    It probably does make good business sense (in the short term, at least) for manufacturers to keep cranking out products that are just slightly-modified clones of their competitor’s products. The cell phone industry did this for years. Then along comes something like the iPhone which forces a drastic change in thinking. Whether you love or hate Apple, you have to give them credit for creating products that seem to be based on consumer needs rather than existing industry paradigms.

  3. Sam
    March 26, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I’ve been beating the drum for better user interface since I got into security. I just don’t understand why so much of the software has to be so ugly. Half of it looks like it was created by Soviet bloc administrators who wanted to stamp out all fun and creativity. Why can’t it be sleek and pretty and enjoyable to use?

  4. March 26, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I’m in total agreement with Michael. I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years and have seen very few true innovations or revolutionary products.
    I think that’s because most companies seem to be afraid to talk to customers. Maybe it’s because the security industry has such a broad scope and there are so many possibilities. Nobody wants to hear from a customer that their product doesn’t meet their needs so they produce a “me too” product.
    Michael mentioned the Apple iPhone. I think it would serve the security industry well to adopt product development practices like Apple uses. Interaction design is one principle that produces great results for software development applications. A good read is “The Inmates are running the asylum” by Alan Cooper. Another possible product design solution is to work with industrial design consultants to develop new and innovative product designs.

  5. March 26, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Some valid points, indeed. That being said, many vendors actively hold focus groups to gather customer feedback. A number of vendors also hold yearly meetings with their top customers to discuss their produtcs, the roadmap, and the needs of the market. All these are signs of vendors at least attempting to listen to the market. One thing I`ve noticed from personal experience, is that the same requests come up time and again, partly explaining why products look like carbon copies of each other. This, however, should not discount the fact that vendors should innovate and offer different presentations to customers that are more intuitive and user friendly.
    Having seen the launch of a new product from inception to actively gaining market share, one thing I`ve learned is that sales will stagnate unless you listen to your customers. What this means is that many vendors, not all, will adapt to what the market demands after their product hits the market. It may be engineering driven in the beginning, but it eventually evolves into customer-driven development. Otherwise, product sales begin to falter and revenue reaches a plateau. My 2 cents.

  6. March 26, 2009 at 9:52 am

    No, that’s exactly my point. The end user has been trained to talk in the language and terms of the vendor. And the vendors pose uqestions that perpetuate the same answers! The customer scratches his head later, wondering why he’s still not satisfied. We’ve railroaded him, that’s why!!!

  7. March 26, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve worked for both video and access control companies over the last 25+ years, and your hunches are correct – security manufacturers are terrified of talking to end-users. They think, I believe, that the danger of talking to an end-user is that it could paint them into a corner of having to make specific commitments, publicly acknowledge product shortcomings, or, and this is a true quote from a former employer of mine, allow the end-user to “get in the way of what we do.”
    Often I have heard senior management say that the duty of maintaining communication with the end-user is that of their dealers. Some have formed “dealer focus groups” as an avenue of communication, but most of these meetings quickly turn into one-way lectures of upcoming product releases or become dealer gripe sessions.
    End-users should insist on maintaining a relationship with their key product manufacturers. In my experience, the end-users with the best overall security programs were the ones who maintained solid relationships with their access control and CCTV manufacturers. I strongly suggest that anyone looking to purchase a new system or do a major upgrade to an existing system meet with the management of their potential supplier’s management team to get a feel for the level of involvement that they can expect.
    Will they do as Michael Silva suggests, and spend time at a security post to see how a user operates a security system? Will they invest the time to learn your business so that they can help you drive business value that your CEO will understand? Will they give you a detailed view of their product roadmap, and actually listen to your real-world needs? Will you get straight answers, or wishy-washy vagueness? Be demanding: a ‘yes’ is good, a ‘no’ is good, but a ‘maybe’ will kill you.
    Your dealer may change over the decade or so that you use your system, and having that third leg of the three legged stool(manufacturer, dealer, and end-user/consultant) will pay dividends over the life of your system.
    You may even get the manufacturer to listen to you.

  8. March 26, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    i often think mfg get caught up in adding as many features as they can that they lose focus on the primary function of the system – take video surveillance; let me view live video from any camera, anywhere and let me drag and drop and resize to make it nice to look at, when i want to look at video from last week have one button that pops up a calendar, i click the date and all my available video is there for me to view as fast or slow as i want, then when i want to export a video clip hit one button and the clip is exported to my flash drive with the player as one exe file so i can give to my insurance company or the police and they can play it on any computer… ive seen hundreds of dvr/nvr, ip, megapixel solutions and hardly anyone gets this right… make this as easy as you can and then give me 200 other features,, and make the video 5megapixel 30fps but only a 2mb stream… ok maybe now im asking to much

  9. March 27, 2009 at 10:37 am

    One difficulty (for manufacturers) is the number of stakeholders in the mix. Which one is the “user?” There’s the integrator, the security director, the business owner, the IT person, and rarely is the guy who sits in front of the monitor consulted (he’s usually not the guy making the purchasing decisions).
    We have a relatively new User Experience Group that practices User Centered Design to address these types of issues. Those are exactly the techniques used by Apple in their user interface design.
    But the definition of “user” varies depending on the context. So we must be disciplined when designing a particular feature to consider who the stakeholder is and exactly what use case the feature is supposed to satisfy. Trade offs like “ease of use” vs “power” make this even more complex.
    The description from griffonsystems is a perfect example of what manufacturers need to hear. It describes several use cases chained together, with the underlying need/goal exposed in the description. No technology specific language there–just a statement of need. Beyond that, the manufacturer must step up and satisfy the need.
    I agree with the general tone of this thread–the best products are the ones built by people who’ve spent more than a few shifts in their target customer’s chair.

  10. March 27, 2009 at 10:39 am

    What we currently have is a kludgy system that some people kinda sorta understand some of…
    What people are terrified of… a new system that will cause them to waste days and weeks of time they don’t have trying to figure it out. (the devil they know is better in their minds)
    What auditors want… a system that is so complex they can’t understand it (meaning it must be working… right?)
    Okay that last bit is slight hyperbole.
    I’m pretty sure that none of the current systems will change until they collapse under their own dead weight. Companies are alternately terrified of being dragged into the press as not having done enough to keep systems safe and wishing they didn’t have to expend so much time and money on products that don’t work well.
    The bright person who designs a simple access control by throwing out the current system and moving in a completely unforeseen direction, will make an absolute fortune.
    I wish I was smart enough to design it.

  11. March 27, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Some very interesting comments here;
    Just to quickly expand on what Steve Mitchell correctly stated “One difficulty (for manufacturers) is the number of stakeholders in the mix. Which one is the “user?” There’s the integrator, the security director, the business owner, the IT person, and rarely is the guy who sits in front of the monitor consulted”
    In relation to video surveillance systems, it gets even more complicated when you also try and consider the requirements of other stakeholders, namely the Law Enforcement community, and the Criminal Justice System.
    Building products that fulfil the stated requirements of “the customer”, may not actually come up to expectations when put to the acid test.
    Time and again we see some very technically complex and impressive installations, which are fundamentally unlikely to produce any useful images suitable for fulfilling the role of Forensic Surveillance, after an incident.
    I can certainly think of at least one ‘revolutionary’ product which has been launched recently, and which is being marketed as the perfect technical solution for an age old problem. Now I can certainly agree that it may resolve a technical issue, but in terms of producing Evidential Quality Recordings, it’s barely more useful than the carton it’s shipped in.
    I suppose the paradox is that as much of the equipments design gradually becomes more customer focussed, it invariably becomes less likely to fulfil all of it’s operational objectives.
    Oh well, give it another ten years and perhaps then the mists will start to clear.

  12. Wondering
    March 31, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Do you think buyers would accept Apple prices in this industry? A lot of projects in security are very price driven with winning manufacturer meeting minimal spec requirements. Hence, to keep prices lower, manufacturers outsource their design process continuing the cycle.
    I think A&Es can share in the blame here too as they’re ones spec’ing myriad “performance requirements” their customers may never use forcing manufacturer into the vicious “me-too” cycle.
    Lastly I wonder how much talent manufacturers have to pull from in this industry where by they could effectively engage development around an unmet customer need?

  13. March 31, 2009 at 6:12 am

    My days are spent meeting with end users from both the public and private sectors discussing their video surveillance needs. When I am not with an end user, I am in the knowledge acquisition mode seeking out new innovative technology solutions that address the challenges that the users face. I find myself being in the position of liaison between the manufacturers engineering and design staff and the end user. Your reader Mike Silva describes this need very clearly. Understanding the customer need is critical for us to effectively set and in some cases, readjust expectation levels. In a conversation I had yesterday with a high end Video Surveillance user with hundreds of cameras at his facility. He described a situation where he was having trouble getting the right video for an investigation of theft on his premises. He said that when he set his system on motion to conserve storage space, he was recording the incident on motion just fine, but then he would lose the object in the distance of the camera and when motion stopped so would the recording and he wasn’t able to see “far enough”. His complaint to me was that his integrator wasn’t able to troubleshoot this problem with him. He pointed out to me that he called a veteran video expert, a buddy who told him simply to set his recording time zone for 5 minutes pre and post event recording and this should help him to get the “reach” to see the object in the distance. This solution is one that a veteran video expert would know. This guy has troubleshot thousands of problems over his 30 year career.
    What I did next with this user was reset his expectation level for his current integrator by saying that we as professionals responsible for protecting our infrastructures simply cannot rely on a single source to help solve our problems. We absolutely must form a network of trusted experts around us to help us to face the many challenges we have. Sometimes the answer comes from multiple sources to build your own solution to a problem. That’s life. We can’t expect to make one phone call and get the answer that we need all the time.
    Steve, you touch on an extremely important point when you discuss client focused engineering. I have seen manufacturers come to the US with brilliant technology solutions but they are trying to solve problems that we just don’t have or worse they are solving problems that we don’t even know we have yet. When the latter occurs, which is something I have lived though over the past year, the burden falls upon us….. You Seve, John Honovich, your reader/responder Mike Silva, myself and the other security solution manufacturers and providers reading this communication need to educate the users on what technology can and cannot do. As we engage in this dialog we must include the lessons learned experience of other users. This is more work for us as professionals but it is our responsibility. It is through these experiences that we shed light on existing problems as well as beginning the process of solving new issues.
    I see a trend for sophisticated technology platform deployments that layer on top of our video surveillance, sensor, access control, bio metric and enterprise data to integrate disparate systems into a common dashboard/cockpit control experience for the user. Having the right people around the table as we tackle these complex and highly technical deployment projects is what separates a successful project from a failure. If you have not deployed an IT Integration Project successfully, my advice is to find a Project Manager that has the credentials which include understanding both your physical security environment as well as the IT technology/engineering area. The right PM will help bridge the gap that you so keenly have isolated as a topic of discussion here.

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