Listen up – audio can be something to add value to video, and Internet Protocol (IP) is bringing everything together on a common platform. So Greg Gregoriou of intercom product company Commend tells Roy Cooper.
Briefly to give Greg’s background; he gained a degree and a PhD in electronics, and went into research and development before sales. He worked on the video side, previously with JVC, before his current company. When you are at the manufacturing end, you can become quite removed from the end user, simply because of the channels of procurement, he says. Commend sells only to installation companies and not through distributors, ‘and the product is solution-orientated. The client is buying a complete turn-key solution. We are very often brought in to talk to the end user and establish exactly what it is they want.’ IP allows manufacturers to integrate systems; but what is in it for the end user? Taking public space CCTV for starters, Greg suggests that in a town centre with cameras, people are becoming used to them; or offenders may camouflage themselves with their clothing; and the number of pixels on someone’s face when recording may mean that, although high resolution cameras are getting better, it can be difficult to recognise someone from footage. Hence: "It’s quite useful for the audio to complement the video. <br><br>One example is the work in Middlesbrough, with the ‘Talking CCTV’, featured in our May 2007 issue. Briefly, if a public space control room operator sees an incident, he can make an announcement over the public address – to stop anti-social behaviour or dropping litter, for example. "If you hear a specific voice talking to you, it can have a strong impact and assist CCTV," Greg says. "That really got me thinking, there must be other applications from the end user point of view, where we can add value through help point intercom. Because our technology operates on an IP platform it’s very easy for us to integrate it into CCTV, whether analogue or digital." <br><br>One example he offers is for disabled toilets in buildings. With an intercom panel in a disabled toilet, if someone activates the pull cord the security or building manager can assess the caller – is the person in medical distress and first aid staff need to be dispatched at once, or is it a case that the toilet roll has run out? When there is a building emergency, requiring an evacuation, in the first instance you can use the intercom to send out a call to all the disabled toilets, this could be a very valuable part of an evacuation procedure. And thanks to audit trail software, you can show that procedures are followed. Another example: Audio within disabled refuge areas of public access buildings. CCTV may be covering the refuge or its vicinity. Again, in an emergency audio can add to CCTV. Do images accurately tell you who needs to take priority? Someone may look comfortable – but are they in fact confused or distressed or in pain? By talking to them, managers can comfort them and make decisions regarding the evacuation. Intercom can aid access control in a hospital. Staff may have key fobs or cards; but what if they have forgotten them? <br><br>A hospital may already have a central intercom server for access control; another system may be added for the site car park, to open the car park barriers via the intercom. By networking the two into one system can bring greater security. Say the babies in the maternity unit are tagged, so that an alarm goes off if a baby leaves the ward. Through IP, if an alarm goes off indoors, automatically the car park barriers close, so that even if a baby is abducted, no-one can drive with it out of the car park. Or: lift intercom can go through to a site control room or a central control room covering several sites via IP. The CCTV on the operator’s screen can correspond to the intercom station so that the operator can see and hear. Greg makes the point that there are customer service applications, besides security, for intercom. On a university or other campus, a help point can answer basic ‘where am I’ questions for visitors. Out of hours, that intercom call can go to a night control room. Roy Cooper raises the point that end users and installers are looking for added value, whether an installer is seeking to up-sell or retain a customer. Is audio something that people have thought about? <br><br>Greg says: "The [security] industry is very video dominated in the UK, which is fine, because that is where the major needs are. If installers looked at the job traditionally, there would be a certain percentage video, access, intruder, etc, and the audio bit was very small, if it was there at all.’ An installer would either not deal with audio, or install whatever they are familiar with. A recession, he suggests, brings opportunity. Quite apart from guarding maybe being reduced, and electronic security has to be in place, end users are knowledgeable about technology, and want to know that what’s being installed will not need replacing in five years; they want products that are, to use the jargon, backwards-compatible or future proof. <br><br>This, Greg says, is something that installers have to think about. A clever installer can go back to a client, asking if he wants audio adding to his system. Besides the extra revenue, it gives the installer the chance of spin-offs. The more complex and integrated the system, so demands a suitable maintenance package to be offered. To sum up Greg’s arguments: especially in a mature market, it’s about installers being creative, segmenting their market, and seeking opportunities to add value to their customers using the technology that is available to them.