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Should I upgrade my old CCTV system?

Even if It Ain't Broke, Old CCTV Equipment Might Need Fixing

By Robert Grossman,
R. Grossman and Associates

Do you ever tire of an appliance in your home? Maybe something newer on the market catches your fancy, has the features you've been missing or just looks better. Still, your old appliance is perfectly functional and could keep chugging along for years to come.

In your personal life, this problem is usually remedied more easily than it can be in your professional life. At home, there are lots of options - from garage sales, to relatives in need, to eBay. At work, there are budgets, return on investment and a responsibility to look after the company's assets.

So how do we know it's time to move on? How can we justify a decision to upgrade equipment that is perfectly functional but no longer state-of-the-art? Examining old and new equipment's functionality, cost, features and aesthetics can be an eye-opener.

Consider Functionality First

The first thing to do is make sure your equipment really is perfectly functional. CCTV cameras are an excellent example. There may be an older camera that looks great but really doesn't do what it's supposed to. Look carefully: Does it provide  a sharp, clear picture in all of the lighting conditions? Is it reliable?

Sometimes, an outdated camera is like an old pair of glasses: Everything looked great before, but when you put on new  glasses, you are amazed by what you were missing. Cameras, monitors, card readers and other "forgotten" devices often  make their inadequacies clear when compared with a newer model.

If you believe a switch would be nice but not necessary, consider getting a sample of a newer unit and swapping it temporarily  just to see how big a difference it will make. Chances are you'll be surprised.

Cost, Features, Look Make the Case

Sometimes, hidden costs make a big difference. Consider the change from analog VCRs to digital recording. For many,  this falls into the "I'll get to it someday" category, but a careful look at the situation might lead to a different conclusion.

Often the difference in frame rates compared to time-lapse recording is enough to justify the purchase. For those who have suffered a loss that wasn't documented because the tape was worn or unchanged, this is an easy decision. Much of this equipment is so inexpensive that it no longer requires much of a financial case to justify the investment.

Often, a new product can provide more efficiency, making the purchase easier to justify. Casinos quickly discovered staggering savings could come from digital video systems' ability to reconstruct an incident by searching across multiple camera inputs and piecing together different footage. The ability to instantly copy an incident for distribution to the proper authorities or E-mail an image or video clip for verification, adds tremendous value to a security department and provides real benefits for many security departments.

While a security product's appearance may seem like poor justification for an upgrade, it is important to keep things in perspective. There are many lobbies, reception areas and other public spaces that regularly go through cosmetic facelifts but leave the old cameras in place. Consider the cost of decorative unitized camera/housing combinations as a part of the décor and budget accordingly. Could your marble-topped security desk benefit from flat-screen monitors rather than the huge, chunky boxes already there for years? Equipment today performs better and is sleek and attractive. Both of these benefits must be considerations to make the case.

Leaving Well-Enough Alone

There are sometimes reasons not to upgrade or trade up, despite all the justification for the latest and greatest. One that comes to mind is software or firmware upgrades for microprocessor-based equipment. If the product you own works well and does not experience any problems, don't rush to change it simply because an update is available. Software upgrades have been known to damage one feature in the process of fixing another. Often, the feature that is fixed is one you don't use, while the broken one was critical to your operation.

Another reason to leave well enough alone is product complexity. If the folks who run your system are set in their ways and took a long time to get there, measure the effects of change against the benefits of the update. If adding capabilities to your system means the operators will stop using the system, the benefits evaporate quickly.