Martin Beaumont, CCTV manager at Cambridge City Council, gave a seminar at the CCTV User Group in May 2012 entitled ‘A Cinderella Service’.  He explained that when he started in CCTV in 1997, control rooms were given such a name because of their generous budgets.

“People were throwing money at me left, right and centre.  I could buy more cameras, get more kit, and get more staff.  In my peak, I had one manager, four supervisors, eight operators and 187 cameras.  Today, I’ve got one manager, one deputy manager, 136 cameras and an out-of-hours call service.  Nobody throws any money at me anymore.  It’s ‘Cinderella Rewind’.”

On 25th April 2012, it was announced that the UK economy had slipped into the first double-dip recession since the 1970s.  One month earlier, icomply carried out research into the effect of the economic downturn on control rooms.  It revealed that whilst the vast majority (92%) of respondents were not increasing their control room budget in the financial year 2012-13, only 34% will be decreasing the budgets.

In response to the survey, Martin Beaumont commented “I understand the results of the icomply survey in March found that a number of systems are actually doing quite well.  But these cuts are going to go on for a minimum of three years.  If you think you’re safe and secure, like I did, and you’re not keeping an eye on the future, you’re going to be in for a nasty shock.”

With these words of warning ringing in our ears, icomply interviewed exhibitors and delegates at the User Group to find out what effect the double-dip recession will have on the CCTV industry.

The common consensus was that budgets are being restricted or reduced across the board.  “I understand there’s been a lot of limitations and restrictions on capital expenditure budgets within bodies that are spending money on security,” David White, Service Solution Consultant for Honeywell Building Solutions.  “We’ve seen more people looking for innovative ways of spending money in improving security, whether it’s in maintenance or renewal of existing systems.”

Customers may be looking for cost-saving and innovation, but they are also acting with caution.  “People seem to be a bit more wary about where and when they’re going to spend their money,” commented James Walker, Managing Director at Dallmeier.

On the other hand, Daniel Meyrick, Business Development Manager at Bosch Security Systems, believes that many users are looking for quality infrastructure with a lower cost of ownership.   “Whilst we have seen a rise in lower cost and lower quality equipment being sourced and deployed, many customers recognise that buying quality products can significantly reduce maintenance overheads.  It will ultimately ensure a far better return on their investment”.

Whether control rooms have invested in future proofing, or have zero expenditure for improvements, it’s true to say that all organisations must justify their spending and their systems.  Neil Harvey from Nottingham City Council discusses some positive effects of the recession, where control rooms can take advantage of cuts in other areas.  “There is a major shift now to utilise the fact that CCTV control rooms are 24 hour operational, so councils can outsource other functionalities into the security control room.  We’re now broadening to other services like alarm monitoring and out of hours calls, becoming a more general control room rather than a CCTV integrated system.  The police are having to cut back, which has been a benefit to us – CCTV is growing because it’s a cheaper option to a police officer, so there’s some wins from the recession to be had.”

Security manufacturers and system providers need to adapt to these changes in customer behaviour, or face being left behind.  James Walker noticed changes at Dallmeier about two or three years ago.  “There was a downturn on actual orders being placed, especially on larger projects.  Now, orders either seem to be on hold, or suddenly – miraculously – happen.  When they do happen, then everybody, including the installer to the manufacturer, has to act quickly to supply and install more quickly.”

Changing behaviours with customers was also highlighted by Mark Rainbow, Ogier Electronics.  “I think a lot of companies are finding it harder to turn prospects into real business.  There’s still money out there, but it’s about being patient, working with the customer to reduce costs, to make the most of what they do.”

One prospect that the recession appears to offer is the demand for wireless technology.  Ilker Dervish, Comfort Zone, commented: “It’s opened up a number of opportunities for companies that are flexible enough to provide alternative transmission systems, which in essence reduce our customers’ revenue costs.”

It seems that both security businesses and end-users have adapted to dramatic changes in expenditure following the 2008-09 recession, when the UK economy contracted by 7.1%.  The icomply survey into control room budgets hopes to provide more information about the effect of the recession, going some way towards helping the industry weather the economic storm.