Video surveillance systems can add next-level security to your company's efforts to deter crime. Strategically placed cameras could mean would-be burglars bypass your business for an easier target. And if a crime does occur, the video footage can provide important evidence for both your insurance company and the police.

Cost, of course, is a big factor for many businesses, and there are many options and features to consider across a broad spectrum of price points. This guide will help you understand your options as well as some of the pros and cons of the various equipment.

What is a video surveillance system?

Video surveillance systems involve strategic placement of security cameras, monitoring motion and activity, generating alerts, transmitting footage, and storing that footage. Cameras can be both indoors and outside.

The camera system may also be referred to as closed-circuit television or CCTV. As part of your office security protocol, the purpose for a video surveillance system is to:

  • Deter theft by employees

  • Deter break-ins and theft

  • Increase the security of your employees and customers

  • Gather and store evidence if a crime does occur

Security cameras can be stand-alone devices or part of a system depending upon the complexity of your security needs. In order to meet your security objectives, cameras (or signs saying cameras are present) must be visible and the cameras must be able to record, store and transmit footage (or be connected to recorder or system that can do so).

And while your surveillance system can not only deter criminals, it can also keep employee theft in check as well. Just keep in mind that there are laws regulating the placement of cameras in the workplace. These vary by state, so contacting your state labor agency can be an important first step.

An added perk to installing a surveillance system may be a discount on your office insurance premiums.

Editor's Note: Looking for Video Surveillance Systems for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

Surveillance System Equipment

There are two types of cameras used for surveillance - analog and IP (internet protocol), which are digital cameras.

Analog cameras: These are usually lower resolution than the more modern IP technology, and require cable connections to a DVR to record and store footage, plus wired connections for power. To ensure the integrity of the footage, the camera must be located fairly close to the DVR and the number of ports on the DVR determines the number of cameras that can be connected. So, additional DVRs may be needed to support sites requiring many cameras.

With the DVR, the footage can be viewed on a monitor in real time or a router and modem can be connected to transmit the footage. However, the video footage tends to be grainier than digital footage and because the camera does not have digital zoom, enlarging any area of the image further reduces the clarity.

These cameras cost less than digital cameras, but because their field of vision is smaller, more cameras may be needed. There are more design options for analog cameras, so you may find the right camera for your needs at a lower cost than digital. You also won't lose the network bandwidth that digital cameras take up.

Digital cameras: IP cameras are higher resolution, which generates clearer images but, as we said, use more bandwidth to transmit and require more storage space. Cameras connect to a network video recorder (NVR) via a PoE (Power over Ethernet) switch, which has ports for many cameras and then uses just one cable to connect to the NVR and power source. This reduces the number of cables needed but can put a drain on your network bandwidth.

There is no limitation to where cameras can be placed in relation to the NVR, and wireless network access enables remote viewing of footage. Also, the digital feed can be encrypted. Wi-Fi cameras do, however, raise the concern of potential hacking, so it is important to understand the security features of your cameras.

Digital cameras can have many additional features such as digital zoom, mobile notification, auto-recording triggered by motion, one-touch connection to authorities, object recognition, among others.

If you are transitioning from analog to digital you may want to consider a hybrid video recorder that can support both types of cameras.

Criteria for Your System

Before you determine what cameras, recorders and storage to use, it is important to assess your security needs and budget. These will influence your system choices. Some criteria to consider as you review your needs include:

  • Number of cameras. Once you know what areas of your office you want to cover, you can assess how many cameras you'll need. Keep in mind, analog cameras have a smaller field of vision. Outsourced IT provider Customer First estimates that businesses need three or four analog cameras to every one IP camera. So, you'll likely need more cameras if you choose analog.

  • Indoor vs. outdoor cameras. When considering the type of camera you need, keep in mind that outdoor cameras must be able to withstand the elements and are more easily tampered with than indoor cameras. This means outdoor cameras must be more durable and may have additional features to meet outdoor surveillance needs; so they can be more expensive.

  • Video quality. What resolution do you need for your video? High resolution is recommended as this improves the integrity of the images and may improve the chances of identifying people or evidence if a crime is committed. Frame rate is also a consideration as the more frames per minute, the better the image quality. Both of these criteria require a digital camera and also increase your need for storage space and bandwidth.

  • Storage. The resolution of your footage, amount of footage (how many cameras are recording), and length of time you want to store footage will dictate how much storage you will need. Several vendors offer storage calculators online. (Here are two options at EZWatch.com and WD.com). In addition to physical storage, there are many cloud storage options that can be used to backup your footage and also reduce the duration of time footage remains on your hard drive. You can schedule footage uploads for times when your network is not busy to lesson the impact on bandwidth.

  • Camera design features. There are several camera model options including bullet, dome, pan-tilt-zoom (ptz, which allows field of vision to be adjusted remotely). You can also choose a camera that records audio or that supports 2-way audio communication. If you will need to record in dark areas, consider cameras with infrared LEDs.

  • Compatibility. Be sure the camera(s) you select are compatible with your recording system. While DVR is needed for analog cameras and NVR is used with IP cameras, some recorders are only compatible with specific camera brands.  

  • Monitoring. Will you have a station in your office where someone will be watching monitors? Will you want a mobile app with a feed from your cameras? Do you want to access the camera feed and footage at any time from anywhere?

The cost for your system will depend on all these criteria as well as any bells and whistles you may choose, like object recognition or motion-triggered recording. The SMB Guide estimates that a small business security camera system can run from $145.99 up to $1,999.

Cutting Costs with DIY

Many security companies provide free consultations, so it's wise to consider quotes from several to compare your options and costs. However, with the advancement of home video surveillance system technology, cameras and basic surveillance systems now include a plethora of features. As a result, many small businesses may find that they're able to set up their own video surveillance systems. Some security products are even marketed now for both home and office use.

If you decide to take a DIY approach here are two options:

  1. Add video management software to your camera system: This software essentially enables you to turn a PC plus security camera or webcam into a surveillance system. It is an affordable - or in some cases free - option. You can live stream and record footage, and motion can trigger both recording and sending an alert to your phone. Plus, you can monitor this with your phone or web browser.

  2. Use a smartphone-interfaced camera: A Wi-Fi-enabled camera with its own app can empower you to manage your camera system from anywhere at any time. The ability to store directly to the cloud removes the need for a recorder. Alternatively, you can store footage on a microSD card, although you're storage capacity will be limited. As per our earlier caution, Wi-Fi cameras come with the risk of being hacked so be sure to take this into consideration. Additionally, be sure to understand how your cloud provider secures your data.

These approaches reduce your costs and enable you to manage your security remotely. Keep in mind, though, that you lose out on expert guidance, professional monitoring and integration with a comprehensive security system. As cameras are just one part of security, they do not stop unauthorized entry and, in most cases, don't trigger an alert to authorities to check your business. To fully secure your business and the safety of your employees, you may want to also look at access control, monitored alarm systems and fire alarms.

Learn more in our Office Security Guide. ​

Editor's Note: Looking for Video Surveillance Systems for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

Editor's Note: Looking for Video Surveillance Systems for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

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