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What You Really Want

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: When someone goes into a hardware store to buy a shovel, they don’t really want a shovel. What they really want is a hole.

Rob Scott, vice president of sales and marketing at Alpharetta, Ga.-based 247 Security, Inc., has heard that story plenty of times over the years, and he often applies its lesson to mobile video platform procurement. Transportation directors may think they want so many lines of video or frames per second when they really just want to make sure they have a picture that’s clear enough for the principal to securely view an incident and make an accurate decision as quickly as possible.

“Buyers need to ask themselves a fundamental question: What are we trying to do? And out of that will come an answer that’s clear,” Scott said.

That question is gaining weight as a number of the industry’s hardware and software vendors are forming alliances in an effort to deliver one-stop-shops for school districts across North America. Meanwhile, others are considering multiple partnerships, and still others continue to go at it alone.

“Like everyone, we’re watching the market and seeing how it unfolds,” Scott said. “The key right now is education — both for the user and vendor. There’s a constant question for everyone: Why are you putting cameras on, and what are you going to do with the video? If it’s going to make school buses safer, it’s a good idea. Then you can start peeling back the layers of the onion to figure out what, specifically, the district wants to accomplish.”

Seon, the world’s largest supplier of mobile surveillance equipment, is teaming with RedSpeed USA, a Lombard, Ill., provider of turnkey, automated photo enforcement programs. Seon installs the mobile surveillance equipment, while RedSpeed sets up necessary inter-governmental agreements and reviews video to identify stop-arm violations. As the program reaches school districts, local authorities will make a final determination when issuing citations. The partnership was announced this spring, and the companies are eyeing district customers in Illinois and Maryland, at least initially, as RedSpeed has existing relationships in those states with its red-light and speeding enforcement programs.

Noting that stop-arm camera enforcement programs require a significant time investment with local law enforcement agencies and knowledge of many different local laws, Seon’s Lori Jetha said the RedSpeed partnership allows Seon to “stick to our knitting.” 

“Districts are looking for a turnkey operation. What better way to marry our camera expertise with their expertise in reviewing video?” said Jetha, the company’s marketing communications manager, noting a number of Seon clients are not ticketing stop arm violators but instead are working with local law enforcement agencies on public awareness campaigns.

American Traffic Solutions, Inc., which is the leading provider of traffic safety, mobility and compliance solutions for state and local governments, commercial fleets and rental car companies, has partnered with AngelTrax, a Newton, Ala.-based surveillance hardware and software company. But, Charles Territo, senior vice president of communications, marketing and public affairs for ATS said the two firms recognized the value of a partnership in 2012.

He said such alliances offer districts the seamless convenience of working with a single contractor while ensuring that every step of a comprehensive enforcement program is covered.

“Ultimately, what districts are looking for is a turnkey operation. What’s most important is choosing a vendor with the ability to turn potential violations into prosecutable violations. There’s a big difference,” Territo explained. “To the extent that a company like ours can leverage our expertise in violation processing and adjudication with an established provider of school bus camera hardware, the process of implementation can be that much more.”

Despite the relationship, ATS is open to other strategic partnerships and would “hope to have the ability to interface with multiple manufacturers of camera hardware” in the future.

Going Solo

But Jody Ryan, director of communications at Redflex Traffic Systems, points to the Phoeniz, Ariz. company’s more than 25 years of innovation as a reason to shun alliances.

“Redflex has long been a market leader in customizing and creating products that meet our standards, rather than adopting off-the-shelf technology. Additionally, one product built to meet a customer’s needs is more efficient and effective than merging two systems and two technologies,” Ryan said.

Redflex Traffic Systems provides the technology directly, in this case the video cameras, thereby eliminating the need for vendor relationship, she added. Redflex provides what she called a Build–Own-Operate-Maintain, or BOOM model, so school districts don’t have to provide upfront costs for the technology and the systems. With photo enforcement being Redflex’s core competency, Ryan said the goal is to provide a one-stop solution that leverages the company’s expertise and alleviates any additional financial burdens for the school district.

Scott said he sees efficiency in a combined system, running stop arm cameras and compartment video from one wireless system. 247 Security has a partner to evaluate stop arm video but added, “Why have two systems and multiple partners when one can do the entire job inside and outside the bus?”

Whichever direction districts decide to go, Scott said an essential component is choosing a company that can “service the sale.”

“You want people who understand their own technology so they can support you when you have a problem. That goes for everything — not just video,” he added. 

He also cautioned against school bus operators rushing to finalize purchases without doing the necessary homework. 

“The best consumer is the educated consumer every time,” he said. “That’s the most important thing we’d convey. Educate yourself and test products before you actually pull the trigger.”

247 Security recently introduced its second version of the Touchdown Fleet Video and Data Management System, merging GPS and wireless digital video technology. In addition to providing comprehensive video inside and outside the bus, the system reports where buses travel and stop, how fast they’re moving, how long they’re idling, whether a driver makes fast starts or abrupt stops and more. The data can be used for dispute resolution, driving training, incident reconstruction, liability management and to compare planned versus actual routes.

Scott noted it’s not difficult these days to connect two computers wirelessly and warned against writing specifications that give vendors too much latitude. The ultimate goal that can’t be lost is to move the data securely.

“We’ve all got Wi-Fi in our homes and with our computers and phones. It’s not hard to advertise ‘I can do that.’ But when you’re talking about 400 buses communicating with the cloud or a server, how long it takes to download 100 buses when they are all coming into the yard at the same time and doing everything securely, now we have some complexity,” he said. “How are you going to get video in front of the right person in another building in a secure way?” 

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