Thanks to smartphones and other connected devices, business owners can now keep a close eye on their storefronts, warehouses and offices from anywhere. Over the past decade, traditional security systems that are monitored by a centralized station for a monthly fee have started to be replaced by newer, cheaper and smarter security systems. In fact, many of these systems are designed as do-it-yourself security systems, making them more affordable for business owners. If you are considering using a smart security system to monitor your business, it is important to understand the technology and the benefits.
What is smart security?
Smart security systems are designed to seamlessly incorporate top-of-the-line security into a business owner's everyday life. Through the use of wireless sensors, smart locks and surveillance cameras, business owners can monitor and manage their security system from anywhere in the world at any time from their phone.
Smart security systems are often much cheaper than conventional security systems. Some access control systems offer one-time equipment purchases of a couple hundred dollars and monthly monitoring fees as low as $15.
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What are the benefits of smart security over traditional security systems?
The big advantage of smart security systems is the reduced cost of monitoring. In most cases, you can decide whether to summon the police or take other security measures that you can activate remotely, such as remote utility shutdowns or rerouting of computer networks. More measures include:
- Access and perimeter controls
- Remote utility shutdowns for water, electrical power or internet
- Remote shutdown or rerouting of computer networks
- Activation of location cameras to record and/or transmit video
- Remote access to real-time video from smartphones and tablets
Remote access, especially ones with role-based access control, isn't the only advantage of smart security systems. Here are some other benefits:
1. You are always in control.
With traditional security systems, the company you partner with has a lot of control over your entire system and can raise costs unexpectedly. If you want to upgrade a traditional system, you have to call a sales representative and wait for a technician to visit your space and make the changes. Many smart security systems, by contrast, allow for self-installation, so you can purchase additional monitors online, have them shipped to you in a couple of days and install them in minutes.
2. Your system can scale as your business grows.
Another big advantage of smart security systems is that you can upgrade (or downgrade) your system as needed. If you want to install a keyless entry point for employees or add a surveillance camera to a hallway, for example, you can do so whenever you want.
3. You can reduce energy costs.
As smart devices become ubiquitous in the workplace, different types of devices on the same network can communicate with one another – a concept called the internet of things. For instance, many smart alarm systems can work with smart thermostats so you can adjust the temperature when no one is detected in your building, thereby saving you money.
Although cybersecurity is a valid concern, don't lose sight of the need to keep your physical premises protected from the traditional threats of theft and vandalism. "The best cybersecurity measures in the world are useless if a thief breaks into your office and makes off with your computers," Michael Brown wrote for PCWorld.
Smart security systems available at modest prices
Fortunately for small businesses, some highly effective security systems are very affordable. A basic do-it-yourself alarm system designed for home use can cost less than $200. Although this kind of system probably isn't appropriate for a large enterprise, it may be enough for a small business. You can even get a basic video surveillance system for as little as $300. In fact, even in this price range, you may be able to get real-time monitoring and alarms sent to your smartphone.
For more sophisticated systems designed to protect larger or multiple locations with many access points, you will need to pay for the installation, as well as a monthly fee that includes the monitoring of the premises and automatic police and/or fire department notification for when alarms are triggered. The monthly fees range from roughly $50 to $100 for a small office with a single entry point to $2,000 or more for a large facility, depending on the options and the number of locations and access points. [In need of a security system for your business? Check out our recommendations for the best access control systems.]
Assembling a smart security system
You can hire a security services firm to assemble a smart security system for you, but if you're doing it yourself, you'll most likely have to piece a custom security system together from these components:
- Monitors. Sensors that detect motion or the use of doors or other access points when a location is closed can be set to trigger an alert. Sensors can monitor such important conditions as the temperature in an industrial freezer or the humidity in a floral greenhouse and send an alert or take an action if a certain threshold is met.
- Transmission methods. Historically, alerts have been transmitted via a telephone landline to a monitoring station. There is always a risk that the phone lines will be down in an emergency, and most systems today offer additional notification through cellphone networks and the internet.
- Wired versus wireless systems. Wired video systems are more expensive than wireless systems due to the added costs of materials and installation. However, they are generally less prone to failure than wireless systems. A wired system may be best for new construction or facilities you're sure you'll occupy over the long term. For temporary locations, you can install a portable wireless security system.
- Remote control video activation. These systems automatically trigger video recording and/or transmission when a threshold event, such as motion detection, has occurred. These systems let you do things such as take, store or send still images and control the direction and zoom of the camera lens from your phone.
- Access control. Electronic access systems allow entry to secure locations only by authorized personnel. Ways to gain access include swiping an employee identification card, entering an access code and using a photo or biometric recognition technology. Some systems can even track the movement of authorized personnel throughout a facility. Notifications can be sent based on the location of specific individuals at certain times.
- Monitoring services. If you want your system to respond to a security breach, you need some kind of monitoring. In some cases, that could be a notification sent to you or a designated employee via smartphone. An extra level of protection is added with direct notification to local fire and police departments. For more peace of mind around the clock, many security firms offer affordable 24/7 monitoring services.
Disadvantages of smart security systems
Don't be dazzled by bells and whistles and get more security than you need. Relatively small security issues might have simpler solutions. For instance, if the outside of your building has been getting graffiti, you might just need more lights in your parking lot area to discourage vandals. This is a cheaper and lower-maintenance solution that can be just as effective a deterrent as a security camera. In other words, ask yourself if your problem really calls for a high-tech solution before you invest too much money and effort.
You can also outsmart yourself with some smart security systems. When the smart device company Nest (which was purchased by Google) introduced its Nest Protect smoke alarm, it included a feature that allowed users to wave a hand in front of the alarm to turn off a false alarm. This "smart" feature made the alarm unsafe, in the opinion of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Nest had to recall the smart alarms.
Security system technology continues to improve. People in charge of facility security can get more and more information sent to them in real time to stay aware of what is happening in the spaces they're responsible for protecting. Just make sure the security tech you get is right for your business and its problem areas – there's no reason to overspend.