Are Construction Cameras Worth It?

Costs and benefits vary by application

Construction Site Cameras are becoming more common on a wider range of projects, and for a wider range of uses. But are they worth the cost and the hassle? Figure 1 explores some of the benefits of using jobsite cameras. Some are benefits to owners, others to general contractors and on‐site managers, and others to the marketing and legal teams.

Many of these benefits are hard to quantify. The larger and longer the project, the greater the dollar value of a given benefit across that project. The value of some benefits will also depend on other processes implemented within the team, as well as the technical savvy of the team.

Oversight efficiency, by way of reduced site travel, is easier to analyze. Catching a problem early with a camera could have value to the project, and the same goes for team coordination and process improvement benefits. Benefits in customer relations can also be difficult to quantify. However it is easy to see that increased transparency with a customer can contribute to a leg up on a next project, resulting in a very high value to the general contractor. Marketing benefits and site safety and security have their own economics. Figure 2 delves into the costs of security cameras.

Assessing the Benefits
In completing a large construction project, builders, developers, owners, and managers must make hundreds of cost‐benefit assessments in determining which processes, tools, vendors, and materials to use. This same type of decision making applies to the use of construction cameras. Construction cameras have become more widely available, and are increasingly used. But what really is the cost benefit?

There are a few challenges in assessing the “benefit” component of our cost‐benefit analysis. The first is that these benefits accrue to a range of stakeholders in the building process. Some are benefits to the owners, others to the general contractors and on‐site managers, still others to the marketing or legal teams.

The second difficulty is that many of these benefits are hard to quantify. Clearly the larger and longer the project, the greater the “dollar value” is of a given benefit across that project. The value of benefits like “keeping the construction team coordinated” also will depend on other processes implemented within the team, and how effective those are, as well as how technically savvy the team is in order to be able to take advantage of real‐time site information without being distracted or burdened by the technology.

Oversight efficiency, by way of reduced site travel, is perhaps an easier one to analyze. As an example, let’s assume having site cameras reduces site travel by 2 person‐trips per month. On a 12 month project, that is 24 trips. At 4 hours per trip, that would be 96 hours saved. At a $40/hour burdened rate, that would be $3840 – more than the cost of a next‐generation construction site camera! Clearly catching a problem early or at all, could have a value to the project of many times this amount, and the same goes for team coordination and process improvement benefits.

BENEFITS OF CAMERAS
Customer Relations

  • Transparency – part of owner/GC relationship – transparent project status information
  • Accountability – record of subcontractor activities, construction steps, for owner verification
  • Project Marketing – pre-marketing project to future buyers/renters
  • Public Relations – keeping stakeholders engaged in “public” or other high profile projects
  • Dispute Resolution – provides a simple data source to support dispute resolution, reducing costly legal processes

Project Management

  • Team Communications – sharing images/videos at team meetings to support communications and team coordination
  • Oversight efficiency – reducing site travel, more frequent site viewing
  • Oversight effectiveness – identifying problems sooner by having more eyes on the project in real-time
  • Schedule Management – ensuring delivery and key process milestones are met (e.g., concrete pours, materials deliveries).
  • Materials Management – oversight of materials deliveries and placement
  • Vendor Management – oversight of vendor activities, schedules
  • Quality Control – ensuring that processes are implemented correctly.
  • Process Improvement – using site cameras to provide “actuals” to compare against forecast within the BIM model.

Safety & Security

  • Site Safety – monitor processes for safe practices, document accidents to support improvements
  • Site Security – monitor sites after hours for theft, unauthorized access

Benefits in customer relations can also be hard to quantify, however it is easy to see that for a GC, increased transparency with a customer can contribute to a leg up on a next project, resulting in a very high value to the general contractor. What is the value of increasing your probability of win by 20% on that customer’s next project?

Marketing benefits, and site safety and security have their own economics. The savings of avoiding one stolen piece of equipment or stack of materials, can easily pay for several site cameras.

Many contractors will market their firms with pictures of finished projects. In reality, time‐lapse and in‐progress photos can provide a more compelling image of the services general contractors provide.

The Costs
With the first couple generations of construction site cameras, these costs could easily run to $30,000 or more per camera. These types of costs, combined with the harder to quantify benefits, have made the use of site cameras a harder choice in thepast. The result is that site cameras were used only on very large, high profile projects where a specific marketing budget justified the majority of the costs.

The Costs

  • Purchase or rental of the camera itself
  • Cellular data costs
  • Data storage and web/cloud service fees
  • Installation – electrical contractor
  • Setup and configuration – IT staff
  • Electrical service required at site for the camera
  • Internet service required at the site for the camera – installation and ongoing

Evolution of the Site Camera
Developments in recent years have changed the landscape for construction site cameras in several important ways that impact the costs and capabilities significantly. The most important of these include:

  • Solar powered – By eliminating the need for on‐site power, site cameras can be installed at any time, and in the most advantageous location. Installation costs are also lowered since no electrician is required for the install.
  • DIY Installation – next‐generation site cameras are designed for ease of use and self‐installation by end users. This means that the on‐site GC staff can easily install and configure the camera in a few minutes.
  • Wireless – Cellular and WiFi cameras also dramatically reduce the costs of site cameras by eliminating the need for wiring and simplifying and reducing installation costs. In the case of cellular systems, no on‐site internet connection is required.
  • Portable and small – Developments in microelectronics and battery technologies have enabled smaller cameras and solar power systems. This means that cameras/solar systems can be made portable, and able to mount on a simple 4×4 post or portable tripod. This reduces installation costs, and increases flexibility for mounting locations. Cameras also gain value by being portable from project to project.
  • Cloud connected – modern construction site cameras connect to a cloud service. This provides automated and secure archival of project data – no shuffling of SD cards or emailing around photos, or hassling with FTP servers. Cloud connected systems also provide access to the cameras in realtime from any smartphone, tablet, or PC without requiring Apps to be installed by the IT department.
  • Multi‐function cameras – Many of today’s leading site cameras can perform multiple functions including time‐lapse image collection, automatic time‐lapse videos, real‐time video streaming, video recording for security, motion detection, alerting, and more. This contributes to the cost/benefit equation by allowing a single camera to provide a larger number of the potential functions and benefits for a given project.
  • Increased use of smartphones/tablets – The increasing use of smartphones and tablets by project teams enables those teams to exploit site cameras by having real‐time access anywhere anytime. This allows more team members to benefit from the site cameras.
  • Low cost – Some of the newest generation of construction site cameras have achieved cost points that are a fraction of traditional systems. By creating highly integrated designs, incorporating the latest electronics and battery and communications technologies, companies have reduced the costs of site cameras by 50% or more over prior generation systems. These systems bring down the costs of the camera, the service costs, and installation costs.

The Equation Has Changed
The value that site cameras bring depends on the project. Site cameras benefit various stakeholders in a project, each in different ways. It is not easy to put an exact dollar figure on those values. However, it is clear that these value propositions are being increasingly recognized by leading construction teams across the country and the world. As there is more experience with using cameras in various ways on projects, these value equations will be increasingly easier to pinpoint. Our typical customers have not used site cameras in the past, and once they deploy them find they are using them multiple times per day and that they quickly become an indispensable project tool. We have talked a lot about the benefit side of the equation. But the other side is cost. One thing that is very clear, is that the newest generation of technology and products have reduced the costs of site cameras by over 50%. The benefits may be hard to quantify precisely, however the lower costs for next‐generation site cameras are presenting leading contractors and owners an easier decision to deploy site cameras on a wider range of projects.

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Sensera Systems is the fastest growing solar powered job site camera solution in the US. We design, engineer and manufacture our cameras and software in Golden, CO.