When you least expect it, someone, somewhere comes up with a screwy idea
that's tailor-made for the solutions integrator community. This week's
brainchild is placing a Webcam in every classroom in the public schools
of Biloxi, Miss.
That's about 500 ceiling-mounted cameras in cute plastic domes, with
additional equipment to record the images. That's a bottom line of
around $2 million, or $4,000 per camera. That probably includes cabling,
switches, servers, and other allied equipment. CameraWatch, a Jackson,
Miss. company (http://www.camerawatch.net) specializing in school
security systems, installed Webcams made by Axis Communications
How will the Biloxi schools (http://www.biloxischools.net) put the
cameras to use? Well, it seems there's no policy for that yet. Perhaps
they'll catch little Johnny sneaking a peak at little Suzie's test
paper. Or little Patrick passing a note to little Candice. Or little
Scott shooting a spitball at little Jodie. Or little Trent singing the
praises of third-party segregationist presidential candidates. Alas,
there's only video -- no audio.
It will keep honest people "more honest," according to district
superintendent Larry Drawdy. Alas, I wasn't able to learn what effect it
will have on dishonest people. Less dishonest? Call me a cynic.
Never mind that Mississippi ranked 48th in school spending per child,
according to the United States Census Bureau's "Public Education
Finances" report, published in March 2003
(http://www.census.gov/govs/school/01fullreport.pdf). Never mind that
casino revenue paid for the project. We're not here to debate politics,
According to the Associated Press, only a school principal, vice
principal, superintendent, school board member or board attorney can
view the recordings made from the cameras. Parents, students, or
teachers would have to first obtain a court order.
But you've got to admit, it's a great business opportunity. The heck
with the public schools. Most are near broke anyway. There are private
schools, academies, military schools, boarding schools, prep schools,
parochial schools, religious schools, community colleges, junior
colleges, universities. Almost as many kinds of private schools as Bubba
has ways to prepare shrimp.
Of course there are zillions of corporate, business, and manufacturing
applications, too. Sometimes, we're so concerned about files being
stolen via the network, you've got to wonder who's making sure the
entire server isn't simply carted out the back door.
So why is this great for integrators? Well, you don't have to sell
something that hasn't been sold already. Just hold up a newspaper.
Better yet, print the PDF case study on the Axis Web site
this story has been plastered all over the news for days. And the
technology is pretty easy stuff. No doubt nearly every private school
classroom, lab, and other public areas are already shrouded in miles of
Cat5 cable. Ethernet is everywhere, I declare. (How well this would work
over a wireless 802.11 connection, I do not know.)
The toughest part, at least for us IT types, is the physical
construction; installation of those plastic domes, and bringing
electricity to wherever it's needed. But that's why we have security
specialists, carpenters, and electricians. It's time to make some new
Is this a business worth getting into? Well, I'm not sure about that
either. I've always liked the idea of getting in the door with one
solution, only to find you can sell a whole raft of others. That's not
to say I'd do this as a loss leader, but I've done crazier things with
an initial business deal to enhance the likelihood of landing future
business. There is the opportunity to sell bandwidth, recording
equipment, set up access rights, and more.
Whether it makes sense to install a Webcam in a school's every classroom
is surely a matter for serious debate. Crummy teachers, no doubt, won't
want it, but maybe most parents will. For us, that's not the point. I
really like the idea of offering something so off-the-wall (or suspended
from the ceiling) yet so closely allied with the networking technology
we already know and practice.