Best Learning Management Systems

Best Learning Management Systems

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What happens when people aren’t engaged in their education?

Very little, unfortunately.

It’s a stubborn problem that confronts HR staff and elementary school teachers alike.

Top talent gets bored and moves on. Students lose interest and tune out.

All the preparation and dedication it takes to develop a good course means nothing if people aren’t buying in.

This problem doesn’t get easier when learners and instructors are meeting online instead of in a classroom or on site.

Creating a digital environment where people can really learn is challenging, even in ideal circumstances. Having the right learning management system (LMS) software in place makes this task much more manageable for everyone involved.

Administrators have a clear view of what’s happening, instructors have the freedom to create courses that matter, and learners get a relevant, unique experience that meets them where they are.

LMS software will not replace the hard work and perseverance that goes into creating lessons and educating people. The right one, however, will let everyone focus on their work instead of fighting with a frustrating system.

The Top 6 Options for LMS Software

  1. Schoology – Best for K-12 education
  2. D2L Brightspace – Best for higher education
  3. Tovuti – Best for selling online courses
  4. Looop – Best for SMB employee training
  5. Docebo – Best for enterprise learning
  6. Sensei – Best LMS plugin for WordPress

The Different Types of LMS Software

Deciding on the type of LMS software is not going to be too difficult for most people.

Some of the vendors on this list offer products that span different categories, but for the most part, the different types of LMS software are aimed at specific educational settings:

  • Educational LMS Software
  • Corporate LMS Software
  • Ecommerce LMS Software

Deciding on the particular product within these three categories is where you are going to spend most of your time.

Let’s break these three types down a little further.

Educational LMS Software

These products are designed with school students in mind. They are built to help different types of educational organizations comply with government standards and meet the needs of their varied student populations.

Educational LMS Software can be broken down into two subtypes.

K-12 LMS Software is for towns, school districts, and private institutions that want to get every student on the same platform. They are built to scale appropriately, and track a student’s journey as they advance grades.

These types of platforms also accommodate the needs of parents, who are able to view grades and communicate with teachers.

Higher Education LMS Software is for colleges and universities. These platforms are designed to give students a much more independent experience, accommodating their unique set of courses and trajectory through undergrad, graduate, or postgraduate education.

Corporate LMS Software

These products are designed with adult learners in mind, particularly for businesses who need to train employees, customers, or partners.

These platforms help administrators create and deliver courses about company content and best practices. It works much better than throwing “the manual” at new members of your business.

Courses and company resources on a corporate LMS help with:

  • Onboarding: educating new employees, customers, or partners.
  • Training: providing basic knowledge to learners for a position, role, or skill.
  • Development: providing advanced knowledge to upskill or specialize a learner.
  • Enablement: provides educational resources to help skilled learners improve.

Some platforms will work across the organization to meet all of these needs for both external and internal uses.

Others may specialize in a particular area, like employee training, sales enablement, or customer onboarding.

Ecommerce LMS Software

These products are designed for individuals and institutions that want to sell online courses and other digital learning content.

Instead of a heavy-duty platform designed for a school district or enterprise organization, ecommerce LMS software is sleek and oriented around self-service.

Instructors can build out exactly the content they need, and have control over the costs via subscriptions or per-course fees.

Learners can find the courses they are looking for at a price that makes sense.

Many of these platforms have less expensive options that let you do everything but charge for courses. These non-monetized plans can work well for tutors, non-profits, and other individuals who need to organize and distribute educational content.

How to Choose the Best LMS Software for You

There are hundreds of vendors who make LMS software. To make your search easier, let’s focus on the people LMS software serves:

  • Learners
  • Instructors
  • Administrators

What do they want? What do they need? Really think about how each LMS is going to perform for each role.

In the end, how these different types of users feel about the product is going to determine whether it sinks or sets sail.

Let’s go in depth on considerations for each role. This is going to help you think through your specific situation and zero in on the product that checks all your boxes.

We’ll close this section with a look at some of the technical considerations that really matter when picking LMS software

Learner Experience

Much of the learner experience will depend on the type of LMS software you choose. Some platforms are going to be aimed at students, others at adult employees.

At the same time, many of the essential considerations are going to be the same regardless of the type you choose. Likely, you are going to want support for one or more of the following types of learning environments:

  • Distance learning: Using online teaching to reach learners who are separated by great physical distance.
  • Remote learning: Using online teaching to reach learners during situations where people cannot meet in a physical classroom.
  • Blended learning: Using a mix of in-person and remote learning.
  • Mobile learning: Letting learners interact with phones and tablets, and on-the-go.
  • Social learning: Allowing learners to interact and teach each other.
  • Virtual classroom: An online space where learners and instructors can interact in real time, talking, sharing materials, and working in groups.

These environments are interrelated. Instructors leading a training session may make use of both mobile learning and a virtual classroom, for example.

What’s important to your search is selecting a platform that supports the learning environments necessary for all of the students, teams, or departments who use it.

Additionally, you’ll want to consider the learning styles supported. Depending on your organization, you may want to have some or all of these options for learning available:

  • Synchronous: Learners and instructors are in the same place at the same time, even if it’s a digital “place.” Everyone goes through the learning path together.
  • Asynchronous: Learners can complete their work at different times and may progress through the course at their own pace. It is sometimes called “self-paced” learning.
  • On-Demand: Learners have anytime access to courses and learning resources. In some cases, learners can select their own courses of study.
  • Accessible: Learners with special circumstances are supported by features like closed-captions, text-to-speech, and translation.

Instructor Freedom

There’s no lesson that’s going to work for every learner every time. Instructors need the ability to experiment, to blend the tried-and-true methods with new tactics.

If a platform doesn’t have the features or functions an instructor needs, they’re going to be spending time finding workarounds.

Find something that centralizes all the tools instructors need to accomplish their goals, and lets them build exactly what they need. This is going to be different for each department or branch of a business.

Pay particular attention to course management features and how they are going to help your instructors create an effective learning experience. These include:

  • Quizzes and graded assignments
  • Learner profiles and rosters
  • Learner reports and analytics
  • Discussion boards and chats
  • Content library
  • Multimedia uploads

With the exception of brand-new instructors, most will be approaching the new LMS with existing resources they’d like to continue using. I’m thinking of content from past courses as well as services like plagiarism detectors.

It shouldn’t be impossible for them to transfer their current course content (from paper or a previous LMS) to the new platform. Scanning with handwriting/optical character recognition will allow them to upload and use any type of document can be really helpful.

Here, it’s important to consider the platform’s ease-of-use. Not every instructor is going to want to become an expert in the intricacies of LMS software. Many want something that gets out of the way and just lets them teach, so to speak.

It’s about making enough online learning resources available without overwhelming instructors. If it’s annoying or constricting to use certain features, they won’t.

Administrator Control

A lot of the best LMS software is cloud-based, which means organizations aren’t responsible for maintaining the backend IT infrastructure.

Even so, administrators play a leading role in the success or failure of any platform. What you are looking for is something that gives these all-important users the visibility and control they need.

An LMS that integrates and syncs with your student information system or identity provider is going to make this task a lot easier.

Additionally, admins need to be able to pull reports quickly. This could be for an individual student, class, or entire school district, depending on your use case. How hard is it going to be for administrators to get big picture and granular insight?

Technical Considerations

The LMS you choose has to fit into your environment. It’s going to be one of a number of tools that people are using throughout their day, and if it doesn’t play nice with others, there’s trouble ahead.

This is true of any software, but with an LMS, you have to be extra careful to consider every aspect of this issue before signing on to a particular platform.

Integrations are going to be important. Will it work with your identity provider, student information system, plagiarism detector, or cloud storage services?

Look for direct integrations, as those will be the easiest to use. With LMS software, however, you should also be aware that many come with APIs that can be used to build custom solutions. These can work well, but you want to make sure these methods aren’t going to break at scale.

The other thing to pay attention to is content compliance. This includes standards like SCORM, LTI, AICC, and others. If a platform is SCORM compliant, for example, that means instructors will be able to import any content that meets those standards.

Unless you want to build everything instructors are using from scratch, it will be really helpful to find a platform that is compliant with the content you already depend on.

#1 – Schoology — Best for K-12 Blended Learning

Schoology has proven itself to be one of the most nimble LMS providers in a time where adapting to new learning environments really matters.

The platform connects everyone involved: students, teachers, parents, coaches, and administrators. It can accommodate virtually any type of learning environment, from in-person, to blended, to fully remote.

With Schoology, instructors can continue to “use what they know” because it has direct integrations with more than 200 popular tools, like Turnitin and Khan Academy, as well as compliance with SCORM, LTI, QTI and Common Cartridge.

Whether the schools are open or closed, teachers can use the lessons they trust without having to reinvent the wheel. They can manage everything from assessments to attendance within a single dashboard, and share all of their content with students on their class homepage.

Students can find the information they need quickly and a space to reach out if they need help. It has the feel of a social media platform, in terms of user-friendliness and student approachability.

Within this simple framework, instructors have a ton of freedom to create unique content for their students, design meaningful assessments, and a rich set of tools for tracking progress.

They can figure out what’s working quickly, and have the ability to personalize content for individualized instruction.

This is really important in blended learning environments where students don’t necessarily have equal access to technology. Schoology makes it easier for teachers to create different types of assessments that let students go at their own pace or access resources offline, even on the mobile app.

That’s the beauty of Schoology. It doesn’t change what teachers teach, it just gives them the tools to do it in any setting, with features like:

  • Course & lesson designers
  • Grading tools
  • Commenting and video feedback
  • Student tracking
  • Online discussions

On the administrator side, Schoology syncs with student information systems, which cuts down on busy work and keeps information consistent.

It will work especially well for districts that are already using Powerschool as their student information system, as Schoology is now part of the same company.

Students, instructors, parents and advisors can create a free Schoology account, but institutions will have to get in touch with Schoology for pricing.

The strength of the product for K-12 schools is that it integrates with tools that teachers already use, in a format that’s comfortable for students.

#2 – D2L Brightspace — Best for Higher Education

D2L, which stands for Desire 2 Learn, makes LMS software for higher education that is used by some of the biggest universities in the country. It’s become a lifesaver for many institutions that are trying to adjust to remote learning.

For as powerful and customizable as it is, D2L’s Brightspace for Higher Education feels extremely light. It’s easy to navigate for students, giving them the ability to monitor grades, assignments, classes, and announcements from a single dashboard.

The truth is that each professor only needs a fraction of the capabilities available to create and manage their courses. D2L can be customized to meet the needs of different departments and pedagogical approaches.

In Brightspace, the interface is easy for professors to use, no matter how they want to build their course and track assessment. They’re not having to shoehorn their lectures into a mold or trying to develop work arounds to include the content they want.

On the student side, the experience remains minimalist, regardless of which features their professors using. One class may use a ton of collaborative and social tools, like discussion boards. Another might be all videos and interactive labs.

Either way, the student gets a single, clean, cohesive experience since D2L’s mobile app is responsive and works well on any screen size.

In short, students have one place for all their academic needs and can access the platform from wherever they are.

Whether students are going to be on campus, engaging in remote learning, or some mix of the two, D2L Brightspace comes with everything an institution needs to continue operating, including:

  • Virtual classrooms
  • Video assignments
  • Student/Class progress dashboards
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Disaster recovery

All of these features come with Brightspace Core. Additional reporting and tracking features are available with Performance Plus, which can be helpful for identifying at-risk students before problems become unsolvable.

Engagement Plus, another Brightspace add-on, comes with additional features to further enhance digital learning environments. Instructors will be able to deliver fully-searchable video content, which is great for lectures, and enable gamification in their courses.

You’ll have to get in touch with D2L for pricing. Call them today and see why so many public and private institutions are choosing to go with Brightspace over the competition.

#3 – Tovuti — Best for Selling Online Courses

Tovuti is a super-flexible LMS software option. I like it best for individuals and institutions that are looking to sell courses online, though it could be a favorable option as a lightweight corporate LMS.

Tovuti provides a strong blend of ecommerce LMS functionality with course management features that help instructors make sure that learners are getting the most bang for their buck.

Unlike other similar platforms, course authoring tools are included. Within the platform you can create more than 40 different types of content, like interactive videos, quizzes, and memory games.

Once you’ve built your courses, Tovuti makes it easy to manage, track, and grow your enrollment. There’s a built-in content management system, blog, and web designer, as well as plenty of features to help you create an experience that aligns with your brand.

Create extended learning paths with multiple courses or deliver your content in a microlearning format where learners are free to choose from individual PDFs and videos in your content library.

By enabling feedback (which is optional), you can let learners rate and review your courses. This puts them on the radar of learners with similar goals.

All the marketing, ecommerce, and content creation capabilities an instructor needs are centralized in one intuitive platform.

Some of the other highlights include:

  • Virtual classroom
  • Personalized learner portals
  • Mobile learning
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • SCORM compliance
  • PowerPoint importer
  • Gamification

To use Tovuti as an ecommerce LMS, you’ll need to get the Pro plan. This is going to be more expensive than the Core plan, but that doesn’t let you charge for courses.

The upside is that the Pro plan comes with a ton of features that are all exceptionally deep. For example, their virtual classroom allows for breakout rooms. Smaller groups can split up, talk about the discussion and rejoin the larger meeting seamlessly.

Get in touch with Tovuti today and supercharge your e-learning business for tomorrow.

#4 – Looop — Best for SMB Employee Training and Development

Looop helps small businesses bring new hires up to speed quickly and keep top talent engaged. At the heart of Looop’s strategy for delivering a meaningful LMS is their understanding of how employees actually learn.

Most people’s instinct is to use search engines to find the information they need rather than in-house resources. But you can’t ensure the information they get from Google has the context, depth, and relevance to be applied properly to your company.

Looop lets you turn company content into the on-demand resource employees crave. Quickly build engaging training modules and other resources, or integrate existing SCORM and xAPI content into your platform.

One of the standout features of Looop is that administrators can use automated campaigns to deliver content directly to the inboxes or Slack channels of employees who need it. Similar to marketing automation, these campaigns can be personalized to meet the needs of the learner.

Admins can then track which messages have been opened, which trainings have been completed, and automatically send the next training module when they’re ready.

Plus, it’s all mobile-responsive, so employees can access these resources whenever and wherever they need them.

There are also built-in survey tools that allow learners to provide feedback and dashboards for instructors and admins to keep tabs on overall progress. Continually optimize content based on how learners are responding.

Some of the other standout features that come with Loop include:

  • Instructor-led training
  • Unlimited content creation
  • Video and screencast uploads
  • Flexible roles and permissions
  • Pre-created content libraries
  • Automatic content backups

Companies of any size can benefit from Looop’s transparent, predictable pricing. There are four tiers, which are based on the number of users:

  • Small Businesses: $299/month, up to 50 users
  • Mid Size Businesses: $699/month, up to 250 users
  • Enterprise: $1,199/month, up to 500 users
  • Enterprise Plus: Contact sales for more than 500 users

Keeping the price down is not hard with Looop. You can archive users, which means you can keep their record without their seat counting toward your limit.

And if your user size falls somewhere between the tiers, they’re happy to work with you to find a fitting price.

I like it for SMBs because it’s something they can stick with as they grow and it’s not nearly as expensive as other corporate LMS software.

For small and midmarket organizations that are focused on training employees, Looop is a solid choice. Learners get the resources they need at their fingertips, and administrators can monitor progress with very little legwork.

You can try Looop free for seven days, which comes with a live demo to get you started on the right foot. The demo is only about 20-30 minutes long, which gives you an idea of how easy it is to use.

#5 – Docebo — Best LMS software for Enterprise Learning

Docebo is a corporate LMS built from the ground up to serve medium to large enterprises. Learning and development administrators will love how easy the platform is to use, manage, and evolve as new challenges emerge.

First things first, Docebo is pronounced doh-chay-bo. It’s Latin for “I will teach.” Even their name is educational.

It’s best for companies that need to train 300 or more people each month. These could be courses for employees, customers, and partners.

High-growth companies—especially if they are on the verge of outgrowing their existing LMS—will find that Docebo provides the tools they need to scale their learning programs.

Easy content creation, flexible teaching environments, and excellent reporting features allow companies to upskill everyone inside and outside the company. The most common use cases include:

  • Compliance training
  • Customer training
  • Employee development
  • Employee onboarding
  • Partner training
  • Sales enablement

It’s built to ensure that admins and instructors can securely share the information learners need and keep track of their ongoing education. Managers can quickly see how each member of their team is progressing and who may need a little extra help.

In Docebo, managers and admins get the freedom not just to create content, but to customize the user experience for their learners. With the Pages feature, managers can quickly create a unique space for learners that matches the needs of their specific audience and organizes all the relevant resources.

Using the simple drag-and-drop interface, managers can add widgets like calendars, activity feeds, reports, and other features to keep everyone on the same page.

Some of the other features that make Docebo such a good out-of-the-box solution for an enterprise LMS include:

  • Unlimited cloud storage
  • SSO & integration with IdPs
  • 40+ languages supported
  • ROI dashboards
  • Ecommerce LMS functionality
  • Compliance with SCORM, AICC, and xAPI

For those who need it, being able to manage multiple languages on the platform will be critical. Docebo comes with a localization tool that helps you ensure that translations capture your intended meaning.

You’ll have to get in touch with Docebo for pricing, but it’s most certainly geared towards the needs of larger organizations that are growing quickly.

If you need a one-and-done onboarding course, Docebo will be overkill. It works well for extended or ongoing learning programs.

There are no pricing tiers for less than 300 learners a month, so it can be difficult for an SMB to justify the cost of Docebo, regardless of how good it is.

It’s also not intended for K-12 or higher education. The company states this clearly on their website.

If you need corporate LMS software that is going to work at scale, Docebo is the best choice available. Companies like Bose, Amazon Web Services, and WalMart have made it their LMS for a reason.

Get in touch with Docebo today and impress the sales team with your Latin pronunciation.

#6 – Sensei — Best LMS Plugin for WordPress

Sensei is a premium plugin made by WooCommerce that lets people design and sell courses within their WordPress site.

It takes just a few clicks to ingrate Sensei. Now, instead of a blog, you have a classroom with lessons, quizzes, grading, and learner management features.

If you are just interested in sharing your knowledge within an LMS rather than a blog, Sensei has you covered.

Should you want to monetize that venture, just add the WooCommerce Paid Course extension. A few more clicks and now your teaching has become a source of income.

Piano teachers, tutors, professors, even humble bloggers such as myself can build out courses within the WordPress platform as if they’re making a new page or post.

It’s as easy as you think it is. Why? Because Sensei is made by Automattic, the same people who power WordPress, WooCommerce, and other sites that continuously deliver best-in-breed products to their users.

Like their other products, Sensei is an intuitive balance of power and simplicity. There’s a lot you can do in terms of customizing courses, but it’s not overwhelming.

The ease-of-use is passed on to the students, who enjoy a welcoming interface and clear roadmap of what they need to get done. Choosing courses is as easy as shopping on WooCommerce and navigating your site is as easy as clicking around your blog.

The features are not as deep as they are with some of the more robust corporate LMS software, but it has everything an individual needs to get started selling courses, including:

  • Lesson, course, and quiz builder
  • Image and video uploads
  • Integration with WordPress themes
  • Grading
  • Learner management and analytics
  • Private messaging

Looking at all-in pricing to use Sensei, it breaks down like this:

  • SenseiLMS: Free
  • WooCommerce Paid Courses: $129/year
  • WordPress hosting: starting at $2.95/month with Bluehost

The price of WordPress hosting is going to vary. I recommend going with Bluehost, because it’s affordable and dependable.

All in, the total price is still well below many other LMS software options, most of which would take a lot more effort to set up. And, if you are already paying for WordPress hosting, you simply need to make more than $11 bucks off courses each month to turn a profit.

And if you don’t want to make money sharing your knowledge, you can just use Sensei for free.

Whether you want to make money with what you know or not, Sensei will help you turn your blog into an educational environment. We all love the comment section, but what kind of commitment from your readers will you build by offering interactive courses?

Sensei can help you find out, and may turn into a source of passive income if you can find an audience.

Summary

Teaching is hard. Instructors, coaches, mentors and business leaders will all admit that with pride.

How long is a new hire’s honeymoon period where they’re really willing to learn? Or a student, for that matter? How long do you want to wait for that manager to get trained up?

Creating the conditions for learning is always going to be a challenge, but using the right LMS software is going to take a ton of the legwork out.

Everyone can focus on their work instead of fighting with a frustrating system.

K-12 teachers have enough on their plate without having to reinvent the way they instruct. Using Schoology LMS, teachers can stick with what they know and utilize the best-in-class platform to deliver their lessons.

For higher education, D2L Brightspace is going to make student, faculty, and administrator lives much easier. Professors have the flexibility to design the exact online learning experience their courses need without overwhelming students. Administrators get the visibility and control they need to manage a constantly changing environment.

Looking at the corporate LMS software, Looop should be the choice for small business and Docebo for enterprise.

Looop is lighter but still very powerful, and it comes in at a reasonable price point for SMBs who don’t need to train hundreds of people each month.

Docebo, on the other hand, is built to scale with enterprise growth. Learners inside and outside the company are well supported by the platform.

In terms of selling online courses, Tovuti is the complete package. People monetize and deliver engaging content, and the platform is packed with marketing features designed to grow their audience.

For people who are using WordPress to grow their business (something I endorse wholeheartedly), SenseiLMS will let them turn their blog into a classroom. A couple clicks, a little planning, and now their WordPress site is paying for itself.

Best Business Security Systems

Best Business Security Systems

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

It’s a good idea to set up a business security system before you need it.

For too many companies, the decision to make this investment is reactive. Their company’s physical security gets compromised, resources are lost, and employees feel unsafe.

A lot of people see cost as a barrier to installing a reliable business security system. That used to be true, but today, there are tons of really affordable solutions.

A small shop can set up basic video surveillance for under $300 for the first year. No joke. And the high-end systems cost nothing compared to the losses they prevent.

Don’t want to drill holes and run wires? That’s fine. There are DIY wireless systems available for a song.

And, with video storage in the cloud, most business owners can monitor all their alerts and recordings from a smartphone.

I’ve put together a list of five of the best business security systems. You’ll find lightweight options that cover the basics, as well as powerful systems with competitive pricing.

In here, there’s going to be a business security system that meets your specific needs. By the end of this post, you’ll know which one.

The Top 5 Options for Business Security Systems

  1. SimpliSafe – Best for DIY Security System for SMBs
  2. Vivint – Best for Professional Monitoring
  3. Alarm.com – Best Professional Security System for SMBs
  4. Alibi Security – Best for Upgrading Existing Security Systems
  5. Wyze – Best for Affordable DIY Video Surveillance

How to Choose the Best Business Security Systems for You

Pretend you are a thief. Could you break into your own business and get away with it?

Without a full business security system in place, every office or storefront is going to look like an opportunity to the wrong crowd.

But what does it take to really secure a space?

Not that much, unless you’re trying to lock down a casino or bank.

The typical workplace and even huge corporate headquarters can get by with a surprisingly modest amount of equipment.

Let’s break business security systems down into their basic elements:

  • Access control
  • Intrusion detection
  • Video surveillance and recording
  • Professional monitoring
  • Installation

I’ll go over the major considerations in each section. From there, you can decide which equipment is going to work best in your space.

Access Control

One of the key responsibilities for a business security system is controlling access to the property. The products I really like have smart locks, which can be controlled remotely.

What’s more fun than having to let someone into the office on your day off?

Plus these locks can be set to open or shut at particular times, ensuring that a building is secure even if the last person out forgets.

Many smart locks come with keypads and let you assign unique PIN codes that identify who is entering. No more missing keys.

Some of the more advanced access control features include keycard systems, which create a log of everyone coming and going.

Intrusion Detection

Adding sensors to doors and windows lets business owners know when something has been opened.

Usually, owners can configure the types of alerts they get. This means a manager might get an alert that a service door was left ajar, but only the owner would see that the safe was opened.

There are also motion sensors, which can trigger alerts or blare a warning siren to let an intruder know they’ve been detected.

Glass break sensors are triggered by the specific frequency of someone smashing a window, which can provide an alert even when a burglar is not in view or range of other equipment.

Some cameras come with built-in motion detectors, alarms, lights, and sirens. Mounting one of these cameras over an entrance can deter would-be criminals, especially if they trip the motion detector and find themselves bathed in light, frowning at a camera.

There’s actually quite a bit these cameras can do, so let’s jump to that now.

Video Surveillance & Storage

Each camera that is part of a business security system has two important jobs: capture video and store it safely.

To accomplish both these tasks, a camera has to have the right capabilities. Let’s break down each responsibility.

In terms of capturing footage, here are the core camera features to be thinking about:

  • Resolution: the quality of the picture (look for 1080p or better)
  • Field of view: how wide an angle the camera sees
  • Pan: the range a camera can swivel from side to side
  • Tilt: the range a camera can swivel up and down
  • Zoom: the camera can reframe and enlarge part of the field of view
  • Infrared: the camera can use heat signatures to improve lowlight/night vision.

Let’s say there’s one camera pointed straight down a hallway, and another in a parking lot. The hall cam doesn’t need a wide field of view, night vision, or the ability to pan/tilt/zoom.

The parking lot cam might need all those features, plus a higher resolution to keep image quality when zooming in on a car at the end of the property.

Now, surveillance footage is pretty much useless if you can’t access it when needed. In terms of video storage, here are some of the major things to think about:

  • Camera type: analog, cellular, IP, and WiFi cams
  • Resolution: the higher the image quality, the more storage required
  • Clip capture: whether a camera records a picture every x seconds or records for y seconds after motion is detected
  • Continuous recording: the camera is rolling 24/7
  • Storage location: recordings can be stored on a video card, in the cloud, on a DVR, NVR, or some blend of these locations.

The overarching question is, how do I make sure that every camera can deliver its recordings to a centralized place where everything can be managed?

With cellular and WiFi cameras, you really just have to get power to them. WiFi cameras have to be in range, but cellular ones can be anywhere service is available. If these are battery-powered and record to a memory card, they are 100% wire-free solutions.

When it comes to IP and analog cameras, they have to connect to a recorder. If the cameras are PoE (power over ethernet), power and recording can be delivered with the same wire. If not, you’ll need to both power the camera and wire it to the central hub.

Professional Monitoring

Some business security systems have the option to include professional monitoring. That means that emergency alerts will be routed to a security center who will contact police, fire, and/or EMS.

The cost of professional monitoring can vary widely and sometimes it is only available via a third-party service.

Installation

Some vendors offer installation for supposedly DIY systems and I recommend pricing that out. If it takes you and one other person all day to set things up, is that really more economical than paying a pro $100 to get it right before lunch?

With the more heavy-duty systems, professional installation is going to be required. Getting dozens of IP cameras wired and placed throughout a large property is not something a non-specialist should tackle.

There are also codes and regulations to consider for the non-DIY systems. Usually a sales rep will be able to answer all your questions about fire code and other laws that might affect your system.

It’s nothing to lose sleep over, just not a problem you want to discover with the inspector.

The Different Types of Business Security Systems

The breakdown of different types of business security systems is pretty straightforward. Depending on your needs, you may know exactly what type is going to work.

Alternatively, you may fall somewhere in between these categories. Then the decision will come down to the specific equipment that makes up the system.

If anything, I’d err on the side of caution and make extra sure you are securing the entire property, rather than trying to stretch a lighter system to its limits.

DIY Business Security Systems

The so-called DIY business security systems are made up of WiFi and cellular cameras that don’t necessarily require any extensive setup.

Since the cameras record directly to the web, there’s no need to wire them to a central recorder. Mostly it’s just mounting the cameras and plugging them in to a power source.

All the cameras, sensors, locks, and other equipment are accessible from a browser or mobile app. If you are not climbing ladders, the whole installation may take no more than an hour.

DIY business security systems are really affordable, but they have their limits. They don’t typically accommodate a large number of cameras and start to lose their effectiveness at longer ranges.

Professional Business Security Systems

When it comes to business security systems that have to be installed by a professional, you’re going to get a much greater range of capabilities than with a DIY system.

For one thing, you will be able to deploy a large and complex system. This means as many cameras, sensors, and locks as necessary. All of it will be centralized in one place, regardless of the type of camera.

They’ll also have more robust access control equipment that’s designed specifically for businesses, like keycard systems.

The cameras tend to be more expensive than their DIY counterparts, but they capture better quality images, have greater range of vision, and include enhanced night vision or other capabilities.

If you think that a DIY system won’t cut it but you’re not sure you need a  commercial-grade security solution, this category is going to cater to your needs.

Commercial-Grade Business Security Systems

The biggest difference between commercial-grade and professional security systems is the range and depth of the equipment available. These are solutions that work for casinos, airports, correctional facilities, and so on.

We’re talking thermal cameras that can record body temperature so that workers clocking in can be alerted if they have a fever. They’ll be able to recognize faces and license plates, quantify foot traffic, and come in virtually indestructible casings.

They also tend to offer a much richer system to manage video surveillance at scale. Hundreds or thousands of cameras can be linked to a unified system that uses analytics to surface the most critical alerts.

Not every business needs a commercial grade solution, but those that do shouldn’t settle for anything less.

#1 – SimpliSafe — Best DIY Security System for SMB

SimpliSafe is one of the most popular security systems for home and business. Why? The equipment is easy to install and gets the job done.

SimpliSafe’s hardware is basically plug and play, with the entire system controlled from its mobile app. From the base station, which is the core of the system, it’s possible to build out a fairly extensive system with their range of sensors and multipurpose SimpliCam ($99 indoor, $119 outdoor).

Because these cameras have cellular and WiFi connection, they only need power to start working right away. This cuts down on setup hassles and gives more flexibility in terms of how far you can place cameras from the base station.

From the app, you can arm/disarm your system remotely. You can also create unique PIN codes so you know who exactly is accessing the building. Create one code for cleaners, one code for each employee, and grant or deny access without ever having to come in.

A lot of SMBs lease space that someone else is responsible for. When the landline goes down or there is a power outage, they can rely on SimpliSafe’s cellular cams with battery backup to maintain security.

Some of the highlights of a SimpliSafe business security system include:

  • HD video/audio cameras
  • Smart locks
  • Sensors for entry, motion, glass break, temperature, and water
  • 105dB siren (about as loud as a car horn)
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Centralized dashboard for multi-site management
  • 24/7 alerts

I really like it for SMBs because the setup is truly DIY and covers all the bases of business security. They have dedicated business packages for offices, storefronts, and restaurants which come with tools designed to meet the challenges of each space.

Plus, the professional monitoring services are really affordable. It’s 50¢/day for Standard and 83¢/day for Interactive, which comes with a lot more features.

With either plan, when an alarm is tripped, SimpliSafe confirms with video verification that the threat is real before dispatching police.

They also provide assistance with the permitting process for security systems, which takes another responsibility off the plate of SMBs located in cities or states with important regulations.

There are no contracts with SimpliSafe and you can cancel any time. On top of the extremely competitive price, SimpliSafe offers free shipping, free returns, and a 60-day money-back guarantee. They’ll even pay the return shipping.

That gives you basically two months to figure out if SimpliSafe works in practice. And if it doesn’t, don’t pay.

#2 – Vivint — Best for Professional Monitoring

Vivint is a great professional business security system. For companies that can’t use a DIY solution, but they also don’t need the hefty services associated with commercial-grade security, Vivint strikes the right balance.

They have a wide range of equipment and 24/7 professional monitoring comes with every plan they offer.

Vivint doesn’t outsource monitoring to a third-party service. Since it’s kept in-house, the average wait time for an emergency is eight seconds. That’s 7.5 times faster than the national average.

Cellular connection with battery backup will keep the system operational during a power outage, so the 24/7 professional monitoring remains unbroken.

There are three motion-activated cameras that Vivint offers, all of which deliver real-time alerts to you and the Vivint security team.

My favorite, the Outdoor Camera Pro, comes with Smart Sentry detection, which recognizes human movement. It lets off a loud chirping noise that draws the intruder’s eyes up to the camera where a red recording light lets them know you’re on camera.

With the two-way voice feature, you can hear what’s happening and deliver your own choice words about the attempted intrusion.

Vivint’s outdoor camera also captures really high-quality images. With the 4k image sensor, it’s possible to zoom in on faces and license places, even in the dark.

Every camera Vivint makes is just as feature-rich as their outdoor cam, and I didn’t even cover everything that comes with it. Their other business security features are similarly robust, including:

  • Wireless security cams
  • Pan and tilt cams
  • Doorbell cams
  • Door and window sensors
  • Sensors: Door and window, recessed door, motion, tilt, glass break, temperature, and flood
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Medical pendants
  • Smart locks
  • Smart thermostats

The Vivint Smart Drive stores all captured video, automatically creating clips whenever sensors detect unusual activity. Everything stored can be viewed, managed, and controlled on the mobile app.

The Smart Drive automatically stores 30 days of continuous footage. This is nice because businesses don’t always know something has happened immediately, even with professional monitoring.

If someone is playing funny money with the register, being able to look back and zoom in on the cash drawer can be crucial.

You can call Vivint to get a price for how much a business security system is going to cost. Be advised, the equipment is fairly expensive.

The Outdoor Camera Pro is $399.99 purchased alone, but they offer zero-interest payment plans broken down over the course of years to help keep the monthly payment competitive.

All Vivint equipment comes with a lifetime warranty and strong encryption to prevent footage from being accessed by unauthorized users.

There’s just a lot of peace of mind you get with Vivint, because you know they are always there if something happens.

#3 – Alarm.com — Best Professional Business Security System for SMBs

Alarm.com is famous for both its home and business security systems. Their technology is used to protect more than 5 million properties and they have an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

For business, they are focused on serving small to mid-market business owners. This means they don’t have the same range of products as commercial-grade solutions, but what they do offer is tailor-made for the challenges SMBs face every day.

Their Smarter Business Security centralizes all security cameras, lights, and locks for easy automation and control. Information that the devices capture is reported on clear dashboards from the website or mobile app.

You can set schedules to automatically lock doors at a certain time each day of the week as an extra safeguard. If there is an intrusion detected, real-time viewing allows owners to see if the disturbance warrants calling the police.

Alarm.com can be deployed across multiple sites, where the reporting features can be really helpful in ways beyond business security.

For one, you can visualize trends, identifying rush times and customer traffic.

And since the lights and the thermostat are connected to the alarm system, the building will always be comfortable when people are there and energy-efficient when they’re not. Alerts prevent a window from not being shut all the way, which limits waste and eliminates a potential security breach.

In terms of cameras and equipment, Alarm.com offers:

  • Indoor/outdoor cameras
  • Wired/wireless cameras
  • Fixed/Pan cameras
  • Smart locks
  • Keycard systems
  • Entry sensors

Analog cameras can be connected to your Alarm.com system and every camera they sell comes with anytime mobile access, instant video alerts, intelligent clip capture, and real-time streaming.

To purchase an Alarm.com business security system, you’ll have to reach out to an authorized service provider in your area. Depending on your needs and requirements, all of their providers offer a range of self-service and professional installation options.

Alarm.com is a step above the full DIY systems. It unifies intrusion detection, access control, video surveillance, and energy management into a single, intuitive app.

Business owners are always informed and their property is always safe.

#4 – Alibi Security — Best for Upgrading Existing Security Systems

Alibi Security is an umbrella company that sells equipment from a number of high-end security brands. Because of this, they offer an incredibly wide range of devices that can tie into any system.

It’s a great commercial-grade option for companies that want to upgrade instead of replace their existing infrastructure. No matter how you have deployed your system in the past, Alibi has the tools to help you improve it.

There’s just a stunning range of top-of-the-line equipment that can be adapted to fit any scenario. Just looking at security cameras, for instance, Alibi has:

  • Cloud IP cameras
  • HD-TVI Cameras
  • Network IP cameras
  • Wireless cameras
  • Pan-tilt-zoom cameras
  • Doorbell cameras
  • Deterrent cameras
  • Hidden cameras
  • Micro cameras
  • Board cameras
  • Snake cameras

What does a hidden camera look like? Alibi has some that look like ceiling speakers, motion sensors, and even smoke detectors.

They have the video recording solutions to completely support any array of cameras—analog, IP, wireless… it doesn’t matter. All Alibi recorders have common management software, centralizing operations and decreasing the learning curve for users.

When it comes to intrusion detection and access control, Alibi has a full set of hardware and software to set up keypad, keycard, and request-to-exit systems.

Much of Alibi’s equipment is compliant with the National Defense Authorization Act, which means it’s good enough for the U.S. Military.

You’ll have to get in touch with a licensed Alibi dealer in order to get pricing. It’s going to be on the high end, like other commercial-grade security solutions tend to be.

Where it stands out from its direct competitors is the ease with which Alibi’s equipment integrates with your existing hardware. Since all of their HD/TVI recorders have Hybrid+ technology, it’s not hard to migrate from analog to HD or to install a hybrid analog/HD solution.

Adding more cameras is also easy, as many Alibi recorders support up to 64 IP channels that are each pre-licensed and fully-enabled.

Easy to tie in and easy to scale out, Alibi is the choice for companies looking to beef up their security with the latest and greatest technology.

#5 – Wyze — Best For Affordable DIY Video Surveillance

Wyze has ridiculously low priced cameras that get the job done for businesses that need to record what happens onsite.

Really, Wyze is aimed at homeowners more than business, but if all you need is video surveillance, what’s the difference?

The latest version of the Wyze Cam is $19.99. It’s small, yet it’s got 1080p color night vision and IP65 weather resistance. The Wyze Outdoor Starter Bundle ($49.99), which comes with one outdoor cam and a required base station, lets you mount a cam anywhere.

Really, anywhere. The outdoor cam is wire-free and powered by batteries that last 3-6 months. With Wyze, there’s a lot of freedom to get a video surveillance system set up at very little cost.

The Wyze Cam Pan ($29.99) can spin 360° in under three seconds. It also has motion detection so it can follow the action. This is essentially at one-third to one-tenth the cost of most other cameras that can pan.

Some of the Wyze smart home products are really helpful for business owners. Wyze Bulbs, for instance, connect to WiFi to give you the ability to control them at once or individually.

Change the light color temperature to better suit the mood of a restaurant—soft and warm for the diners and then bright as day for the nighttime clean up crew. Set a schedule so lights come on during the night to make would-be intruders think someone is there.

Some of the other nice products and camera capabilities include:

  • Doorbell camera/intercom
  • Smart thermostats
  • Smart locks
  • Motion detection sirens
  • Motion detection zones
  • Mobile app
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide alerts

Beyond the motion detection siren on the Wyze Cam, they don’t have any products for intrusion detection, though a new line of Wyze Sense products is on the horizon.

In terms of access control, they offer the smart lock ($99) and keypad ($20) that fits over most single-cylinder deadbolts. It will give you a record of everyone who keys in and out and alert you if the door is open.

For video storage, the Basic plan is free and comes with 14-day rolling cloud storage, though it only captures a 12-second video when it detects motion or sound. There’s also a five-minute cooldown period before you can see the video.

My guess is that a lot of business owners are going to want the CamPlus plan ($1.25/month per camera). It’s a very competitive price and comes with unlimited video length recordings and no cooldown period.

At the end of the day, several Wyze cameras are going to deliver 1080p video surveillance for well under $300 in the first year, including the cost of the equipment.

Summary

Some tasks are really hard to define. Securing a business is not one of them.

The goals are clear and the stakes are high. Offices, shops, restaurants, and warehouses are responsible for keeping their shared space safe.

It’s not just about protecting assets. A business’ reputation with staff and customers are on the line.

For SMBs that want a security system they can set up themselves, SimpliSafe is a really great option. It’s got the full range of intrusion detection, access control, and video surveillance necessary, yet the system remains easy to deploy and manage.

If you only need video surveillance, the best DIY option is definitely Wyze. The price is impossible to beat and the cameras are surprisingly good.

Should DIY security systems not rise to the challenge, Alarm.com can outfit a business completely. Whether they protect one or many sites, owners get total oversight of their business security in the sleek interface.

Vivint is an excellent choice for businesses that need professional monitoring. Their equipment is really solid and their security team will verify the incident over video before alerting the authorities. Cutting down on false alarms is huge for ensuring a quick, reliable response.

Looking at commercial-grade solutions, Alibi Security is a really strong choice. Not only do they offer best-in-class security solutions, they’ll integrate seamlessly with your existing stack. For businesses that want to evolve their security in the right direction, Alibi is it.