Convergence Q&A: Putting Interoperability Standards into Perspective

I have been surprised several times before, during and after the ISC West conference to hear remarks about ONVIF and PSIA standards development work as if the two groups are running a horse race and one or the other will be (or has been) declared the permanent winner.

It is nothing like that.

Standards are an ongoing effort as technology evolves, and the rate of technology advancement continues to accelerate. Just like CD and DVD recorders and players support multiple standards from different groups, ONVIF and PSIA are involved in parallel but differing standards development work.

The real winner had better be the end-users, or else there is no reason to engage in the efforts. So I want to address the most common question I hear from end-users:


Q: Should I be paying attention to the ONVIF and PSIA standards work?


A: Yes. From this point on, every ISC West and ASIS conference should have interoperability activities worth attending. Additionally, expect vendors to include status reports and demonstrations for their adoption of standards in their sales and educational presentations and literature.


Putting Standards Development into Perspective

Periodically, I am asked why I have such a positive attitude about the current status of physical security industry standards development — given that the degree of standards implementation varies among manufacturers and a high level of interoperability between systems has not yet been achieved in product implementations. The developments to date actually are impressive when you contrast the size of our industry and the size of the standards groups with other interoperability standards efforts.

The IEEE 802 Standards Development Group was formed 30 years ago to address Ethernet networking. At that time, the IEEE had 150,000 members because it was formed by combining the Institute of Radio Engineers (nearly 100 years old at the time) and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (about 80 years old then). Now the IEEE has about 400,000 members. Four years after its formation, the IEEE released its first two standards, and has released dozens of Ethernet networking standards and updates since. All of our corporate networks and many home networks depend on standards from this working group.

Typically, the broader that the scope of the standards is, the longer is the period of development. Historically, most significant standards development efforts span 4-10 years. For example, six years for the IPv6 protocol standard from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and this standard is just beginning its actual customer deployment phase. The development and adoption of BACNET from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) took 10 years. Both of these groups were in existence for many years prior to these standards efforts.

The ONVIF and PSIA standards development organizations are both less than three years old. Both already have compliant products, and have exhibited proof of concept demonstrations at trade shows. That’s something to get excited about — especially for the security industry, which is long overdue in embracing the idea of interoperability standards. It is the “long overdue” situation that makes end-users, specifiers and integrators over-anxious for progress — and who can blame them? But we should have at least some applause for this comparatively excellent progress from working groups that are much smaller and younger than those found in larger industries.

ONVIF and PSIA’s approaches to the market are very different. ONVIF has chosen to develop an overarching global IP interface standard and roll out individual specifications focused on one market segment at a time. In this fashion, the group has been able to garner widespread support in the video realm, and is also gearing up for the release of an access control specification later this year (Editor’s Note: See page 56 of this issue for more on the ONVIF access control standard).

There are many camera manufacturers in several countries that are adopting the ONVIF camera specifications. For many of them, an open interoperability standard is the fastest route to compatibility with the leading VMS systems, which could easily mean more immediate revenue. So it is to be expected that many camera makers have jumped on board already.

PSIA is tackling tougher specifications, from the perspective of systems-level interoperability. This is a more complex undertaking than device-to-system interfaces. Both legacy and new systems are targeted for the leading manufacturers. Each of the PSIA specifications relies on a Common Metadata and Event Model (CMEM), providing a common way to share information between systems. In addition, a Common Security Model (CSEC) will allow a secure and protected infrastructure, a critical requirement with IP-based systems. The list of participating companies is impressive.

This is why I believe that skepticism about the two groups’ efforts — especially published criticisms — is unwarranted. Instead let’s applaud the progress to date, and push for more of it.


Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS). For more information about Ray Bernard and RBCS go to or call 949-831-6788. Write to Ray about this column at: