PSIM: Navigating the Great Unknown

What is PSIM? How does it work? How does it differ from VMS? What are the costs of the different solutions and how are they justified? What does my end user really need? Help!

We hear you and hope this primer will shed some light on the topic. Right now, for many, PSIM is the great unknown. Let’s start with the acronym: it stands for Physical Security Information Management and its formal definition continues to be widely debated. At its heart is systems integration, without which PSIM would not exist.

With the lines blurred on how to manage all the disparate data coming into the central command center or central station, the effort by manufacturers to deliver advanced integrated solutions is picking up steam. There are many platforms out there—some identifying as PSIM, and others as VMS or access control with varying degrees of PSIM capabilities—attempting to deliver on the PSIM promise.

It’s important to know if a manufacturer offers a true PSIM solution, or a partial or “lite” version (as in VMS/AC applications with PSIM or situational management functionality). And of course, the bottom line in any or all security solutions is determining what the end user needs and what they are trying to accomplish. This fact remains a constant in security—let the end use or what the end user needs or is is trying to accomplish determine what the solution specification should be.

Dr. Bob Banerjee, senior director of Training and Development, Security Americas, NICE Systems, Rutherford, N.J., gave us his ‘take’ on the world of PSIM, and the difference between it and VMS.


The black and white of it

“There are several things that are ‘black and white’ when it comes to the difference between PSIM and VMS,” according to Banerjee. “VMS records video and PSIM cannot. If you want to record video, you need a VMS platform,” he said.

“The other approach is to have PSIM,” Banerjee continued. “If you buy PSIM you put it ‘on top’ of the VMS. You can have 20 different video systems underneath it. It can then handle video and access control.” Banerjee said the access control functionality often sits out in front of the PSIM solution. “Typically, you pull up the access control alert on the PSIM map; you can do a lock down or whatever action you need to accomplish.”

To put it all in perspective, Banerjee said that the whole reason PSIM vendors exist is because historically (although this is beginning to change) manufacturers don’t make systems that talk to each other. “PSIM pulls it all together, the systems, so you can interact with any of them. It’s situation management if you will; you need to know that when something bad happens you can tell people what they need to know—for example where the defibrillator is, etc. With a VMS system, say there has been a shooting; you can pull up a camera to view the situation, but what will it do to resolve the issue or guide you through all the steps you need do to react properly?”

Banerjee said there are three ‘killer applications’ for PSIM versus VMS:

1. You have a mixed physical security system and PSIM allows you to reserve the right to change your mind on the functionality as you move forward.

2. You have multiple command centers but need to shut them down; the information that comes into the command center needs to flow from one to the other.

3. The third, possibly the biggest, is when the security end user is under the magnifying glass for regulations—regulators want to know what security measures are in place and want end users to be able to show what happened in an incident and the response. A VMS system will not have access to all that information.

PSIM is situational awareness, Banerjee said. “It gives me the 360-degree-view on alarms from here and there. It doesn’t help just having multiple things create multiple alarms. You have to know what to do in alarm and create your work flows. PSIM is not about the product, it’s about the whole business and your experience.”

John Katnic, vice president and chief operating officer for Synectics Systems Inc. noted that not all VMS systems are that limited and the differences between command and control, VMS and PSIM applications are often a matter of degree, preference and budget. Depending on the third-party integrations, command and control functionality and the situational management features you need, there may be VMS or even access control applications that deliver comparable PSIM features for less money and with far less complexity. Said Katnic, “As the security market becomes overcrowded with ‘me-too,’ commoditized products, manufacturers devise ways to distinguish themselves from competitors and drive up prices. It’s often done by staking claim to new product categories that are supposedly unique to their offering.”

In fact, security applications are converging rapidly so there is significant overlap between traditional categories like access control, video management, analytics, alarm processing and PSIM, he said. “While there are true standalone products in each category, most leading vendors are pulling from and pushing into other categories with software enhancements to broaden their offering. It’s the battle for the desktop. Whoever owns the user interface eventually owns the customer. So, leading access control companies now offer integrated video recording solutions. Leading VMS companies offer integrated alarm and situational management to their customers. The combination products rarely include every bell and whistle of the single category products, but they accomplish most of what a typical user needs without introducing a new application layer to buy, install, integrate, learn and maintain. You can purchase a separate flip phone, MP3 player, camera and computer for e-mail, or an iPhone will do.”