Cisco’s vision at ASIS 2009

The biggest news out of Cisco this week has clearly been the deal with Pelco to OEM the company’s Sarix products to be Cisco camera models. While that seems to be the talk of show, there is a lot more going on at Cisco these days than Pelco.

Catching up with Bill Stuntz, vice president of Cisco’s Physical Security Group, this morning at the company’s booth, I was able to get a sense of the roadmap for the group. One of the things that is going on is the group is building platforms for integrating all varieties of systems. While the physical security group at Cisco is traditionally pinned as a video surveillance group, they are also showcasing integrations with building control systems, IP phones, fire alarm systems, threat detection sensors , access control (and of course video).

In a demo in the Cisco booth, you can see a unit that links together a detection sensor, such as a gas detection sensor, with a fire alarm and mass notification system. The model, according to Stuntz and his group is that eventually these building systems will be tied together and be truly integrated. This is obviously a long-term vision for the industry, but it might be closer than you think.

Stuntz says the company also has a vision for using IP phones as more than phones, but rather as a direct communication tool for all employees depending on the needs. That might mean anything from using IP phones as emergency notification points, or it could mean turning a high-end IP phone with a color screen into an adjunct point to access the video surveillance system. This isn’t just pipe dreams at Cisco; they’re already said to be putting efforts in their labs to develop such advanced features in their high-end business phones.

Beyond such emerging ideas, Cisco’s physical security group really is still predominately focused first on video surveillance and secondly on access control. In the video surveillance world Cisco received some criticism this week questioning whether they had a long term commitment to being a camera player (the criticism spun out of the Pelco deal). I asked Stuntz this morning if they had a roadmap to become a major player in making surveillance cameras and he says that the company definitely does. What the company is facing now, however, is you can’t just snap your fingers and become a major manufacturer of video surveillance hardware. Bill says before they could ever become a major player they have to deal with manufacturing issues like enclosures, the optics, etc. Instead, by working with Pelco, they buy time until they can create a full product line themselves.

I should note that these are not just Pelco cameras with Cisco name badges. Stuntz said they are adding Cisco network communication protocols that are only available in the Cisco-stamped versions of these cameras. But, again, the long term vision for them is to be a major manufacturer of video cameras.

Finally, one of the things which Stuntz and I discussed this morning is Cisco’s commitment to the channel. Cisco has traditionally had IT VARs (value added resellers) selling its solutions directly to the IT department. Coming into the physical security space, the company is faced with dealing with the traditional physical security channel. According to Bill, there are two things that they have to do right now to encourage their reseller channels. First, they have to get the IT VARs trained on physical security technologies, codes, life safety requirements, etc. The other option is to go after the physical security channel, which knows how to set up cameras, building access control, life safety systems and more.

From my perspective I think it would be easier and better in the long term to train the physical security channel. There is a lot of training available already on networking, which is one of the main obstacles in getting dealers to sell true IP solutions. On the other hand, I think it's more of a challenge for a VAR to learn the physical security world with things like lens setups, door control models, emergency egress, fire codes, etc. Cisco is clearly going to be hedging its bets and pursing both channels, and I think that is a very smart strategy for Cisco at this point.