What the Orsus acquisition means for NICE

With last week's $22 million acquisition of PSIM/situation management technology firm Orsus, NICE Systems picks up what public safety division president Chris Wooten thinks is the future of high-end security projects.

"Where customers place value is not whether you can capture the information, but what you can do with it," explained Wooten, who has been with NICE since 2002 and who assumed leadership of the company's public safety division in 2006. "They ask, 'How can you take that info and make me more effective at what I do?' For security, the information can come from many different sources," Wooten said. "NICE has had the domain experience on the video surveillance side of the business, and what this allows us to provide to the customer is a more complete solution for high-end, more complex applications."

That's the model he sees for Orsus, which provides situation management technology to help companies integrate a number of separate security technology and sensor systems into a platform that can also automate security workflow procedures. Sensors points could be everything from traditional security sensors platforms (intrusion, access control, video surveillance) to building controls and automation systems to specialized systems (gas and CBRNE detection, for example) to even IT/network security systems.

Part of the unique value proposition of Orsus was that NICE saw the company as being "a step higher" than physical security information management by combining PSIM with the aforementioned workflow process management. Wooten added that Orsus had the largest number of installations among the PSIM companies that NICE looked at (and he said that they considered all the players before making this acquisition).

Who buys Orsus solutions and how is it used?

Orsus has some typical customer models, said Wooten. The first would be a business or organization that has installed a high number of unique systems -- often in different facility locations -- that need to share information. A second characteristic customer might be a company that has a dominant legacy system in place which they need tied in with a newer technology platform. The third typical customer need is a company that "has too many systems and wants a single point of truth" for analyzing data, alarms and security information.

The Orsus technology typically communicates with the head-end of systems. Rather than talking to sensors, door components and cameras itself, the system speaks to other platforms at the management system level. If, for example, a customer had a Software House system controlling access control, the Orsus Situator would patch data in from the Software House management system. Likewise it would communicate with the installed video management system, not the individual cameras. According to Wooten, one of the strengths that NICE saw in the Orsus platform was that the company has already done integrations with many of the leading players of security and sensor management systems. He said that there are already over 100 "off-the-shelf" integrations that allow Orsus to work with common security platforms.

The system is typically used by corporate security executives, who approach the Situator system from a reports generation standpoint for information on response times and other key metrics, and by the organization's security analyst or operator, who uses the system to manage actual incidents in real-time.

One of the key ways that the Orsus technology is used is that the organization's standard operating procedures (S.O.P.) for security can be added into the system to automate workflow. For example, if the company's S.O.P. for an intrusion alarm in a select zone is to lock-down select doors, the end-user could set the system rules to do that. An analogy for that workflow set-up would be something similar to the way many businesses use the "rules" feature of Microsoft Outlook for managing incoming emails.

Because of the ready-made integrations Orsus has built, the system is designed to be installed by skilled integration firms, but it doesn't require high-level programming requiring a great deal of work from a company's IT department or from the systems integrator.

On the workflow management side of the Orsus software, the integration of an organization's standard operating procedures into the system can be either done by Orsus, by the system integrator or by the end-user. The goal for the company is to have the end-user do the set up of rules and S.O.P. workflows in the Orsus system because those S.O.P.s may change from time to time as the customer's business needs and security concerns change.

How Orsus fits into NICE

Following the acquisition, Orsus will be part of NICE's public safety division, but because a hallmark of the company has been the vendor-agnostic integration approach, NICE is strategically keeping the company as a separate operating unit and not marrying it directly into the existing NICE security business operations. That means that the company is keeping its management and employees and even its existing business offices and locations, Wooten explained.

"Orsus will continue to be vendor-agnostic and will stay 'open'," Wooten added. "We want Situator and Orsus to continue to provide that high level of integration between a lot of different vendors' systems. They are going to be a separate division within NICE and will support our existing divisions and will also work with traditional competitors [to NICE's video surveillance offerings]."

The companies had worked together on large-scale security projects in the past, Wooten said, that involved NICE's video surveillance systems the Orsus solution. He added that, in the future, the Orsus technology could even partner with the NICE audio analytics/contact center management technology offered through NICE's other business unit. In fact, Wooten said they are already working with one customer to do such an integration.

"When you detect a security problem, you typically call someone. One of the value propositions is that on the forensics side, we bring all the pieces of the incident , video, access control, but we can do forensics on the audio side by integrating with the voice platforms [such as for dispatch calls via radio]."

In the end, Wooten is extremely optimistic about the Orsus purchase and thinks the company's technology will become more important over the next few years, especially as industries adopt more sensor points.

"Customers are deploying more and more sensors because technologies -- such as network technologies -- are allowing us to deploy more sensors. You're seeing the sensors go into non-traditional areas, such as areas outside security."

[NICE's previous acquisition in the security space was Actimize, a company which provides banks and financial institutions tools to identify and respond to financial compliance issues such as money-laundering.]

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