Walk Before You Run

As security environments evolve to include more and more systems, end users are bombarded with a deluge of video, alarms and data while responding to increasingly sophisticated threats against the safety of people and assets. Solution providers continue to advance development of security command and control platforms to enable a more streamlined response pipeline. For integrators, the pressure is on to deliver fully integrated security solutions that will satisfy growing demands by end users to manage the inevitable system overload.

Over the past few years, a new top layer of security management has been created to bring all the systems in an enterprise together into one central platform. The result is a range of Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) applications that offer sophisticated situational management functionality. Since this product category emerged, many have jumped on the PSIM bandwagon resulting in various levels of "true" solutions to "partial" or "lite" options (not all of which deliver the flexibility that comes with product-agnostic PSIM).

Educate yourself on the different versions, costs

While warnings are circulating among industry analysts and consultants about the risks of partial and lite PSIM, the costs associated with true PSIM applications are significant, causing some end users to consider more affordable options.

Additionally, the effort required to make true PSIM technology work can be daunting. Considering that business environments have many disparate systems needing to work together in real time to make a PSIM solution effective, the road to integration can be a long and winding one.

Before you get completely overwhelmed with the idea of implementing a PSIM solution, there are steps you can take to move from point A to point Z without self-destructing in the process. Think of it like dating before you get married.

If you are embarking on PSIM implementation, it will help to put some strong pillars in place on which you will build your platform (see graphic on page 18).

Here are some steps to consider with end users on the journey to achieving a successful PSIM solution.

1. Understand the data

With multiple systems managing different aspects of a business operation, there is a huge amount of data, alarms and events generated that can point to incidents worth evaluating. Each incident is different so methodologies can be difficult to quantify. To better understand how to evaluate all the data being produced, first identify which events trigger threats, fraud, risk or loss. Create metrics and "acceptable thresholds" and look for non-obvious relationships between data sets. Learn about the systems you're trying to converge and partner with managers of those systems to understand the information generated. Do this research prior to any automation and consider developing manual methods first, i.e. spreadsheet analysis of the core problem on which you are focusing.

2. Find the right technology

There are a host of PSIM applications on the market, as well as a range of VMS and access control platforms that offer PSIM functionality at various levels, so get educated. PSIM is a hot topic these days and you can find excellent online resource material by joining PSIM discussion groups or subscribing to security-related Web sites. Once you narrow down the choices, make sure the technology you select will actually do what it says and what you need it to do. If you have taken the time to understand the systems and data, you'll be in a better position to find the right solution.

3. Rally the troops

In addition to the cash investment required to acquire PSIM technology, an organization also needs to commit the people, time and coordination effort to successfully implement such a complex integrated solution. Advise end users to begin sooner than later to generate support internally and externally. Work with them to write an implementation plan that identifies the "who, how, what and when" of their PSIM roadmap. Depending on the complexity of the end-user's requirements, consider bringing in a consultant with expertise in PSIM deployment planning to help with this process.

4. Partner with third-party entities

The fourth and most integral pillar to achieving PSIM can also be the most challenging. Acquiring APIs and SDKs required for system integration to facilitate PSIM adds to the installation complexity and cost. Since the end user is the licensee, ask them to get involved in establishing partnerships with the third-party entities behind the systems you are converging. Some PSIM and VMS/AC applications already have developed specific integrations so determine if these match up with your system requirements. Considering the vast number of third-party systems and varied versions of those systems, it is easy to get caught up in the red tape of integration development. Expect to invest time and money to achieve your goal.

With the four pillars in mind, get started by isolating a singular piece of the puzzle to focus on. Keep it simple and identify one core problem to solve to avoid eroding the will of those involved. Because system integration will be at the heart of the solution you want to implement, it will help to identify an open-minded department head within the business who can liaison with one or two cooperative third-party system providers. Make sure you've chosen a problem you understand and preferably make it one that will deliver a measurable return on investment if solved. Find the least disruptive and costly technology to solve the problem and don't forget you can always do it manually first to test the waters. This creates a basis for the ROI and will streamline the process once you automate.

Look at the system in place and determine what situational management and data analysis capabilities are available before committing to new systems. Perhaps some of what you're looking to do may be accomplished with the current system or a more modest upgrade prior to launching a large-scale PSIM implementation. There are some VMS and access control systems on the market offering advanced situational management tools and often these can integrate to your existing platform.

Whatever type of solution you choose on the path to implementing PSIM, following some or all of these guidelines can greatly reduce the potential for unmet expectations on behalf of your customers. Remember, a little planning at the beginning goes a long way to manifesting a successful ending.

John Katnic is the vice president and chief operating officer for Synectics Systems Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of UK-based Quadnetics Group Plc. The company is an engineering, integration and manufacturing firm with expertise in IT and networked systems, CCTV control systems, enterprise storage and video management and integration software applications.