Angie Wong knows first-hand how challenging it can be to put together teams of people from two different worlds. Since 2003, when Wong spun off Ojo Technology from a sister company, she’s been staffing security projects with both physical security experts and IT gurus. The result has been a study in contrast.
“The physical security installers want to get started at 5 or 6 in the morning and quit at 3. They prefer to go on-site with clipboards and paper,” says Wong, CEO of Ojo, which deploys IP-based video surveillance and access control systems. “The IT team is from a younger generation. They want to start at 10 a.m. and work until whenever — into the night if necessary. They use their PDAs and text messaging to communicate, not paper.”
As it turns out, Ojo, Fremont, Calif., may be ahead of the curve, but it’s not the only integration firm to pick up on a fast-moving trend — the convergence of physical security and IT. Just as IT pros are discovering that a video camera can be yet another piece of hardware on an Ethernet backbone, physical-security experts are recognizing that “routers” and “servers” are words worth adding to their lexicon.
Two Worlds Collide
The drivers of IT-physical security convergence are economic, political and social — but chief among them are a heightened awareness of public safety (sparked by the Sept. 11 attacks) and technological innovation.
“(After 9/11), CEOs were calling in their physical security people and their IT security staff and asking ‘Are we prepared?’ But the two groups had never met before,” says Steve Hunt, principal of 4a Intl., a Chicago-based think tank focused on physical, logical and homeland security. “The CEO says, ‘I’ve got these two business units with the same mission — to keep bad things from happening — and they’re not even working together.’”
That’s when the two groups started collaborating, but the going has been slow.
Capitalizing on IP Technology
For organizations, IP-network video security delivers myriad benefits, including flexibility, improved operations, scalability, and reduced costs, and allows organizations to integrate security with other business systems.
“We’re getting away from information silos and moving toward integrated, actionable intelligence,” says Mariann McDonagh, senior vice president of corporate marketing at Verint Systems in Melville, N.Y. “With IP, we can treat video like any other enterprise data. We can move it and share it. And we can approach security proactively instead of reactively.”
Running video and data on the same network also means that organizations can capitalize on their existing TCP/IP infrastructures and reduce the costs of pulling coax. They can deploy distributed, global security systems, and when the need for troubleshooting arises, there’s generally only one throat to choke.
Then there’s scalability, which Wong says is “the coolest thing” about IP video. “There’s no maximum with these systems,” she says. “If you want more bandwidth, you pull down more bandwidth. If you want to install more cameras, you install more.”
If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them
For organizations to enjoy the benefits of converged physical security and IT, they need people to develop and deploy the right solutions. That’s where vendors and system integrators enter the scene.
For many years, IT companies have focused on hubs, routers and bandwidth, while physical security experts made it their business to know coax, field of view and CCTV monitors. Until recently, their orbits never overlapped.
But how does an IT company become conversant with physical security? And, conversely, how does a video surveillance guru become a competent ITer?
Self-taught ITer Fred Zagurski, principal of Fred Zagurski Consulting in Edmonds, Wash., knew much of what there was to know about implementing security solutions. His prescience early on that video surveillance would go digital compelled him to take networking courses and read books. Today he works with schools, hospitals, municipalities and corporations, mostly helping them transition from analog to digital access control and video.
Teaching oneself the ropes may be one avenue for tackling convergence, but there’s another — and one that most vendors and integrators have chosen to follow: hiring and partnering with people from “the other side.”
“If you try to do the two halves independently, you’ll end up with a solution that’s heavily influenced by one or the other,” says Dick O’Leary, senior director for the Global Solutions Group at EMC in Hopkinton, Mass. “The solutions have to converge, and the solution providers have to converge with them.”
EMC is certainly walking its own talk, having made good friends of late with organizations in the IP video world. One of EMC’s key partners is Verint. The two companies started working together in mid-2006 and entered a new phase of collaboration this past fall, announcing that Verint would be reselling EMC’s networked storage systems and enterprise content management software as part of a tightly integrated video management solution.
Nobody has to sell Wong, either, on the benefits of partnering. Ojo teams up with several companies, including Verint, to deploy converged solutions for customers. “There are gaps in the IP video industry, and partnership is the key to filling them,” Wong says. “For an effective security solution, you need more than just cameras or an alarm system or access control, or any one thing. You have to integrate many components, and that’s why partnering is key.”
Rob Hile, vice president of business development at Adesta, a solution provider in Omaha, Neb., couldn’t agree more. The integrator, formerly an IT-only shop, has leaned on a handful of allies to build out its IP security business. “We’re not talking about your traditional integrator-manufacturer partnership for warranty service anymore,” Hile says. “These technology partners are getting in the foxhole with us. We work together from sales call to proposal, from integration to post-sales support.”
The Long and Winding Road
Still, the challenges remain for those who want to capitalize on convergence.
Integrators that started life as IT players, for example, have had to take a more proactive approach to wooing new customers. Word of mouth, long a staple of building new business, is not enough in the physical security world, where many IT companies are little-known.
What’s more, IT integrators, having long flourished in a well-established space, are unaccustomed to having to convince potential customers that there’s something they should be buying. “IT is a very mature business — the customers already know what they need,” Wong says. “In the physical security world, the need for highly functional systems often goes unrecognized until there’s a security breach and an organization has to come up with the crime scene footage. The education process is huge and the urgency isn’t quite there.”
On the flip side, many physical security players may have to change the way they approach customers, Hunt says. “These folks typically don’t sell — they fulfill orders — whereas an IT integrator gets a request for hardware, then meets the customer to assess its needs and design a solution. Their’s is a consultative sale that leads to a relationship and recurring revenue. That’s what the physical-security folks should be looking at now.”
Understanding what customers want is key to jointly developing and marketing solutions. Customers seeking all-in-one security and IT systems want to know that the pieces of the puzzle fit together without any undue pushing and pulling. They want seamless interoperation among access control, video surveillance and back-office business systems. And they want to know that if a problem arises, there’s only phone number or e-mail address they need to memorize. For technology vendors and integrators, that can mean only one thing: open architecture.
“There’s a big push now for open standards,” says Greg Ohanessian, president of Integrated Technical Consultants (I-Tech), an Old Brookville, N.Y.-based solution provider that started out as a pure IT player and has since rebranded itself as an expert in all things IP. “A year or so ago, there were a lot of interoperability problems with IP cameras, but now the products are getting much better. Everything is converging toward a single platform — video, voice and data.”
Open architecture, in fact, is the centerpiece of much vendor-integrator collaboration today. “We believe IP video is a solution set that integrators can build a business on because of its increasingly open nature,” says Verint’s McDonagh. “They can use APIs and SDKs to build their own applications, or to integrate video security with access control. They can help customers deploy the video systems that suit them best, whether migrating from analog to digital, implementing a hybrid, or developing a ‘greenfield’ IP video solution.”
“The IP security market is now kind of like the dot-com era of the 1990s, with lots of venture-capital companies popping up everywhere,” Wong says, adding that the number of players in the IP video field is climbing exponentially every year.
The opportunity is there — and both vendors and integrators have wasted no time in capitalizing on market demand. In the integrator arena, both I-Tech and Adesta are enjoying significant gains as a result of their forays into the convergence arena. “Our revenue growth has been 15 to 20 percent every year since our inception in 2002,” says Adesta’s Hile. “We’ve become a leading integrator in port security, and now we’re pushing forward into other vertical markets.”
“Convergence is a win for everyone,” adds Doug Graham, security solutions partner at BusinessEdge Solutions, an East Brunswick, N.J.-based solution provider that just recently became an integration arm of EMC. “The customer gets tested, proven, reliable solutions. IT and physical security companies develop new solutions that are more attractive to customers, plus they’re not always competing with each other for dollars anymore. And having reliable solutions is an obvious win for the industry as a whole.”
Michele Pepe is is a communications specialist for Verint Systems.