The Road to Open Integrations

Benefits include ease of use and heightened situational awareness

Several vendors offer intra-security portfolio integrations linking their own access control, video surveillance as well as other security systems together; although, the integrations may still not be as robust as customers and dealers would like. Nonetheless, at least one vendor has started to refer to this type of integration as "unified" security.

Active Directory and human resource database integrations that eliminate re-entry of user and role information is common and, in a number of cases is used to enforce access to the security applications themselves. In 2011, we should expect to see an increasing number of integrations with other security systems, such as network security (particularly as unified or converged credentials gain momentum), and SCADA systems used in critical infrastructure operations. We may see some renewed efforts to integrate, or at least promote integrations with other building management/home systems (HVAC, lighting, telephony, etc.). Some of the impetus is attributable to being "green" in a smart building, but it may also be the "Trojan horse" that allows Internet/broadband service providers to grow new service offerings (namely, enter the security system monitoring market). Mass notification integrations may also become more prominent by communicating over video, phones (audio and text) and digital signage.

Are Physical Security Information Managers (PSIMs) the solution?

As much as PSIMs have been frequently offered as a panacea for integrations, many of these systems have done an admirable job of aggregating multiple disparate third-party systems together. While this has taken some considerable integration effort, many of these integrations are largely uni-directional where data is bubbled up to the PSIM. With the exception of controlling PTZ cameras and recalling recorded video, similar to many access control systems, many PSIMs do not appear to be able to push response actions back down to the underlying security systems quite as easily. Few seem to be able to manage users and policies across multiple third party access control systems. This essentially would enable user and policy federation between various organizations. Clearly, this capability is sorely needed by numerous enterprises. Standards will make PSIM integrations easier and may also enable greater bi-directional control, but they will also remove part of the PSIM value proposition-all integrations will become easier for vendors.

ONVIF and PSIA to the rescue?

The semi-competing ONVIF and PSIA specifications (technically, they are not standards yet) have captured a large number of manufacturers' interest and certainly do help support "openness" claims. Even better, some have begun to release products that support, at least partially, the specifications. However, the specifications largely address the lowest common denominator features, leaving the newer and innovative capabilities of various devices subject to closed, or at least proprietary application programming interfaces (APIs). The level of integration with a given device can vary greatly from one vendor to the next when it comes to enabling and using these exceptional capabilities. Cameras seem to be the main focus but it will be interesting to see if and how the NVR vendors open their software to their competitors. These specifications are a step in the right direction for customers, dealers and integrators.

While integrations can vary significantly and should be treated with a caveat-emptor philosophy, there is a clear customer requirement to make security systems easier to operate and to have one interface that can be used to report and manage all events. Integrations will increasingly enable security systems to provide additional value to businesses and consumers and create new opportunities for vendors, dealers and integrators.

Bob Beliles is President of B2 Convergence Consulting, an independent firm focused on network, security (logical and physical) and identity/asset management technology and services.