A lot has changed in the electronic security industry over the last few years. The 9-11 tragedy, the consolidation of security manufacturers and the growing convergence of physical and IT security functions have impacted not only the relative importance of security, but also the drivers of new security technologies.
More than ever before, new security products are coming from new avenues—smaller security technology companies, IT-related firms and the government—rather than large, multi-national security corporations. At the root of this trend may be the consolidation of the security industry occurring over the last several years. As large corporations have purchased many of the small security equipment manufacturers, the industry seems to be seeing less, rather than more, product innovation.
While some of the corporate giants continue to selectively introduce new technologies, many appear to be playing it safe by letting the smaller companies take the risk. The attraction of this strategy is obvious. If the small companies prove successful with a new cutting-edge product, the large corporations have the financial means to buy the smaller organizations—a situation often seen in the computer software industry.
IT companies’ interest in security technology stems from the growing convergence of physical security functions with IT security functions. As physical security functions, such as access control and video surveillance, begin running on IT networks, the industry will likely see more security innovations, particularly those related to networking, arising from the IT industry.
Additionally, the role of government today in driving new security product innovation cannot be overstated. Fueled by the terrorist attack of 9-11, the federal government is spending billions to beef up the nation’s security in areas ranging from air transportation to biodefense. The demand for heightened security, with the government pushing for the best products, will undoubtedly drive innovation and perhaps even lead to participation from industries not typically involved in security, such as defense contractors and consumer electronics firms.
But what are the technology trends? Where is attention being focused? And what is the latest and greatest?
Cameras Take Center Stage
Surveillance cameras have begun to take center stage over access control in security system design. Access control will of course continue to exist as a vital component of security, but cameras are more often becoming the focus of the system. Several factors are likely contributing to this trend.
The emergence of digital video systems, which offer many advantages over analog VCR tape monitoring, is playing a key role. Digital video offers clearer images, easier information retrieval and better storage capabilities, making camera use more appealing overall. The ability to access digital images over the Internet, which enables remote video monitoring, also significantly broadens its appeal. In addition to the attraction of digital video, camera prices and sizes are decreasing. Smaller, faster and cheaper is the order of the day. Many cameras today look more like small, unobtrusive light fixtures than video cameras. Cameras also offer better low-light capabilities, enabling improved picture quality for nighttime and low-light surveillance activities. Another recent addition is 360-degree imaging, which allows a broader, more comprehensive camera view.
The increased use of surveillance cameras, and the vast amount of video created, has also led to the creation of security/storage outsource companies. These services allow end users to upload their video for storage on the company’s servers. This frees up space on the end user’s system and protects the video for later retrieval.
Intelligent video continues to gain interest due to increased security concerns post- 9/11. Intelligent video is so named because it goes beyond the motion detection function of regular security camera systems to analyzing types of movements, behaviors and occurrences for suspicious activity. For instance, the system may silently track a man walking along a river front, but will sound off if the man changes direction and begins walking into a secured area. System software can spot items as small as a duffle bag left in an inappropriate area. These systems help to avoid false alarms because they are programmed to recognize the difference between normal occurrences and suspicious activity.
More large corporations are adopting smart card technology. Embedded with an integrated circuit chip, a smart card can provide not only memory capacity, but computational capability as well. The card’s ability to hold more and varied types of information—including fingerprint scans for high levels of ID authentication—makes its use for access control attractive to both IT and physical security officials who appreciate the tighter security.
A smart card’s computational capabilities are a bonus. The same card that allows an employee to enter the building can be used to purchase food at the company cafeteria, while at the same time tracking access into highly secured company areas.
One of the latest developments in smart cards is a new reader technology unveiled in late 2004 that simultaneously reads both smart and proximity cards from different vendors. This development is expected to lead to more growth in smart card use, since one of the major concerns with smart card implementation is having to reissue all cards simultaneously. With the new reader technology, current proximity cards can be used along with smart cards, facilitating a slower rollout.
Voice Over Internet Protocol
VoIP is a compelling technology that offers great promise but is still bumpy in its implementation. The technology takes remote video monitoring a step further by enabling audio to be incorporated into the equation. This means security personnel can see and hear what’s happening at a remote site and can in turn be heard at the site. The two-way conversation can travel completely over the Internet. While not generating heavy use as yet, the ability to bring voice over a wide area network, which a European company recently unveiled, will probably give this technology the spark it needs for wider adoption.
Radio frequency identification technology can be used to automatically identify or track personnel and materials. An RFID system consists of tags containing integrated circuitry and an antenna. The tags transmit their signals via radio waves and do not need direct contact or line-of-sight scanning.
This technology has received a lot of media attention since Wal-Mart asked its top 100 suppliers to begin using RFID technology to track shipments as of January 1, 2005. The technology also has applications in the security industry, but it is emerging more slowly than expected. RFID tags are too expensive to place on most individual products and are easily defeated by a variety of means. Nonetheless, RFID remains an excellent tool for supply chain use, because of its rapid read rates and ability to scan large quantities of tags quickly. Consequently, its use will grow as a supply chain security technology. Additionally, RFID tags are beginning to turn up in access control, with some companies assigning staff members an RFID tag to uniquely identify each individual. The tags are also being tapped for visitor management purposes.
Visitor Management Systems
Bolstered by post 9-11 security concerns, visitor management technology is growing in use. It enables companies to electronically scan a visitor’s ID (driver’s license or business card) to acquire relevant information about them and store it in a company database. The system produces a high-quality visitor ID badge for the guest. Some systems also allow companies to maintain a list of photos and names of individuals not welcome at the organization.
The abovementioned items represent a snapshot of trends in security technology today. But which technologies will prosper and which will languish still remains to be seen. Whether they come from large corporations or small start-ups, one thing is certain: More new technologies are always on the horizon.
Bill Feeser is sales manager in the Minneapolis home office of VTI Security, a member of SecurityNet. He has more than 25 years of experience in the security industry, both on the manufacturing side and as a systems integrator.