The Integrated Life: The IT Vortex

Lessons learned on the information superhighway: What integrators need to know about working with IT staff


Sir Isaac Newton taught us force is equal to mass times acceleration, the keystone of most modern engineering. The Borg from Star Trek cautioned: "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated." Both lessons are helpful guides for those traveling the road of convergence between the security industry and the information technology marketplace. This article shares a few observations learned firsthand along that road from an independent security integrator of 32 years.

The security electronics industry leveraged the same electrical engineering advances as the computer industry using first relays, then tubes, transistors, integrated circuits, and microprocessors to power ever more sophisticated systems. Each industry grew largely independent from one another using proprietary designs optimized for the unique requirements of each marketplace. The computer marketplace has always dwarfed that of the security industry in both size and influence.

Two trends changed things forever: the growth of networks and a steady increase in the power of microprocessors. Ethernet and Internet Protocols became standards allowing computers to be more easily interconnected. Local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs), including the Internet, flourished. Over the past 30 years microprocessors have grown ever faster, doubling in power approximately every 18 months, allowing products to become smaller, cheaper and faster. The IT industry experienced spectacular growth and with it came common standards, economies of scale and a commoditization that allows desktop computers to be sold for under $500.

When networks became ubiquitous, these digital pathways became a logical choice to connect security systems together. Access control panels were the first security systems to be widely connected through computer networks. It was simply easier and more cost effective than running separate security cabling, especially when connecting geographically disparate buildings.

Security system manufacturers jettisoned older proprietary designs for more cost- effective solutions that employed standard computer industry components and which promised a quicker path to market. Client-server architectures were embraced and standard operating systems like Windows were employed. As processor speeds increased, it gradually became feasible for the analog signals of both video (CCTV) and audio (Intercom) to be "digitized," allowing network compatibility. Security systems are now being pulled into the IT vortex, eventually becoming just another application running on the enterprise network.

When security began using the enterprise network and leveraging IT standards like SQL databases, operating systems, and computer servers, the IT department took a prominent seat at the table to help decide which solution should be selected and to insure adherence to its rules and regulations. Security integrators, accustomed to working with directors of security, have been making the painful transition from knowing more about IT than their client to now knowing less. Along the way a few lessons are being learned about working with IT departments.

Lesson One: First Impressions are lasting. When meeting with IT personnel, the perception of your overall expertise will be strongly discounted if you are unknowledgeable or poorly versed in IT terminologies and techniques. Right or wrong, your security expertise will likely be judged through the prism of your demonstrated IT understanding.

Lesson Two: Expect ironclad adherence to rules. IT resources have become the lifeblood of our enterprises. They are mission critical. When IT systems stop working everything comes to a grinding halt. As you can imagine, when this happens IT managers get yelled at by the big bosses. Over the years they have vigorously invested to increase system reliability and have created strict policies to prevent failures. Don't expect these rules and standards to be changed to accommodate security eccentricities.

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