Improving the Interface

Coming back from tradeshows like ISC West, where I get to ask a lot of questions, the tables are inevitably turned and I get asked a lot of questions about what I was really impressed by. The usual answer, of course, is that it's difficult to immediately peg a "most impressive" winner, because I see everything from alarm panels to cameras, biometrics, complex situational awareness software platforms and even tools to help pull wires through walls. Yet sometimes it's easy to peg an impressive trend. A year ago, I'd have said "IP cameras" without a moment's hesitation.Let's be honest, our industry's products are pretty far ahead of the curve. Say "facial recognition biometrics" to some of your industry peers, and they nod their heads. But talk about iris scans to the general public and you might as well be talking about space-age stuff that exists only in movies. And being far ahead of the curve and pushed by organizations like DARPA means that we have a lot of technologies coming to market directly from the R&D labs. I even had a CEO of a technology firm (one which has gained a lot of buzz in the last year) tell me point blank, "We're probably 4 or 5 years away. We're bleeding edge and I don't know that the market is even ready for us yet." When you get a chance to stare into the myriad of future technologies for our industry, it's hard to pinpoint a single point of greatness.

So, to come back to the earlier point, what was the big trend or theme of the show? Actually, I think it was the improvement of user interfaces. Okay, you're thinking: "GUIs were the best thing at ISC West?" Yes, I think so (though I wouldn't limit user interfaces solely to the graphical ones), and I'll tell you why. Almost every product creates an effect on how people use the product, and I think we're seeing the technologies that were in the labs a few years ago really starting to come to some maturity – meaning their engineers can be a little less focused on making it work, and more focused on making it work better.So, without naming vendors, what are some of the ways user interfaces have improved?

In the world of biometrics (and access control), two things seem to have become much better. First: enrollment and recognition times are down, making the process less intrusive on throughput and access control speed. Secondly, at least for iris and facial recognition, the size of the image capture devices is steadily decreasing, making the user interface more applicable to settings where security devices shouldn't be the dominant element in a room.In the spectrum of combined alarm, access control and video control systems (a.k.a., the "security management platform"), I've been watching how easy it is to share data across platforms. Especially with these programs, designs have come a long way, making it very intuitive to link up cameras with door alarms. The GUIs for these are really getting to be intuitive. For the video management platforms, one of big improvements is controlling stored video. Many early models of these systems approached video management as being predominantly about how to access live video or look back to a clip from two nights ago. Certainly, the new generations of robust video management platforms are improving their interfaces not only on ability to control cameras and quickly access different video feeds, but how to efficiently manage archived video storage arrays.

Visitor management has been another area of improved user interfaces. While much of the business world still lives in the areas of paper-based logbooks stored at reception/security desks, the advent of streamlined software managed systems (sometimes in the form of kiosks) which integrate with driver's license capture systems and even watch list databases makes the interface for checking in visitors not only more accurate, but also 10 times more secure.The backbone of our industry has been alarm systems and key pads, and despite the fact that there are decades and decades of improvements and production behind these products, the technology has always managed to push forward. From advances in terms of integration with garage door remotes that automatically disarm a system, to codeless arming and disarming, to network connection modules that allow for remote access via the Internet, or even simple changes in buttons and programming which allow your customers to more fully use the features the alarm systems come with, this market has never ceased to amaze me in how it can take a product line that has been performing the same function for 30+ years and still improve how the customer interfaces with the system.

Command and control systems designed for large-scale security installations that merge a perspective on a variety of security data may be a specialized subset of our industry, but even these systems are finding major interface improvements. One of the best moves has been to integrate "procedures notifications" in the case of a security event. That simple move means you can take the procedures out of the big, black operations binders sitting on the shelves of the security office and integrate those recommended procedures right into the technology system that your security staff is using day-in and day-out.I could go on and on, but the point is that while very few technologies were truly earth-shattering, almost every one of the established systems we're accustomed to dealing with are getting beyond the point of lab-ware, which has a "can we do it?" type of mission, and moving into real-world, "how can we do it better?" type of mission in development. And that, my friends, is good news to both the installer/reseller and the eventual end-user.

-Geoff 

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