With new leaders in place, PSIA focuses on adoption of specifications

July 12, 2011 -- Just last week, the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) announced leadership changes for its chairman and vice chairman roles, with Larry Lien of Proximex named chairman and Marine Drive of Honeywell named vice chairman (see PSIA press release on this topic).

The PSIA organization is a vendor-led affiliation which creates specifications for interoperability among IP-connected physical security devices, and according to new chairman Larry Lien, the time is ripe in the industry for specifications and standards for interoperability to be introduced.

"Right now is a critical point in the security inustry for standards," said Lien, who takes over from prior chairman Dave Fowler, a former VidSys staff member. "People are taking note and seeing value in standards, and the manufacturers are starting to adopt them. I saw this 20 years ago in the IT industry, and watched this happen as things like XML were emerging."

PSIA notably has released specifications that touch on most of the major components of commercial security systems. The organization has specifications out for interfaces between IP cameras, video analytics, video storage and area control (access control and intrusion/alarming).

The organization certainly isn't the only entity working to create interface specifications that will allow compatibility. Also in existence is ONVIF, the Open Network Video Interface Forum. The ONVIF group, which has seen strong growth among video technology producing firms, started out working on IP camera system compatibility, but announced its expansion beyond video into access control in the spring of 2010.

The difference between the organizations, said Lien, is that while ONVIF has expanded into access control after starting out purely as an organization driven by top camera makers Axis, Bosch and Sony, the PSIA organization was founded with an all-systems approach. The PSIA board reflects the whole-systems approach, with membership anchored by Honeywell, UTC and Tyco said Lien. Recently those three companies all announced that they would release PSIA-conforming products in 2012; Honeywell and UTC spelled out that those would include access and intrusion products. The full list of board members, as published on PSIA's website, shows a variety of members, from video-only product makers to companies focused purely on access, as well as hardware manufacturers and even companies in the systems integration business.

Lien said that from his own employer's perspective, this adoption of standards makes his day-to-day job even easier. As vice president of product management for PSIM company Proximex, part of the work he has to do is coordinate integrations among the varied security systems Proximex must interface.

"If you think about all the work we have done as a PSIM company integrating disparate systems, we think wouldn't it be great if there were standards for access, video and intrusion and we just had to develop one interface to that standard, as opposed to developing interfaces for hundreds of different types of systems. It [the existence of standard specifications] allows companies like ours to focus on the higher level applications and what touches the end-user instead of the simple interface between devices."

But as the industry works on specifications and standards for interoperability, Lien says they have challenges ahead. It's not enough, he said, to simply create great specifications and then just throw them out into the market and hope they will be adopted. The reality, said Lien, is that it will take a concerted education effort across the industry to encourage adoption of specifications – adoption of the specifications by product developers and by end-users and integrators who would ultimately request specification-compliant products.

"One of the things the market needs right now is education," Lien said. "We're going to push more programs to educate people about standards and PSIA standards and why they're important. There are specific benefits for integrators, specifiers and manufacturers that are all slightly different. We need to show those good concrete benefits if we are going to see adoption."

The benefits of the PSIA specification are already there, said Honeywell's Marine Drive, the new vice chairman at PSIA. He says the specs are "lightweight and secured", and says the specification was designed to work with small-footprint intrusion systems as well as more powerful devices like cameras and head-end systems. He adds that manufacturers' product architects are likely to find favor in PSIA's specifications because it is not a "glue" of different protocols.

"PSIA specs were derived clearly from system use cases to create value for the end-users and reduce installation costs for the systems integrators – in comparison to being a mere protocol compatibility specification. … PSIA specifications adopt a platforms approach through common metadata, event and security models that form a common base for all its specifications."

That "platform" approach, added Drive, "makes adoption [by product manufacturers] simpler, accelerated and with less overall investment in comparison to a non-platform appoach."

As to the competition from ONVIF, as that organization widens its focus beyond camera-to-recorder interfaces, Lien said that its not out of the question that there might someday be collaboration among the organizations, which already share some key members. Lien said that its unreasonable to expect that to happen overnight, however.

"As a company in the industry, it would be great to get a single standard, but the two organizations have separate focuses. … There is definitely a potential for the different standards bodies to work together. Only time will tell."