Integrators, vendors talk PSIM at ISC West 2011

Las Vegas, NV (April 7, 2011) -- One of the top themes at this 2011 ISC West tradeshow was physical security information (PSIM), and as part of the show, I joined a group of vendors and integrators for a panel discussion on the state of the PSIM industry. We sought to look at three key areas: the state of the PSIM market, how PSIM affects end-users, and what PSIM means for systems integrators.

On the panel from the PSIM vendor community were: Rafi Bhonker, vice president product management and business development at NICE (Orsus); Jeremy Howard, director of sales for Verint; and Pat Reilly, vice president worldwide sales for Proximex Corporation. On the panel to balance the discussion were Lee Caswell, founder and chief marketing officer at Pivot3, and Richard Dasugo, security products portfolio manager at Siemens. Caswell and Dasugo provided the storage/infrastructure and systems integration perspectives. The panel came amid a week of news from the PSIM industry, with ADT acquiring Proximex, and then Verint announcing that it had acquired Rontal's PSIM solution and launched Nextiva PSIM (see related video).

At the core of a PSIM solution, the goal is to bring together disparate systems into a common operating picture and to empower personnel to proactively resolve situations. In a PSIM deployment you might find the integration of systems like access control, video surveillance, radar, fire/life safety systems, building management systems, vehicle location technologies and more. The sky is the limit, agreed our panelists, as to what might be integrated into PSIM today.

PSIM is one of those technologies that all of our panelists agree is still quite early in its adoption, but our panel members agreed that PSIM is no longer in its infancy. When PSIM was in its infancy, it was often sold on the sizzle of Google Earth styled mapping interfaces that simply showed all alarm, access and video points on a single map. As PSIM has matured, the driving element has been the addition of rules engines that could filter and correlate the data from these disparate systems and then apply the security and business operational rules to make use of that data. One benefit of PSIM, panel members said, is to help organizations standardize and automate security processes. PSIM, they said, can aid security personnel in following security response processes as specified by management.

So why does PSIM exist? According to our panelists, it's a simple situation of there being too many different technology systems installed independently and operated independently of each other within a single organization. While integration hooks do exist today with many vendors offering integrations between access control and video, these are basic level integrations that don't provide total situational awareness. Notably, two of the companies on the panel were NICE and Verint, which each have video management systems that can be integrated with other vendors' access systems. But these vendors were clear that simply integrating video and access (the integration staple of our industry) simply wasn't enough for some clients such as airports and seaports. For clients such as those, having full, real-time situational awareness of their environment means much more than integrating a couple systems.

As to other top benefits of PSIM, the panelists identified improved situational awareness, better use of staff, improved incident response times, the ability to use PSIM as an audit trail and as a training/debriefing tool to study security and safety response, and the ability to converge control rooms as some of the top motivating factors for PSIM.

Another driving factor for PSIM has been internal organizational alignment. Companies that are creating joint critical response teams all need the data and situational awareness in one place. But it's a factor that cuts both ways, said our panelists. As part of creating a single operational interface for an organization, you can expect to uncover organizational deficiencies and even internal politics. In a typical PSIM application, said panelist, you are not only bringing in the security department, but also IT, facilities management, building system control teams and others. Our panelists warned end-users that they will need commitment to effectively deploy PSIM, because it means facing those organizational and politics challenges. The danger, they warned, is that if organizations install PSIM technology but don't work at a personal level to make sure all interested departments play well together, the organization might never reap the full value that PSIM can offer.

Besides having to deal with internal politics and creating core joint-effort teams across multiple departments, the other big piece of homework for an end-user moving forward with PSIM is that they will need to prepare the security rules that are incorporated into the system's rules engine.

But don't think that you have to take all of those huge three-ring binders off the shelf of your security office and type them all in at once. Vendors on the panel said that most security departments will start with the rules for the most important (or most common) security situations. That might even just be the rules on how to deal with false alarms to effectively confirm that a false alarm is indeed false. For some customers, said Proximex's Reilly, defining and then adding rules may take years, and that's fine, he said, as long as the customer is prioritizing which rules and step-by-step security processes to enter first.

In the world of the systems integrator, much of our feedback on PSIM was from panel partner Siemens. This integrator has handled a number of PSIM installations, but Siemens' Dasugo was clear to our attendees that the company doesn't have hubris about approaching each new project. Dasugo readily admitted that even with a number of PSIM installs under their belt so to speak, Siemens is still learning. Each project can be significantly different, said Dasugo, and the key is to learn from each project.

"You can't simply go to a day-long class on PSIM and be ready to take on PSIM projects the next day," he said. Because of the nature of integrating so many disparate systems, Dasugo told VARs and integrators in the audience that they would need to rely heavily on the PSIM solution providers themselves to do some of the programming work to interface the different systems. Likewise, support for the system might have to be jointly handled by both the integrator and the PSIM vendor.

One difference for security systems integrators, said Dasugo, is that this isn't your typical boxed solution sale where you find the camera, card reader or NVR that meets your client's needs and you simply price that out, sign the contract and then handle the installation. Instead, said Dasugo, integrators will need to approach PSIM as a professional services sale, and your project managers are more likely to be carrying laptops than screwdrivers. As an integrator, our panel recommended that interested integrators boost their team's IT knowledge and IT certifications before they go into this market. To improve the likelihood of success, Dasugo said it's also best to create core teams in your integration organization to handle PSIM projects.

While this may not make PSIM sound like the most fertile field for your business, the upside of PSIM projects are twofold, said the panel. First, this is an emerging area and it still offers a place for integrators to build their names as experts in this uncongested field. Secondly, PSIM projects typically offer higher margins than basic sales of boxed security equipment. And from an end-users perspective, moving through the pain points of having to deal with organizational politics and defining your security rules will seem all worthwhile once you have the full operating picture and full situational control.