Real words or buzzwords?: Interoperability – Part 2

May 30, 2023
There are two types of security system interoperability – both of which are important considerations in the design of security systems and the selection of security system products.

Editor’s note: This is the 68th article in the “Real Words or Buzzwords?” series about how real words become empty words and stifle technology progress.

This is the second of a multi-part article series on interoperability for commercial/industrial electronic physical security systems and devices. I’m leaving residential security out of the discussion because the residential product and service dynamics are different than for commercial/industrial security, which is what I mean when I say, “our industry.”

In the first article, I discussed the growing importance of interoperability for our industry – especially because it has had a poor record of interoperability so far.

However, to improve that record does not mean that all product and system categories must be interoperable with all others. That would be a monumental waste of time, cost and effort. It does mean that we need to establish a practical understanding of how and where interoperability would bring desired value to end-user customers and manufacturers.

Based on that, sensible business decisions can be made by manufacturers, end-user customers and the service providers involved in security system deployments.

Interoperability is important and should be part of the criteria for evaluating emerging technology.

However, we need to understand what interoperability means in the electronic physical security industry now and going forward. The evolution of the industry began with standalone electronic products for access control, video and intrusion detection. There was no interoperability or integration to speak of. There were no sizable security system deployments. Fast forward 50 years and we find that several technological trends have changed everything and have elevated the need for interoperability.

Computing and Networking. Computing and networking are in the nearly vertical part of technology exponential advancement curve, which includes both hardware and software. This IT trend began in commercial and industrial domains, where the benefits of the information and control systems outweighed their considerable cost. Its continuing advancement has led to broader trends across many industries.

Consumerization of IT. Many individual technology trends – including improved manufacturing capabilities, miniaturization, low power and computer chips that now contain billions of computer logic elements – all worked together to bring new levels of IT product affordability, capability and usability. This resulted in the consumerization of IT, the second trend. That trend includes smartphones and smart wearable devices.

Large Scale Security Systems. Large organizations now have security system deployments that have thousands of security devices at a single site, and tens of thousands of devices across multiple sites. The more devices there are, the more advantages interoperability can provide.

Technology Ecosystems. The termecosystem” originated in biology to describe a community of living organisms (plants, animals, microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (like air, water, and mineral soil), interacting as a system.

A technology ecosystem refers to the network of organizations, individuals, technologies and resources involved in the creation, delivery and use of a particular technology or set of technologies.

When used in this sense, the ecosystem concept carries forward the core ideas of interdependence, interaction, and co-evolution. In other words, an ecosystem is not a static picture, but a changing and growing one.

Smart buildings and smart cities are both examples of complex technology ecosystems. On a smaller scale, even a single facility’s building control systems match the definition of a technology ecosystem. They involve people, process, technology and organizational elements. Thanks to technology advancements they are evolving ecosystems.

Technology ecosystems in which physical security systems participate have their value increased when the security systems provide not just security-related data, but information useful for business operations and business decisions. Much has been written and said about this in recent years.

This most recent trend – the emergence of technology ecosystems – is especially important because that is the context in which we must consider the role of interoperability in security systems. How important is interoperability to the continuation and evolution of any particular technology ecosystem?

At an earlier point in time, device interoperability was the primary concern for physical security systems – primarily around access card readers and networked video cameras. Technology ecosystems have amplified the need for systems interoperability, sometimes referred to as data interoperability, through which security systems receive data from other systems and provide useful data to other systems.

Much has been said and written about data interoperability in recent years.

For about 50 years, security systems have been device centric. Now, especially with organizations embracing digital transformation, security systems must be data centric, with their devices supporting the data as well as control and visual monitoring functions.  

Device Interoperability

In terms of device interoperability, what end-user customers want is for several different brands of field devices to work with a single brand of controller or head-end software without affecting the desired functionality of the security system.

This could be called cross-brand interoperability. There are several valid reasons why customers would desire such interoperability:

  • Ease of Upgrade. As technology advances, users might want to replace older devices with newer ones. Interoperability ensures that these new devices can be swapped in without disrupting the system or requiring extensive reconfiguration.
  • Fault Tolerance. If a device fails, it can be replaced with another similar device to keep the system functioning as expected.
  • Flexibility and Customization. Interoperability gives users the flexibility to customize their security system’s overall capabilities according to their needs. They can choose from a wide variety of devices based on factors such as price, features or brand preference.
  • Avoidance of Manufacturer Lock-In. Customers fear that lack of interoperability will prevent them from improving their security systems when new technologies emerge if the brand they have standardized on does not keep up with technological advances.

Interoperability Cost Factors

However, achieving device interoperability can be costly for manufacturers due to the diversity of devices, protocols and external products to support.

Additionally, supporting third-party products over which they have no quality control is a situation that introduces brand risk without attendant revenue to make the risk worthwhile.

These factors help explain why some manufacturers’ systems make specific integrations available only as an optional additional product license.

Two Approaches to Interoperability

Interoperability standards. Standards are the most common basis for an industry to foster interoperability. However, because the standardization processes of standards-making bodies are lengthy, in some industries they are increasingly less and less able to keep up with advancing technology.

Such a situation makes standards popular for low-cost systems that only need minimal device capabilities, but almost useless for systems needing advanced device capabilities or where the technology is changing rapidly. However, standards also have a role of fostering minimum acceptable capabilities for products, and laboratory testing against standards that include capabilities and performance requirements can help elevate the quality of an industry’s technology products. This contributes to overall customer satisfaction within an industry.

Interoperability Platforms. One advantage to interoperability platforms is that they are not restricted to implementing only standards-based functionality and interoperability. They can utilize the SDKs (Software Development Kits) and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) which are typically kept current with advancing technology capabilities.

The next article in this series will take a closer look at how and where interoperability platforms can bring desired value to end-user customers and manufacturers. It will also identify several emerging interoperability platforms and describe their purpose and intended industry role.

This is a key factor in the design of security systems and the evaluation of emerging technologies for them.

Special Note: End-user customers with large-scale physical security system deployments should consider attending the Global Security Operations summit being held at LinkedIn Global Headquarters this August in Sunnyvale, Calif. You’ll be able to see and talk to the companies leading the interoperability charge, including compatibility for legacy products and systems. You’ll also get actionable insights from among the 50 security colleagues in attendance as well as from sponsoring manufacturers.

Interoperability is just one of the important factors discussed as the event examines what is involved in developing a sound strategy for improving security operations capabilities and security risk mitigation by the smart use of emerging technologies.

Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities ( In 2018 IFSEC Global listed Ray as #12 in the world’s Top 30 Security Thought Leaders. He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights available on Amazon. Follow Ray on Twitter: @RayBernardRBCS.

About the Author

Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III

Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (, a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities. He has been a frequent contributor to Security Business, SecurityInfoWatch and STE magazine for decades. He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights, available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is an active member of the ASIS member councils for Physical Security and IT Security, and is a member of the Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (

Follow him on LinkedIn:

Follow him on Twitter: @RayBernardRBCS.