Are Integrator IT Skills Overblown?

Technology consumerization and cloud capabilities may be changing the decades-old perception that security systems integrators must be IT tech-savvy

Technology consumerization and cloud capabilities may be changing the decades-old perception that security systems integrators must be IT tech-savvy.
Technology consumerization and cloud capabilities may be changing the decades-old perception that security systems integrators must be IT tech-savvy.
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IT convergence, in any industry, is the incorporation of one or more information technologies (computer software, hardware, electronic data, and networking) into electronic products and systems. Due to IT convergence, I and many others have been advocating for two decades that security systems integrators become “IT savvy” – because electronic physical security systems are built from continually advancing information technologies.

The more that information technology advances and becomes incorporated into physical security systems, the more important it is that integrators (and manufacturers) gain a good understanding of the information technology elements involved.

For many integrators, this has been a seemingly impossible task, because of the accelerating rate of IT advancement, and the complexities involved in some information technologies; however, one very important trend – thanks in large part to cloud computing – now offers an antidote to IT complexity: the consumerization of IT. The full significance of this trend has not yet been realized by security industry manufacturers or systems integrators.

 

IT Consumerization

Technology consumerization is the reorientation of product and service designs to focus on and market to the end-user as an individual customer – in contrast to an earlier period of designing for and focusing on organizations as customers. However, technology trends do not occur in a vacuum; in fact, many trends are enabled by other trends. An example is the low power trend, which enabled the miniaturization trend, which thus made smartphones possible.  

Consumer technology trends also include two design trends rarely given sufficient attention in the security industry: simplification and usability. Behind the scenes, interoperability and standardization play a huge role in simplifying technology and making it more usable – another area where the security industry lags behind other industries.

IT consumerization has fueled advances in simplification, usability, interoperability and standardization to the extent where Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) is now the way of the world, and organizations find their employees, contractors, visitors and partner personnel bringing not only their own devices, but their own productivity applications as well via cloud services.

Information technology continues to evolve and become more capable, while also becoming less trouble to own, maintain and use. This IT trend – ease of ownership and use – is underappreciated in the security industry, but has begun to catch on, partly because the scale and capabilities of consumer IT products have eliminated the need for security-industry-built devices.

 

Case in Point: Consumerization of Video Walls

Today, a good 50-inch 4K TV can be purchased for less than $500; thus nine 50-inch 4K monitors can make an impressive high-resolution 10 x 6-foot video wall for less than $6,000. But this requires video servers and software to achieve highly configurable video and data views, which could cost between $10,000 and $30,000 installed – depending on the capabilities needed. Some VMS systems, like Milestone’s XProtect Expert and Corporate editions, fully support video wall capabilities and simplified management of video wall content.

On the other hand, 15 years ago, a security video wall of that size and resolution would have required special security-industry-made video display equipment, costing upwards of $250,000 including the software and servers. Today’s technology provides a 90 percent or better cost reduction for a greatly-improved display capability.

Also of high importance is the fact that installing and commissioning such a video wall today requires only the consumer technology skills of an integrator’s technical personnel.

 

What IT Skills Do Integrators Require?

Due to technology advancement trends, including cloud computing, it is no longer true that all security systems integrators must become experts in all IT facets of computer, software, hardware and network deployment. There are some levels of enterprise security system deployment that continue to require advanced IT skills; however, many more security system deployments do not require such a high level of IT expertise.

Based on the continued acceleration of information technology trends, we should expect to see electronic physical security systems become more capable, and become less trouble to own and maintain, as well as less trouble for integrators to install and commission. Even security system cyber protection should become easier –provided that manufacturers fully embrace current cybersecurity principles, practices and technologies.

The security industry should follow the example of other industries’ adoption of information technology: they make products and systems more capable, easier to use, and as self-configuring as possible. This is the direction that IT convergence is taking in the 21st century.

What do drivers of self-parking cars need to know about vehicle video analytics, smart parking algorithms and the vehicle control systems involved? Nothing – they just push the “park” button and the car does the rest. Electronic security systems are much simpler, and our industry should follow this example; in fact, some companies are already doing so.

 

IT Technology Simplification Hits Security

Video analytics: The first advances I saw in simplifying security video analytics were in the new generation of analytics, which incorporates machine learning and advanced data processing techniques.

Two leaders in this regard are Bosch Security Systems and Agent VI – both of whom several years ago introduced self-configuring video analytics that automatically classify moving clouds, flapping fence signs and waving tree branches as background, while classifying people, vehicles and animals as foreground objects of interest.

To get a good understanding of what is behind the self-learning capabilities of video analytics, check out the Security Industry Association (SIA)’s technical resource paper, “The State of Security Video Analytics” at http://bit.ly/advanced-security-video-analytics.  

Video appliances: Eagle Eye Networks has simplified the deployment of its Security Camera Cloud Video Management System (the Eagle Eye cloud VMS) with pre-hardened, self-configuring, on-premise video appliances. Eagle Eye Bridge appliances buffer video on-site and send video to the VMS in a manner respective of the available bandwidth, and its Cloud Managed Video Recorders (CMVRs) record video on-site and optionally send some or all video the VMS.

Securing these appliances is simple because they are all designed as “locked down” devices – with no open ports, no inbound communications, and are pre-configured to automatically connect to the VMS using digital certificates to authenticate. No manual configuration is required to establish network connections, which happen automatically. Cameras are auto-discovered, and for security reasons, must be manually approved before they are enrolled in the system. The appliances act as DHCP servers for network cameras, so it is not necessary to manually set camera IP addresses. If existing cameras are brought into the system that have been pre-infected with botnet malware, they cannot participate in botnet attacks because they are blocked from making any outgoing connections via the Internet. Video is encrypted when sent to the cloud or to end-users for viewing.

From its cloud data center, Eagle Eye automatically takes care of security and feature updates for its appliances. No action is needed on the part of the security integrator or the end-user.

Video firmware upgrades: Axis Communications is in the process of rolling out an upgraded version of its Axis Video Hosting Platform (AVHS), which was formerly hosted by third parties, but is now hosted by Axis in the Amazon AWS cloud – at a data center appropriate for the customer site’s region.

AVHS is provided through the Video-Surveillance-as-a-Service (VSaaS) model. The Service Level Agreement (SLA) includes guaranteed uptime and around-the-clock AVHS platform support, but the big news is that the service now includes automatic camera firmware upgrades as well as upgrades to the Axis Camera Application Platform (ACAP), the in-camera software that enables third-party video analytics applications to run on the camera. No action is needed on the part of the security integrator or the end-user – relieving them from the burden of camera firmware and software upgrades.

Secure, private connections are assured by the digital certificates used to authenticate the cameras to the AVHS cloud application, and to establish encryption of camera video data connections. Connections to AVHS browser applications for users, and to integrated central station software, are also secure and encrypted.

AVHS has integrations with four applications from a select group of central station software manufacturers. The connection to central stations enables additional security offerings such as video verification, guard tour verification, safety button alarms, and so on, which mean new RMR business opportunities for security integrators and central station monitoring services.

 

IT-Rooted Vendors

I think it is significant that two of the companies leading the way in cloud-based simplification of video deployment – Axis and Eagle Eye – both have IT roots. In fact, five other IT companies with IT roots – Brivo, Commend, Lenel Systems, Milestone Systems and RightCrowd – also entered the security industry a decade or so ago and quickly became leaders in their niches.

It is safe to say that physical security technology will still advance even if incumbent industry companies do not embrace IT trends and practices; however, the industry’s customers would benefit if they did.

 

Increased Business Potential

Current-technology systems provided as-a-service mean that the focus of security integrators can shift from complex technology challenges to what the end-user truly needs them to focus on: the customer’s own security operations challenges. That means time spent getting an in-depth understanding of the customer’s business operations, and the security risks involved – which directly leads to better application of security technology and stronger risk mitigation for the customer.

Cloud-based convergence benefits do not eliminate the need for integrators to understand information technology, but they do change what aspects of IT that integrators need to focus on. The next article in this series will highlight the options for integrators to expand their IT capabilities, including feedback from integrators on how they are assessing and addressing their need for IT knowhow.  

 

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 (www.go-rbcs.com). He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights, available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is a Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (SEC), and is an active member of the ASIS International member councils for Physical Security and IT Security.

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