Will PSIM Eventually Control the Universe?

Oct. 5, 2011
Looking at which trends have potential and those which don't

Right now, the world of PSIM is largely confined to connecting multiple security subsystems under a single command center. At a single glance, security operators can simultaneously monitor surveillance cameras, access control systems, burglar alarms and perimeter protection sensors. But there's growing demand for broadening that umbrella to include everything from audio communications (intercoms and paging systems) to power supplies (UPS devices and generators) and building management (lighting controls, elevator operation, even HVAC systems).

Is a universal PSIM really achievable-or is it merely wishful thinking? More importantly, would such a system bombard users with so much information that they'd be too overwhelmed to act? In this article, I'll tell you about some of the trends I see developing in the PSIM arena and share why some have real potential and why some will likely fall by the wayside.

Embedding policies and procedures

A lot of people mistakenly think that all they have to do is upload their policies and procedures into their PSIM and they're off and running. But as I've learned, that approach can prove disastrous. I once had a multi-facility customer who decided to hook up their access control to their PSIM. They started slowly with just one component of access control-door forced open (DFA). But in the first 20 minutes of operation, they received 1,500 DFA alarms. It was humanly impossible for their four-person security team to respond to such volume.

The PSIM gave them visibility into their access control systems that they never had before. But it also highlighted some serious flaws in their policies and procedures: too many events were considered DFA incidents and all DFA events triggered the same high-priority alarm.

So an important trend I see coming down the road is a variety of assessment and simulation tools that will help users evaluate how they handle incidents and truly understand the implications of specific procedures before they get programmed into their PSIM.

Adding a visual dimension

Blockbuster movies like "Minority Report" and network TV crime shows like "CSI" have created unrealistic expectations among security operators hoping to adopt the latest and greatest interactive technology. Touchscreens and 3D displays look cool in the quick-cut, fictionalized world of Hollywood. However, they really don't align well with how humans process information in the real-world.

First, it goes against human physiology. Holding your arms up in the air in front of your body and moving images around on a large display wall would exhaust anyone in a matter of minutes, let alone a typical eight-hour shift. Second, it goes against human psychology. In high-stress situations such as an incident alert, people tend to assume tunnel vision. Their ability to react to multiple stimuli greatly decreases.
Another important trend I see coming down the road is a simplification of how information is presented. PSIM integrators will focus more on how to help customers minimize the amount of information they need to successfully resolve an incident rather than adding complex, flashy information interfaces.

Deciding where to base the PSIM display code

Right now I see a lot of tension between two camps: the browser-based PSIM and the client-based PSIM. I think what will ultimately shake out will be a hybrid of the two approaches.

Here's why: Browser-based PSIMs are great for integrators who service a single vertical. There's a lot of commonality about how businesses in the same sector handle their security operations. Offering one version of the system should provide all the functionality necessary with little, if any, need to modify code (a more complex and costly task than tweaking client-based software).

Client-based PSIMs are better for integrators who service multiple vertical markets because they need the flexibility to adapt the PSIM to the unique operating needs of each industry. Client-installed software is easier and less expensive to modify on the fly- everything from font type and size to color palette and even where specific pieces of information will appear on the display.

The PSIM industry will eventually migrate to a hybrid system because a large percentage of PSIM operation is common (and therefore unchanging) across all industries-things like database management and other behind-the-scenes administrative functions. So it would be more economical to move that code to the browser. Those aspects of user operation that need to reflect individual preferences will reside in an installed client where the code can be more easily and less expensively modified.

A fresh approach will also become critical when adding new subsystems to the PSIM. Right now, when you install new cameras or sensor types or other new devices, the PSIM needs to undergo extensive regression testing to ensure that the new device types haven't negatively impacted the core system. Going forward, however, I see subsystem connectors removed from the core PSIM software. Instead, a whole new industry of add-on connectivity tools will emerge to simplify and bullet-proof PSIM expansion. These third-party libraries will eventually cover just about any manufacturer's system you'd care to integrate under the PSIM umbrella.

Fostering greater collaboration

When an alarm goes off, everyone sees the event. But someone has to take ownership of the incident or else chaos will ensue. I see PSIM companies making a concerted effort in the future to foster more sophisticated collaboration among security operators. Right now, once an operator takes the lead and starts to resolve the incident, all the other operators are automatically notified so that they can turn their attention elsewhere. But when a question arises, or a fresh perspective would be welcome, future PSIMs will support more complex social collaboration. Lead operators will be able to broadcast queries to their peers and append video clips, verbal and written notes and other media asking for other opinions that might expedite resolution.

Driving the PSIM roadmap

PSIM has moved from the early adopter phase to more widespread acceptance in the security community. Initially, feature development was dictated by the whims of the manufacturers. Now it's being driven by customer demand.

PSIM started as a multi-layered security management system. But incorporating building management into the PSIM environment is definitely on the horizon. And it makes perfect sense when you think about the commonality of data that feeds these systems. Issues like building occupancy, elevator operation, even environment controls for power, lighting and HVAC consumption can all have a direct impact on the security of a building.

While practicality will ultimately triumph over the fanciful, separating the far-fetched from the truly visionary will definitely be an interesting journey.

Paul Galburt has 15 years of experience developing information management systems for the physical security industry and more than two decades providing system consulting for emerging technologies. He is currently vice president of Advanced Development for New York-based IPVideo Corp.