Security industry standards making an impact

Sept. 24, 2015
Collaborative efforts among all players create a standards roadmap all can work with

Over the last 25 years, the realization of technology standards in the security industry has been more akin to a search for the Holy Grail than an industry mandate. While end users and systems integrators have demanded full interoperability only recognized standards would achieve, security vendors have seemed to cling to proprietary technology mindsets that only tease those yearning for open architecture solutions.

Enlightened professionals, however, are successfully chipping away at the traditional commodity legacy, as vendors, systems integrators and users have worked together on several fronts to finally bring some semblance of technology standards to the table. Industry organizations including the Security Industry Association (SIA) and ASIS, along with focused vendor-led groups like the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) and the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) have coordinated efforts to make tangible standards reality.

In fact, ONVIF recently announced that it has reached nearly 5,000 IP-based physical security products registered as ONVIF compliant, grown to more than 500 member companies, and has developed its fifth profile specification - Profile A for advanced access control, to the industry for feedback. For Per Björkdahl, Chairman of the ONVIF Steering Committee, these accomplishments signify the growing importance of the organization and its influence as a major driver of interoperability in the physical security market.

This is quite an accomplishment when you consider the group’s origins. Established in May 2008 by founding companies Axis Communications, Bosch Security Systems and Sony Corporation with the goal of creating a global open forum for the development of a standard network interface for network video products, the scope of the mission now includes all network-centric security technologies from video to access control.

“End users in the industry and the broader consumer market now expect basic interoperability when they make purchases, and manufacturers are responding by making more interoperable products by using ONVIF’s specifications,” said Björkdahl. “We are proud to have reached these milestones in ONVIF’s growth and development and look forward to working with our members and the industry at large to continue to promote interoperability in the market.”

From SIA’s perspective, standards are crucial to moving the security industry into the future from not only a technology standpoint, but as a safeguard for end users who are concerned with the rapid pace of technology advancement and obsolescence. SIA’s standards committee highlighted a short list of benefits an end user could derive from technology standards. These improved solutions include:

  • More features, better competitive positioning
  • Easier to use and install
  • Simpler to integrate
  • Easier to produce and maintain
  • More reliable, less support
  • Less expensive, better margins
  • Non-proprietary, open architecture
  • Better compliance with regulations

SIA also states that in addition to these particular benefits, standards also create ‘meta benefits’ for the industry as whole. The most important of these is the overall market growth that it believes is fostered by product interoperability and simplified integration. SIA adds that these industry benefits include reducing barriers to entry and promotion of competition by establishing a level playing field for new product innovation.

Those forecasts all align with the mission and vision of where ONVIF sees the future of security. According to ONVIF Communication Committee Chairman Stuart Rawling, the industry is ready for standards – from both a user and provider’s end.

“The industry has reached a point where we accept that designing interoperable security products that make installation and operation easier for integrators and end users is in everyone’s best interest. As the industry has made the transition from analog to IP technology, that understanding has grown and is reflected in the increase in acceptance of ONVIF’s profiles.” Rawling said. “In addition to the increase in ONVIF members and conformant products, we are also seeing a lot of interest by manufacturers to participate in the development of future ONVIF profiles. ONVIF just held its face-to-face committee and working group meetings in Montreal and we had the one of the highest attendances ever at the meetings. Our developers’ plugfests, where engineering teams can test products for conformance and collaborate, are also seeing high attendance, with our next plugfest scheduled for this November in Hangzhou, China.

“At the same time that participation with and awareness of ONVIF is growing, we are seeing a growth in the recognition of the ONVIF brand. ONVIF circulates surveys to measure its success and gather feedback, and a recent survey shows that more people in the industry know about ONVIF and its mission. More projects are also requiring ONVIF conformant products. All of these factors indicate the success of ONVIF’s profiles and a greater awareness of the need for interoperability.” Rawlings added.

Among security vendors, the value proposition of technology standards is hard to deny. Yet there are mixed messages. For Fredrik Nilsson of Axis, one of the founding members of ONVIF, standards are driving the industry forward and is the glue holding it together.

“Without standards, cameras and VMS wouldn’t be able to speak to one another. Systems would be installed incorrectly. And end users wouldn’t be able to view and search their video for forensic evidence. The security industry adopts most of its standards from the consumer and IT industries, take HDTV and 4K for example. Networking and cyber security standards are also becoming increasingly important. There are a host of Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs), such as ASIS International, SIA, BICSI, ESA, CSAA, LEVA and SISC that will continue to play an important role in developing our industry. ONVIF and other physical security specific standards have been helpful in driving adoption of new technologies, such as IP cameras.” Nilsson said.

Allen Chan of Sony, also a founding ONVIF member company, believes that ONVIF standards are providing an essential bridge as technology evolves and end user migrate to digital video solutions.

“In the analog days, it was easy plug and play as the standard was well established.  This allowed for easy integration across the system chain like display, recorders etc.  ONVIF has since evolved, and I would say it is established as the basic requirement of the product in this industry, or adoption in the integration.  We believe this trend will continue.  Third-party recording or other applications can benefit as there is a ‘standard’ way to process video which will only contribute to the overall growth and further increase the adoption rate of network cameras for security and other applications.” said Chan.

Dr. Bob Banerjee, an industry veteran with Qognify, formerly NICE Security, is cautiously optimistic that the industry standards movement will provide long-lasting benefits despite some of the earlier hurdles encountered.

“The initiatives are excellent, but it’s important to realize that they represent a journey rather than a destination. While early versions of the specifications permitted basic functionality, they still required VMS vendors to use SDKs in order to leverage the unique features of each brand and model. Recently the specifications have matured to incorporate more differentiators,” added Banerjee. “As such, we expect the market to quickly reach widespread adoption. That said, there is no doubt that it has been a long and painful journey to reach this point – one that ONVIF pioneers had probably hoped to reach much sooner.”

About the Author

Steve Lasky | Editorial Director, Editor-in-Chief/Security Technology Executive

Steve Lasky is a 34-year veteran of the security industry and an award-winning journalist. He is the editorial director of the Endeavor Business Media Security Group, which includes the magazine's Security Technology Executive, Security Business, and Locksmith Ledger International, and the top-rated website He is also the host of the SecurityDNA podcast series.Steve can be reached at [email protected]