Tactics for Driving Smart Physical Security Transition

March 11, 2024
OEMs must embrace a software-based device strategy to capitalize on next-gen products

Connected smart devices continue to transform nearly every industry. From autonomous vehicles to intelligent home appliances, the next generation of products includes an increasing emphasis on software and the potential that it unleashes. With intelligent sensors, AI-powered surveillance and other applications – the physical security sector is no different.

Moving From an Analog Environment

Traditionally, the physical security sector centered around analog equipment, such as surveillance cameras, scanners, access control systems, and video walls, operated by on-premises security personnel. These solutions represent an environment predominantly focused on offering manufactured hardware and associated labor. Once installed, solutions were static, relying on humans for interpretation, modification, and maintenance. As such the solution had little ability to be modified or updated apart from full-scale replacement.

This analog environment created challenges for both OEMs and customers.

  • Customer capital expenditures, installation, and ongoing maintenance: Traditional physical security solutions represent a high capital expenditure (CAPEX) cost for customers. Analog equipment, such as a surveillance system in an office building, requires highly customized expertise. Installation is often labor and resource-intensive. Then, customers have the ongoing requirement for on-premises staff to operate the system, adding training or maintenance costs. Budgeting was also long-term, with challenging approval processes for new installations or upgrades. Installed solutions were relatively static and intended to operate for years into the future.
  • OEM design, manufacturing, and sales: OEMs spend significantly more to develop and sell analog solutions. Built to last with relatively little changes, considerably more R&D is required to launch new systems. Once sold, OEMs have limited ability to make changes. Sales cycles are longer, aligned with customer CAPEX budgeting and approvals cycles, which caused significant friction in generating revenue.

 As both customers and OEMs were suffering, it was clear that a technology transition was needed.

Unlocking Advanced Technology in Security

The transition from to a smart, software-defined, world signifies a massive shift in flexibility and extended capabilities. Embracing a new generation of software-based products can significantly benefit OEMs and their customers, transforming physical security solutions in today’s digital world. This transition has several positive implications for the security industry and various domains.

The A.I. Transformation in Video Surveillance and Beyond

Pre-dating today’s A.I. hype, A.I. has already transformed traditional surveillance solutions from reactive closed circuit television (CCTV) and remote video monitoring (RVM) to proactive and even predictive AI-based solutions. These next-gen security solutions are more effective and valuable to customers while unlocking new possibilities for OEMs.

For example, AI-driven object identification in security systems significantly enhances surveillance and threat detection efficiency and effectiveness. Smart, software-centric solutions enable real-time monitoring and analysis of vast amounts of visual data.

Already in production within the physical security section, A.I. applications within video monitoring, like A.I.-based object detection, are now transitioning to other industries, including smart cities, public safety, and the factory floor.

  • Traffic management: AI-powered cameras can identify and track vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. Cameras can recognize license plates or vehicle models for parking and law enforcement. AI-powered cameras can optimize traffic flow, manage traffic congestion, and enhance public safety.
  • Public safety: Person and object identification can detect and alert relevant authorities to potential security threats or unusual behavior in public places, improving overall safety. For example, object identification helps to identify potential theft or suspicious behavior, enhancing security and loss prevention efforts in retail environments.
  • Worker safety: In factory environments, cameras and sensors can identify unsafe activities, behaviors, and conditions and assist in training and complying with safe work practices. Smart cameras can contribute to the overall safety of workers by providing real-time alerts and allowing faster responses to potential hazards.

The Power of Cloud-Based Solutions

As seen in other industries, the potential benefits of moving away from adapted on-site installations to managed, cloud-based solutions are numerous for OEMs and customers. The software industry underwent this transformation in the early 2000s. Nearly every major software company, including Salesforce, Adobe, Microsoft and numerous others, moved from physical servers unlocked by perpetual licenses to cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. This transition continues across industries, physical security included, with the commoditization of analog hardware and new value creation from cloud software and services. Or XaaS – anything as a service.

AI-driven object identification in security systems significantly enhances surveillance and threat detection efficiency and effectiveness.

With cloud-based solutions, OEMs convert investments in their solutions from CAPEX to OPEX, lowering sales friction and enabling recurring revenue for OEMs; the transition also lowers R&D costs while accelerating development and release cycles. In turn, customers continuously receive improvements, updates, and bug fixes, improving overall experience and value.

A software-enabled smart environment allows for dynamic changes, automatic software updates, and customization by rewriting software and leveraging data. Ongoing maintenance becomes part of the product lifecycle, including updates, bug and security patches and the addition of new features.

New Challenges with Smart Physical Security

While the opportunities are significant, the transition poses new challenges for the physical security industry.

More advanced, software-based, high-tech solutions are far more complex than their analog ancestors. These solutions require specialized software and technical expertise to develop, maintain, and monetize.

For example, AI-powered cameras require frequent changes to support the AI deep learning model. All cameras would need to receive the changes with the assurance that the right data models are deployed to the compatible camera. Data costs would also be a new factor for OEMs to optimize, such as transferring only relevant datasets or leveraging compressed delta updates to the cameras. With a transition from hardware-based to software-embedded solutions, the overall design and manufacturing process must also encompass an IoT platform approach to lower costs of managing existing and developing new product lines.

Avoiding exponential support costs, managing devices remotely, creating economies of scale through IoT platforms, and optimizing new operational factors like data costs are new challenges OEMs must face head-on. In doing so, OEMs will not only realize the potential benefits of the smart transition but also do so in a successful, revenue-generating way.

Adopting a Software-Based Device Lifecycle Management (DLM) Strategy

To embark on this journey, OEMs must adopt a software-based device lifecycle management (DLM) strategy. A software-based DLM mindset enables OEMs in physical security to transition to a continuous way of thinking and operating so they can manage their products in sync with software.

Central to a software-based device lifecycle management (DLM) strategy is planning for software in the design phase and, most critically, the ability to manage devices and deploy software updates over the air (OTA). Instead of requiring physical or manual intervention, a well-designed device management and OTA update infrastructure allows OEMs to manage devices remotely, minimize risk, increase efficiency and enhance security and uptime.

This approach allows for secure and cost-effective management of devices throughout their lifecycle, from manufacturing to deployment, maintenance, and eventual retirement.

Eystein Stenberg is the CTO of NorthernTech, a leader in device lifecycle management, and the creator of Mender, the market-leading solution for robust, secure, and customizable over-the-air (OTA) software updates.