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The Dark Art: Why does true ‘Integration’ continue to elude us in the Security Sector? And what can security specialists do to take advantage of this

1st Apr 2021 Integration News Image

Integration or Interoperability, whichever you wish to call it, is a much talked about topic in the Security Sector. It is becoming more and more critical, as we move towards greater acceptance of Cloud-enabled and remote management solutions. End user customers are looking for what can really improve their return on investment. There is also the ever-present threat of cybercrime and, to solve this, collaboration across manufacturers is key and must eventually become the new normal.

It could be that cybercrime tips the balance for the industry as a whole because major efforts are underway to make widespread interoperability across cybersecurity a reality.  And with regards to integration across security solutions, whenever we add something to an existing security system, it’s important to ensure the amendment doesn’t ‘open the back door’ and increase cyber threats unnecessarily.

Smoke and mirrors

Currently, there are no operational requirements within the electronic security industry for what true integration actually means, which can result in frustration for those trying to deliver a customer specification and ultimately risks a substandard, unsatisfactory end result.

Add to this the typical scenario of the customer not knowing exactly what they mean when they specify ‘must integrate’ at the same time as being unaware of the possibilities new technological advancements offer them.

Very often, designs and specifications do not go to the level of detail required by the distributor and this can cause project delays. The distributor is forced to go back to the installer or even the end customer to ask the necessary questions.

The true benefits of integration

The good news for the security integrator or consultant is that there is an opportunity here to use the ongoing smoke and mirrors to their advantage, by really helping their end user customers to identify what they want their solution to be able to do and asking the right questions to provide a detailed brief to a distributor or manufacturer.

This offers a chance to reposition your business as a true partner to both the customer and the solution provider and, thereby, lift you out of the grind of the price war.

It’s important to note also that interoperability and third-party integrations mean more opportunities can be won across different vertical markets and you can offer complimentary technologies. Whether it be safe city, data centres, utilities or education as examples, using a unified open platform front end, allows you to successfully combine products from across different solution areas such as Video Surveillance, Access Control, Analytics, Intercoms and so on.

This means you have control of the overall system, can provide the best available for the customer’s requirements or budget as well as the ability to exchange components when needed. And you can provide the opportunity to grow the system with the business.

Clearly understanding both parties’ requirements presents you with the chance to obtain those three aspirational pivots of long-term business success – to increase profit margins, enhance efficiency and create a recurring revenue stream.

For security installers themselves, there are several important qualities of an advanced integrated security solution combining disparate security and surveillance systems successfully so that they operate as well as, or better than, a single solution, either through low level logic or high-level interfaces.

The first of these qualities is reliability. Often the benefits promised outweigh the end result and the availability of documentation from the manufacturer, such as APIs (Application Programme Interface) and SDKs (Software Development Kits), help to avoid this scenario. These provide access to the key product data and enable a solution to be tailored to achieve the best results for the customer.

Secondly, functionality is imperative. This quality demonstrates how truly understanding what the customer needs allows you to determine whether full integration is necessary or if another product provides a better fit for the desired purpose. The functionality of the integrated platform must be built around those needs, for example, combining access control with an existing surveillance security system.

The most important aspect for the customer is usually how intuitive the final solution is. Again, this makes it imperative that the installer or consultant and distributor pin down the nitty gritty of the customer’s requirements, as not all will be well versed in specifying what they want to achieve.

Done well, this allows the integrated security system to be tailored to exceed expectations and gives you opportunities to upsell. The end result, of course, should be less complex for the end customer.

Understanding levels of integration

What is ‘Integrated security’ and what are our expectations of integrated security technologies? These can be broadly drawn into three levels

1.Inputs & Outputs (not at an Ethernet level): Basic links between, for example, Access Control & Fire Alarm, alarm is triggered, all the doors automatically open.

2.Integration as a halfway house: Brings all the events from a certain number of systems into one management tool and allows you to make dynamic adjustments, e.g., to a single access point. Very useful but might not do everything you want it to do, such as set up user credentials for the Access Control System part of the solution.

3.Umbrella Software (normally subscription-based model): Such as a Building Management System, which takes all the different systems across a business, pulls them together and allows you to see what’s occurring on one screen and report from one central system.

An independent study by Strategic ICT consulting of a 145,000 square foot building demonstrated a system installation cost saving of 24% for an integrated Buildings Automation System (BAS) versus using separate systems. The study went on to show that post installation, operational and life cycle savings continue.

Another project analysis by Teng & Associates showed that with a fully integrated security solution, training costs were reduced by 33%, IT administration by a whopping 82% and the costs of changes, upgrades or additions were reduced by 32%.

It’s all about asking the right questions

It is extremely useful to ensure the customer is very clear about their objectives, both in the immediate term and in the longer term. What do they want an integrated security solution to do for them? How are they going to measure the return on their investment, whether that’s a directly identifiable financial benefit or results in reduced costs elsewhere, or additional business management information.

Has the customer thought about their priorities – the must haves vs the nice to haves, and how will the solution fit the developing needs of their business over time?

Here’s an overview of the type of questions that it would be advantageous for the end user customer to be asked at the very start of a project specification:

1. What integration is required?

2.To what level is the integration required (see the 3 broad levels above)?

  • Is low level sufficient with inputs & outputs, or a hybrid?
  • Is http scripting required – for devices to talk to each other?
  • At a VMS level?
  • Or is full Building Management Solution (BMS) umbrella software required
  • Is Public Security Information Management (PSIM) required?

3.Is the solution process driven? E.g., if X happens, then Y does this, if not then Z does this instead?

4.Is there a process flow for operators available?

5.What expectations are there of the final solution, how and what is required across:

  • Access Control
  • Intruder
  • Video Surveillance
  • ANPR
  • Analytics
  • Audio
  • Fire

6.Is there an operational requirement for integration?

7.Is there a need for dynamic map integration?

8.How will the system be driven, i.e., is it CCTV led, or access led?

9.What client software is the end user working from?

ONVIF considerations

It is important to note that whilst ONVIF has gone some way to easing camera integration, as cameras become more complex with added features, it’s still vital to test products before install to ensure true compatibility.

Firmware updates can also cause issues within the same manufacturer’s ranges, let alone across different brands. So, it is always advisable to test an update before it is deployed onsite.

Ultimately, whatever is selected must be thoroughly tested and verified.

Increasing customer loyalty

Another aspect that must be carefully outlined for customers is that, in order to maintain an integrated solution effectively, there are likely to be ongoing costs of maintenance, both for systems and software elements.

The good news is that integration gives security installers or consultants an opportunity to engage with all the stakeholders. If the final outcome solves the customer’s operational challenges and it is well designed, delivered and supported, you will have demonstrated true return on investment and hopefully set yourself up with a recurring revenue stream or at the very least a loyal, engaged customer.

Several factors – such as the uptake of everything Cloud, Remote Management Solutions, cybersecurity, open platforms and the availability of tools that integrate easily and talk to each other in the consumer world – will continue to drive towards interoperability becoming commonplace.

End users are looking for a better return on their security solution investments and common sense tells us improving our ability to integrate across brands will improve this. Those that do and those that can pull effective integrated solutions together will benefit.

Norbain SD partners with some of the market leaders within the security industry to provide fully integrated cutting-edge solutions for you the integrator and your customers wherever possible.

Norbain’s experienced and knowledgeable security team can offer advice and support on what solutions are available to suit most business’ needs. We also understand that every business is unique, and some solutions can’t be delivered in a box. That’s why we have Solutions Specialists to provide you with ongoing support as your key technology partner, help define project roadmaps and work with you in optimising technology investments.

Get in touch with us to discuss your requirements.

www.norbain.com

Watch our our Pocket Size Buzz video on Cyber Security:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhZSSG-a1tw

And here’s our video on Interoperability:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IllvMAOzWMY

Our thanks for contributions to this article from:

Main Sponsor

Axis Communications

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Milestone HID Global