Integrated Security Solutions: What Do Integrators and End Users Want?

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Automation must drive operational processes
Automation must drive operational processes

Manufacturers are offering more and more integrated security and automation solutions – such systems are becoming more powerful and more pervasive. But what do installers and integrators need from such solutions? And what are end users asking integrators and consultants to design for them?

INTEGRATION is the name of the game and it’s spilling across the market segments of the electronic security industry, blending disciplines – not just at the top end but SMEs and residential markets as well. More and more systems offer alarms, access control, automation and video surveillance integration. But while we know were developers and manufacturers are steering the market, what is the integrator experience of this shift? And what are end users telling integrators and consultants about the system functionalities they want? Are their real opportunities for integrators to develop their businesses in ways that allow them to lift themselves out of the never-ending grind of price war?

For ECS Services, an integrated solution combines or integrates disparate systems to operate as well as a single solution using through low level logic or high level interfaces. According to Raj Masson, the most important quality of an integrated security platform is reliability. 

“The benefits promised are quite often greater than the benefits achieved with integrated solutions,” Masson explains. “If the manufacturer advises the system is capable of achieving a particular result, it is important that the manufacturer live up to that promise. The key elements which make integration easier for the ECS team is the availability of API’s, SDK’s and HLI’s, if the product has available access to allow us to access key data, ECS can tailor it to achieve the best results for our valued customers.

Functionality is vital, too. 

“Too often the term ‘integrated solution’ is thrown around giving a perception of a complex engineering and revenue attraction, whereas understanding the key outcomes of the clients and determining whether integration is a real requirement or whether a product better fit for purpose can be used to deliver the required outcomes without a full integration,” Masson says. “It is true in larger scale, more complex systems integration nowadays in those segments is almost unavoidable to deliver very sleek operational results that are focused around presenting an operator with every bit of information instantly including pre-defined actions and intercept’s that greatly enhance the response to threats.”

According to Masson, the aspects of integration that are most important to end users revolve around ease of operation. 

“Some customers are quite advanced in their understanding of what can be achieved,” he explains. “As a fundamental and general rule, ECS looks at the operational functionality from our customer’s perspective, we communicate with them to understand their needs and ultimately, we work on their behalf to tailor the systems and solutions to ensure the end result exceeds their expectations. Gaining an understanding of our customers’ needs is paramount to providing them with the best possible result. We then work between the customer and the manufacturer to get the best out of the products and make sure the manufacturer supports our efforts to provide the customer with complete satisfaction.

“In addition, consultants play a vital role in the education of end users and the requirements of integration where the detailed threat analysis and clients requirements have been documented providing integrators with a broad scope to work on and the real challenge in these situations is ensuring that the systems selected are tried, proven and tested well.”

What about SME users – is it fair to say that the ability to integrate alarms, access, CCTV, intercoms, fire alarms, visitor management with house systems like lighting, air conditioning and power management, all remotely managed, constitutes the next step in terms of security applications?

“Yes, all of those sub-systems are already being integrated and provided to many of our existing customers,” Masson explains. “Some systems work better than others, so it is extremely important that we select quality products from manufacturers who support us in our efforts to get the best out of their products. ECS will quite often discuss with customers the need to change a particular product for an alternative. In particular for the customer who wants an integrated solution using a number of different platforms and disciplines, we understand the complexities of integration and the benefits and pitfalls of selecting the right products. Products with limited manufacturer support, limited developmental road maps and manufacturers who are reluctant to support us in our efforts to get the best from their products are avoided at all costs.”

What are the greatest challenges of integrating security and automation systems, in the ECS experience?

“We have invested heavily in hardware and software engineers to ensure the integration expectations of our clients will be met on time,” Masson says. “This is often not aided by manufacturers going directly to the end users promising them vapourware. Unfortunately, the sales reps of some manufacturers only know the limited functions of their own product and even then fall short when it comes to the real functionality of their HLI’s. This is what makes ECS a safe company to do business with as we have years of experience in real integration. 

“At times, we spend countless hours working through the bugs, anomalies and inconsistencies to effectively fault find and field test their products and feature sets. Without an ECS, the client may be left with frustration and discontent. We try to buffer this pain with our expertise and our firm management of suppliers. These challenges can create project delays and have the potential to impact final pricing. ECS usually impose financial penalties on manufacturers who do not comprehensively support their products, and this is why it is imperative that we select well supported products with proven track record in their quality control for released product.

“As the market is expanding so rapidly, changes in platforms, firmware versions and software platforms are endless, keeping abreast of each of these is not only the manufacturers and distributors greatest nightmare it becomes the client’s nightmare where version changes cause unexplained functional variations and alterations in the behaviour of already established and working systems. To maintain integrated solutions effectively, we encourage every client to understand the ongoing costs in system maintenances and software maintenance agreements, as they all impact the system through the life of the product.”

According to Masson, while it sounds negative and erroneous, the benefits on an integrated system must be weighed carefully against the operational security outcomes to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs incurred. 

“Safety, security and peace of mind is a paramount delivery to any system be it a standalone or a complex integrated solution,” he says.

 

“In every project there is always a risk of getting so excited about the possibilities that you miss the core deliverables needed to satisfy the customer”

 

Up in Queensland, Rob Marsden of Addictive Technology Services defines the term integrated solution as being all about end user experience. 

“Integration is being able to combine multiple systems comprising of hardware and software into the one solution,” Marsden. “And the end result should be less complex for the end user and operate seamlessly as if it were all the one system.

As an integrator, Marsden says there are a number of vital qualities he looks for in an integrated security platform. 

“We are looking for well documented and supported interfaces with best practises for integration such as compliant protocols and APIs that offer a high level of control and transparency,” says Marsden. “In every project there is always a risk of getting so excited about the possibilities that you miss the core deliverables needed to satisfy the customer. The customer’s operational needs should be well understood and the functionality of the integrated platform built around those issues. Upselling then becomes a natural part of the overall solution.”

What about those SME users – is it fair to say that the ability to integrate alarms, access, CCTV, intercoms, fire alarms, visitor management with house systems like lighting, air conditioning and power management, all remotely managed, constitutes the next step in terms of security applications? 

“Absolutely, when the systems are of high quality with the right architectures, frameworks and integration is designed from the outset we will see a whole wave of new benefits to SME users,” Marsden says. “These benefits will come from applications, including cloud based SaaS (Software as a Service) models, that will be able to bring new levels of control, automation, speed of delivery, business intelligence and operational data to the surface via single-pane-of-glass windows and offer greater ROI, as well as control and support for integrators. There’s going to be a lot of disruptive technology emerge over the coming years, including more IT systems as infrastructure as a service (IaaS) system models evolve.”

Marsden agrees there are challenges to integrating security and automation systems but he says there are serious rewards for integrators who put in the effort.

“If integration is to be done properly, the systems need to function as one and be supported by as one,” says Marsden. “This means the end user or integrator is not left wondering about which piece of the puzzle is not quite working and who’s responsibility it is to resolve it.

“Integrators should know what architecture works and should not deviate from this. Here lies the biggest challenge in an industry that is largely about hardware price. The good news is that integration gives you an opportunity to engage with the all stakeholders and cover the overall integrated solution to ensure it is well designed, delivered, supported and solves the operational problems, allowing you to demonstrate its true ROI, taking you out of the price war.

Young integrator Mitchell Smith of Platinum AV believes the most important aspects of an integrated solution for the end user are that it be simple and that it work easily and efficiently. And he agrees that integration has arrived for smaller end users who might have been forced to install 2 or 3 separate solutions in the past.  

“I think for SME users the integration of building management systems is the next level for security applications, especially with the way counter terrorism is evolving world-wide,” Smith argues. “As threat profiles change, security is becoming more important for businesses and organisations which in the past may not have felt they faced any serious threat. From the technological standpoint, it’s part of a trend. We have seen fire system integrating into BMS systems for a long time now, where they are used to shut certain air conditioning units or deploy sprinklers on fire alarm activation. 

“I think the same will eventually become normal within the security industry where when an alarm is executed during certain times or in restricted areas which in turn can lock doors, open gates, or if 300 people come into a function room, with the use of clever cameras such as Mobotix thermal, we can use this camera to detect heat changes within the room which tell the air conditioning to lower the temperature without any human interaction.” 

According to Smith, there are a number of challenges to the penetration of automation into the residential and SEM market. 

“When it comes to the residential market, the greatest challenge will be cost,” Smith says. “Everyone wants the best solution but everyone wants the cheapest solution – they are never the same thing. Partly, I blame certain big manufacturers for creating budget kits - I think they have undercut their brands and product lines to serve a mass market that is not really serious about security and automation. However, when it comes to our commercial clients, while price does play a little part, it's more about getting them to understand what the new systems capable of doing and how they can use them to best advantage to save money in other areas through improvements in security, energy management and operational efficiency.” 

What about end users? What do they most want from integrations? According to consultant, Paul Harrison, delivering effective security in the face of diverse and complex risks can be a challenge but he says using an integrated systems approach and a custom design allows protection critical assets taking into consideration the requirement to reduce costs. According to Harrison, customers are very diverse in their requirements.

“End users require a broad range of security and safety technologies including CCTV, access control, gates and barriers, ANPR, alarms, fire, intercoms and system comms, integrated security system with mobile device controls, integrated service and maintenance and business critical systems, including lighting, air conditioning and industrial control,” he says. 

A key aspect of any integrated solution from the point of view of management systems is whether clients prefer interfaces that offer a holistic view of the multiple sub systems that support their security operations, or prefer to have some separation – for instance – access control and intrusion events with video footage attached as a single workstation, while video management is handled in parallel on another workstation/video wall altogether.

“We have found that as the demands for security systems have become more and more complex the need for them to be easier to adjust and to manage increases,” Harrison explains. “Open platform architecture is clearly the answer, removing the requirement for individually developed software and hardware. Most our clients are currently tending towards systems/controllers that can accommodate functionality for access control, intrusion detection, video management and locker management. They expect them all to be delivered as one truly integrated, flexible platform, instead of drivers linking separate servers and systems.”

Does Harrison find client’s integrated solutions entwine with data networks when it comes to things like access control, or are network security solutions and physical security solutions still separate? 

“Both physical and logical security depend on each other so it is surprising to find that a number of companies still treat them as separate systems, from both a device management and government agencies perspective,” Harrison explains. “Until recently, this was a fair assumption, because the technology to integrate physical and logical security was not really available. 

Harrison says there are operational issues here as well for many organisations.

“When it comes to security, most organisations have at 3 concerns,” he explains. “The first 2 are primarily concerned with IP theft, malware, viruses, and so on. The second covers network operations which handle network security including data at rest and data in transit security. And the third is physical security, which includes surveillance and access control.

“Manpower also is forgotten by most organizations, the guard at the gates is a separate operation but does form a key part of an integrated solution. Today, more than ever, the challenges come down to governance, making it a priority to create a single body for security policies, procedures, and deployments.”

How highly does Harrison rate mobile management applications for their ability to enhance a client’s security operations? Do they make system functionality more accessible more of the time or are they a security risk that needs to be considered very seriously?

“A number of clients are looking for real-time, automated situational awareness, reporting and accountability for their security services,” says Harrison. “Both for electronics solutions and manpower, the latest systems allow for more intuitive interfaces and this makes it easier for officers and supervisors to adopt simplifying integration functionalities into daily operations.

“But in my opinion the mobile device option inserts a whole new risk. The open nature of the internet makes it vital for businesses to pay attention to the security of their networks. As companies move more of their business functions to the public network, they need to take precautions to ensure that the data cannot be compromised and that the data is not accessible to anyone who is not authorized to see it.” 

Harrison argues there’s a lateral aspect to integrated security solutions that needs to be taken account as part of their ability to serve the wider community, increasing security while increasing efficiency. He argues there are many businesses that would benefit from integrated security solutions in support of operations. 

“To illustrate this point consider that for parents there are few things as important to us as our children,” he says. “As a result, we take their safety and security very seriously and this is especially true when we leave our children in the care of others. Parents want to make sure kids are safe and secure when at school, day care, or elsewhere. Installing a security camera system in a day care centre gives the parents a sense of security that their children are not only being watched by a qualified facility but that the entire environment of the day care is being monitored using video surveillance.” 

In Harrison’s opinion, what is driving electronic security integration is an awareness that progressive thinking about security technologies allows users to more efficiently address their security challenges with the latest innovations and he maintains it’s an area the industry needs to be discussing.

“Professional design engineers, security advisors and project managers should work together closely to deliver high quality customised solutions on time and on budget, that meet individual client needs of cost reduction and improved functionality,” he says. ♦

By John Adams