Integrating Sub Systems And Electronic Security Solutions
A core aspect of integration is the ability to mesh multiple sub systems into one solution.
Central to core operational functionalities of many integrated solutions are sub systems, many of which were not designed with integration in mind. There are challenges to successful integration, making a technical team with integration capability is a huge asset.
INTEGRATED security solutions used to be the province of a small number of organisations large enough to maintain engineering teams capable of not only designed bespoke security and automation solutions but creating high and low-level interfaces between them and user interfaces to manage them. The need for custom design corralled the wider market from the benefits of integration – it was simply too expensive to contemplate.
Today things are different. The composite solutions that evolved over many decades to offer alarms and access control now also support video surveillance and automation and the best of them do so in a seamless way while offering end users excellent user workstation and mobile interfaces. From the point of view of installers and end users, this change is a brilliant one. However, there are still pitfalls and there’s plenty of planning required to ensure the finished solutions meets the requirements of a user.
According to Danny Berkovic of Fredon Security, the most common integrations are typically between security sub-systems – SMS to CCTV, access control to intercom, and CCTV to perimeter fences or similar.
“Elevators, fire systems, lighting control and staff directories (HR databases, active directory, etc.) are examples of sub-systems from other industries that are frequently integrated with security system,” Berkovic says. “The difficulty of establishing an integration between two systems depends on a multitude of factors, including communication pathways and desired functionality. By far the biggest challenge is integrating systems that have not previously been integrated.
“Sometimes this may involve looking at various protocols both systems can use and determining the best way to achieve the desired functionality,” he explains. “In other cases, third-party software may need to be developed specifically for the project. In the access control world this process is being simplified with the adoption of standards such as BACNet, Modbus and OPC which simplify the integration to products which utilise those standards for communication.
“A significant consideration must be given to the cyber-security elements relating to integrations. Integrations may require open network access, and this could create system vulnerabilities. Consideration should also be given to the nature of the data being exchanged between systems and if this should be encrypted.”
For the uninitiated, just getting a handle on what’s required to integrate a sub system to a security solution can be challenging but according to Berkovic, the key thing is to focus on the operational outcome.
“The first and arguably most important step in any integration is determining the desired functionality,” he says. “For example, when integrating CCTV is the requirement to trigger a basic function like alarm recording or a detailed integration whereby live and recorded feeds are associated to access control doors? This needs to be clearly documented – typically in uses cases and workflows.
“The next step is to determine how the integration will be achieved. The easiest and most cost-effective way to trigger alarm recording may be a low-level interface between the alarm system and CCTV hardware but this is very limited and quite inflexible when implemented. A more advanced integration would likely require a high-level interface which relies on licencing (potentially on both systems to be integrated) and a network connection between the two. Of course, if this high-level integration doesn’t already exist, it will need to be developed by software vendors or a third party – an alternative is to utilise a common protocol if the systems have been designed to support such communication.
“Once the integration has been established and the configuration has been completed, it is crucial to test the functionality against the desired outcome that was identified in the first step,” Berkovic explains. “These results, as well as the method of integration, should be well documented to allow for future maintenance and upgrades.
“The other consideration of significance is the maintainability of the integration – and this will be significantly impacted by the design. Using a standards-based protocol will help the integration carry forward between versions. Poorly designed custom integrations may work well in the short term but as soon as the software version changes – on any of the integrated systems – it could render the functionality inoperable. This could require re-integration and testing.”
Help points are a key part of many large integrations.
There’s a lot at stake for installers wishing to establish a reputation as integration specialists – it allows service providers to stand out from the pack, to trade on reputation, to transcend price (to some extent) and to create solutions that offer customers functionalities and efficiencies that are hard to resist.
“With security integration, skilful is the key term,” Berkovic says. “Companies are differentiated by more than just the ability to deliver an integration – this skill extends to the ability to design, implement, maintain and enhance an integration over time.
“To do so properly requires a discipline that is not common amongst electronic security integrators – and that is a good understanding of software design, development and testing methodologies. Essentially these integrations are a piece of software that is tying together mission critical systems and it should be treated as such.
“There is no doubt that integrations can enhance operational efficiencies, which in turn can reduce operating costs. However, complex integrations can be expensive to licence, implement and maintain. Integrations that increase the efficiency of seldom performed tasks may not always be economically viable.”
For capable installers integration is now easier than it used to be. Once upon a time, everything needed to be customised but many systems, even quite small systems, are optioned to allow integration out of the box.
“In recent years, integrations have become easier for a variety of reasons,” Berkovic agrees. “The migration of security and other systems to IP-based communication makes connecting these systems easier. The adoption of cross-industry standards like BACnet and SNMP also increases the ease of establishing integrations that weren’t previously possible. There are many out-of-the-box integrations between common security sub-systems.
However, this becomes less common when integrating with systems from other industries or niche products.”
Berkovic says Fredon Security has been involved in many large and challenging integrations over the years.
“These are made complex in 2 ways – they are solutions that integrate many systems and sub-systems or they are solutions that have deep and complex integrations between sub-systems,” he says. “We have been fortunate enough to be involved with both types of complexities across various projects – and occasionally both on the same project.
“One example is a project which required an access control platform to be integrated with 4 other technologies. These included a biometric identification system, a visitor management system, a CCTV system and an intercom system. Each of the 4 technologies had existing interfaces however the integrations had not been kept up to date by the vendors and were all certified to work with specific, outdated versions of the access control software. There wasn’t a single version of the software that was certified by all 4 vendors.
“One of the first steps was to set up a test environment for a multitude of software versions from each vendor, in order to identify a version that was compatible with all four systems. Once staged, the systems were deployed on site to meet the project time line. We then had to work with the manufacturers in getting the integrations up to date with the purpose of upgrading the software already deployed to the latest stable release. A lesson from this is to always check which specific versions an interface has been developed to.”
Electronic security integrator Stuart Mathews says the sub systems are typically integrated with electronic security solutions in his experience are split into 2 sections – domestic and commercial.
“Domestic systems seem to have a lot more connected to security systems such as lighting, AC, intercom, garden sprinklers, cctv, access control and they have a wide market of products to choose from,” Mathews explains. “Commercial systems mainly have lighting control either in a high-level control or low-level control and some are linked to the building BMS system if installed to control lights and AC systems.”
According to Mathews, the most extensive and challenging integration he’s been involved with was Devonport City Council Living City project which was written up in last month’s SEN magazine. This application involved the integration of security, lifts, intercoms, CCTV and room booking systems across multiple buildings on a large site.
“Some of the challenges of integrating systems is firstly what type of systems that need to be connected and secondly what type of protocols used,” Mathews says. “These include TCIP ASCII, RS-232, TCIP Modbus, RS-485 Modbus, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Dali and BACnet. With any of these systems used you need to look at location of the equipment used. This needs to be mapped out to get the best performance if certain types of network protocols used. Another challenge is to get the different types of protocols to talk to one another and you may have use converters to make this happen.
“Let’s consider linking a security system to a lighting system for a domestic house as an example,” Mathews explains. “First, I would talk to the client and come up with a list on how and what they want to control – examples include that when the system is armed all the lights are turned off, or when the system is turned off a lighting scene is turned on, or if a card is banged at the main door at night the lights in the foyer are turned on for 5 mins, or if the alarm goes off all the lights are turned on.
“Once this is established, you need to choose the security system that best fits the client’s requirements thanks to its functional potential – let’s say it’s an Inner Range Inception Panel with 1 access control door. The lighting system installed is Clipsal C-Bus – the next move is to choose the way the systems talk to each other and in this case, I would use TCIP ASCII so the C-Bus lighting system will need a TCIP to C-Bus interface to work. Next, I would need to talk to the C-Bus installer and get the lighting groups that I need to control. Finally, I would programme up the security system to talk to C-Bus and then test the installed system.”
Mathews agrees that skilful integration capability allows security installers to stand out from the pack.
“This said, having a security installer with the skills to make the install work reliably is a must – there is a lot of training required to learn about other systems and integration,” he says. “Doing the training will make the job go smoothly and the system reliable. You also need to back up when things don’t work. This will give the customer more confidence in the person doing the job.”
Is integration easier than it used to be when everything needed to be customised – and is integration out of the box possible?
“Integration can be easy when you use proprietary equipment, but this can come at a large cost and you will be limited to what you can link to,” Mathews explains. “Most of the time you need to use equipment from different suppliers and have to make them work together. This is where the skill of the installer can come in to play knowing what works with what. Today, there are a lot of new products on the market which use their own apps and are cheap and easy to install.
“The only thing making integration hard is trying to talk to other systems. Sometimes you need to install a 3rd party system to link the 2 together. Security manufacturer of small systems are slow at making these systems talk to other automation systems, in my opinion, but the more advanced security systems are better at integration to third party systems.”
Efficiency is a key area for end users and it’s an excellent selling point for installers, according to Mathews.
“Integration is a key part in any install where end users want to reduce energy costs,” he explains. “Having a system that detects people in the building and controls lighting and air conditioning in that area and then shuts them down when the security system is armed can save significant amounts money over time – this applies to smaller sites as well as to larger ones.”
According to Pelco’s Branon Painter the integrated security market is changing.
“Security used to be a separate entity from building operations, time has seen a first the integration of building management systems such as HVAC, Elevator control, Parking systems, fire and visitor management and other elements into a single management console,” Painter explains. “Now we are evolving into converged single operating environments where the entire building system can be run from a single piece of software.”
Painter argues that systems should be tied together in a way that improves automation and operational efficiency, however, he says that too often Pelco sees operating procedures that are designed around the limitations of how systems can talk to each other.
“For example, if the video system could should a door control, but the access control system could not control a door, the operating process might be developed to use a video system to manage unattended door control, which might not be the best use of the system,” he explains. “Modern software capabilities of all systems allow for a great deal of customization in how systems are unified into a single operating system.”
Painter explains that the first step in any integration is to articulate and capture the desired outcome.
“The capabilities of the different systems provide a great deal of options for how things could work together, but the building owner likely has unique needs and does not need every capability,” he says. “Once the scope of the project has been set, the capabilities of the systems can be reviewed, and the work can begin. Sometimes operating procedures may have to be modified to meet the limitations of a sub system, but so long as the work begins with the desired outcome research the result will be acceptable.
“The days when an operator had to use 5 or even more systems to manage a facility are really behind us. That change has allowed a better management experience with all systems being able to be controlled in one user interface. This first step has an obvious pay back for an operator who no longer needs to load and context switch between different sub systems. I think it gets interesting when we start to add more automation and intelligence – operations and incident responses could be more automated, bringing further efficiency gains.
“Importantly, a lot more initiatives have been driving standardization of communication protocols, which make sharing of data between systems a lot easier. Organisations such as ONVIF and OSSA, in which Pelco is a founding member and key contributer, are critical in moving the industry towards a place where integration could be truly out of the box. Until we get there, there are always a few knobs to turn and buttons to press.”
Painter agrees skilful integration capability is an asset to installers.
“The modern world has really elevated our expectations of how different systems work together,” he explains. “The fact we can all easily screen share from our phones to our TV may seem normal today, but the fact that those different systems are able to communicate so seamlessly really is indicative of the way we expect our independent devices and systems to easily interact. An installer who can make this a reality at the commercial sub system level will clearly meet the much higher expectations end users have about integration.”
While Painter has worked on many complex integrations, integrators should not underestimate the human challenges.
“I’ve worked on numerous large city surveillance projects which involved multiple local and national police entities, as well as private business owners operating independent systems but trying to figure out a way to pull security and other operational data together,” Painter explains.
“The complexities of the integration requirements were outweighed by the complexities of the multi-lateral agreements that had to be forged to allow data sharing in a legal, fair and consistent manner with multiple often competing agencies involved.”
Intercoms and access control can be managed locally or remotely.
At Tyco Security Products Basil Delimitros says that in the experience of the TSP team, everyone wants to integrate with video for event verification purposes.
“Typically, intrusion and access control are the most popular technologies to integrate with video, however, there have been requests to integrate building management systems, encompassing fire systems and smart lighting as part of a security monitoring system,” he explains. “In my experience, the challenges for typical sub-system integrations is mostly always around version compatibilities.
“Mostly, high level integrations (HLI’s) are written to bind 2 complimentary technologies for a single outcome. Often these technologies are provided by different manufacturers who are leaders in their respective categories and the biggest challenge is change and version management – the assurance that as the systems are upgraded to take advantage of new features available, the HLI must still operate seamlessly through an upgrade cycle of any or all platform upgrades.
“Integrators also need to undertake careful planning and factory acceptance testing before onsite deployment to ensure all ‘real-life’ experiences are working as required.”
According to Delimitros, operational efficiency is a key aspect of decisions around integrations.
“The purpose of integration is to allow system intelligence to provide the operator with actionable events or give them the ability to search video or events based on user-defined criteria,” he says.
“For example, an integrated video and access control system will allow an operator to search for an access card user within an organization with tagged video for verification processes. This is a gain in productivity as a single interface is required to search across 2 systems. At the same time, video content analytics can shorten the time taken to search for a person, object or event based on criteria entered by the operator.”