Intersec Blog

Tim Compston Joins The Dots for Connected and Integrated Security

Posted by Richard McKeon on Jun 21, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Tim Compston, Guest Features Writer at Security News Desk, draws a picture of the latest moves in the world of integration for IP-based security systems and more.

Historically, when security solutions were deployed they tended to sit quietly in their own isolated silos and not communicate with any other elements. Today, thankfully, the situation has been transformed beyond all recognition as access control, CCTV, and other critical elements are being brought together through solutions like PSIM (Physical Security Information Management), CSIM (Converged Security Information Management), and other unified platforms. As we see an acceleration of these moves, what are the opportunities and challenges that come from ever more connected security? Is an open approach better for integration rather than going proprietary? What about the dangers of operators suffering data overload?


Tim Compston Joins The Dots for Connected and Integrated SecurityBy the numbers

Putting some numbers on the expanding footprint of PSIM solutions, analysis by Research and Markets is predicting that the global PSIM market will grow at a CAGR of 14.82 per cent over the 2016 – 2020 period. Research and Markets also suggests that a major change in the market is coming down the track with the integration of social media. This will bring a new source of data into the real-time framework of PSIM platforms, with social media keyword prevalence, account management, and hashtag monitoring.

In terms of specific drivers for the strong market growth here, another step change that Research and Markets reckons should encourage PSIM take-up is the ability to employ mobile apps. This, suggests Research and Markets, has the potential to unlock the capabilities of smartphones to notify responders of events and to keep security operations centres up-to-date with pictures and streamed video. 

Defining PSIM

Drilling down into what constitutes a PSIM solution, sadly, over time, the definition appears to have become somewhat blurred. Added to this, some vendors are moving away from PSIM, with one proponent now promoting CSIM as a potential way forward.

Discussing what is actually meant by PSIM and whether certain vendors are muddying the waters by labelling solutions as PSIM which, in reality, are merely souped-up versions of some sort of video management software, Jay Shields, Managing Director of Glasgow-headquartered VMS (Visual Management Systems) Ltd, who has decades of experience in the security and IT industries, is quick to respond: “I think that it is totally confusing, especially when everybody is calling their front-end a PSIM when I don’t think, necessarily, they all are.”

Asked about his recipe for a good PSIM solution, Shields admits that he is 'slightly biased' as the company's TITAN VISION suite, for example, is an open system.  Delving deeper into some of the reasons why an ‘open platform’ for PSIM usually makes the most sense, Shields says: "It [an open platform] means that there are a far wider range of applications that you can run and it is much easier to integrate. We look at video as just another form of data and you can really start linking your data across platforms." Shields adds that with an open platform, when it comes to upgrading, you are not dependent on whatever a specific manufacturer has on offer: "You can easily move with the development of different systems especially when you are looking at PSIM where you want to integrate video analytics and other third-party systems."

Underlining the commitment of VMS to a PSIM architecture, Intersec 2017 in Dubai witnessed the launch of the latest generation TITAN VISION portfolio. One new line, TITAN SIGMA, has been developed – according to VMS – with sensitive, high security, and mission critical, environments in mind. In practice, SIGMA provides all the elements of the TITAN VISION PSIM solution but with specific attention to the detection and verification requirements, and operational command and control elements of a modern total situational awareness application.

Opportunities with open protocols

Seeking out the views of John Davies, Managing Director of integrated security manufacturer TDSi, he does not believe that PSIM has by any means had its day yet, despite some well-reported bumps on the road: “I think that the problem that PSIM has had is that there has been a lack of open protocols and so it is quite difficult for the PSIM software companies to keep up to scratch with what is going on.”

Davies sees light at the end of the tunnel for PSIM providers: “ONVIF [the open industry forum] is branching out of the CCTV world into access control. With more open protocols coming on to the market, and manufacturers of different elements of the security system adopting these open protocols, I think that it is going be easier for PSIM software companies to be able to offer products that integrate into different components of a security, fire, and health and safety system.”

Time for convergence

Interviewing James Chong, the Founder and CEO of Vidsys, who was there at the start of the PSIM revolution, I was keen to have his take on CSIM, the new kid on the block, and, crucially, where PSIM now fits into the equation.

Chong starts the discussion by explaining that he actually first came up with PSIM as a term way back in 2006: “There was no PSIM before that. SIM came from the IT world – Security Information Management - and was basically introduced with physical security.” He answers candidly when I suggest that there is some confusion out there about what is, and what is not PSIM, as other vendors have suggested to me: “Absolutely, sometimes anything that could do third party integration was starting to be introduced as PSIM which is not true. They were more of a VMS or even access control and sometimes computer aided dispatch. In the U.S., there are some specifications where for a true PSIM it says that you cannot be the manufacturer of another product that you are integrating to,” says Chong.

Moving on to more recent developments, Chong points out that CSIM - which was introduced two years ago - is a natural evolution of the PSIM concept: “It was always part of the roadmap to go towards a stage where cyber and IT as well as the electronic and physical world would eventually converge.” He adds that he can see organisational convergence happening too: “You have CSOs instead of just a Director of IT or a Director of Physical Security or Corporate Security. The Chief Security Officer [CSO] actually oversees both sides because the risk is across the organisation.”

Chong explains that, with converged security and information management, the information management aspect is becoming all about big data and the IoT (Internet of Things), the smart city, the safe city, and smart transportation: “What we are now seeing is that the data can come from any source and everything is, basically, becoming connected. The definition of IoT is advanced connectivity to sensors, devices, systems, and sub-systems and services, which are then connected to the cloud.”

Smart city focus

The Middle East is certainly one market where CSIM is gaining legs. A case-in-point being the announcement that neXgen Group, a leading smart city advisory and managed services provider based in the UAE, will be offering Smart Safety and Security as a service leveraging Vidsys’ CSIM multi-tenant cloud-based solution. neXgen Group specializes in extending smart city technology solutions as a service to governments, real estate, and enterprise customers across the region and has been actively involved in flagship projects such as Smart Dubai and Smart Riyadh, contributing its regional consulting expertise and in-country Smart City managed services.

“We are excited to work with neXgen, an established leader in the region’s Smart Cities market. Through this managed services offering we expect to see significant growth and accelerated adoption of smart city initiatives in the region including safety, security, and infrastructure management capabilities,” says Chong.

Another vertical market that Chong believes is a good fit for CSIM is utilities: “There are now new critical infrastructure protection regulations that have physical perimeter protection – say for power distribution centres – and cyber and IT security all as part of the same requirement. In those cases, CISM allows you to do exactly that. The other option would be to put on more manpower to handle it.”

Looking ahead, Chong reckons that over the next three or four years, as we approach 2020, the market is going to go through a fairly stark transformation: “That transformation is to the cloud. I think it is shifting much more towards software. IoT is all about software. The hardware components will still have to be available to support the bandwidth, and all the other processing, but software and the cloud is where the explosions will happen.”

Adding value

Another vendor that has a strong and expanding footprint in the PSIM world is CNL Software. Catching-up with Adlan Hussain, the company’s VP Marketing, begins by telling me that one of the trends CNL Software is seeing on the ground relates to the way people are keen to leverage their security technology to do more than just security, essentially making it work for the wider organisation as well: “We are in ports where they deploy their security assets [guards] to walk around and check on the condition of containers. If any containers are reported to have suffered damage they use their mobile phone to share images back into the control room. This helps to verify whether there is sufficient damage to have a specific container changed or whether the container can still be sent onwards,” explains Hussain.

Lifting the lid on the early days of CNL Software, Hussain reveals that the vendor started its venture into the PSIM space about 12 years ago: “That was when the access control system was used to manage doors and the video management system was used to record video, and it wasn't even VMS. People were still using a lot of analogue technology - they were just very, very, separate systems.”

Fast forward to today and Hussain says there is now an even more pressing requirement to take in information from multiple systems: “We are seeing more technology partnerships between access control and video guys, who they will integrate to their own technology.” He warns that often these tie-ups can be proprietary and contrasts this with the open platform stance taken by CNL Software which is all about supporting the best technology to fulfil a specific purpose. Expanding on this theme, he cites the example of a port which has waterside and inland cameras: “It may have some specific needs around infrared cameras, low light cameras, so there are lots of requirements in different environments. Being able to select the best technology to meet those security challenges and then bring them back into the central hub is not, necessarily, possible if you have got a very proprietary system.”

Seeing through the noise

Moving on to discuss how the security management situation was turned around for a specific customer, Hussain recalls what happened when CNL Software provided a solution to cover multiple campuses for a major IT company in the UK that was based across 27 different campuses: “When we started dealing with them their access control system was kicking out hundreds of thousands of alarms every hour - somebody has opened the door, somebody has closed the door - and we thought that we need to do something to sort out all that noise and just give them the alarms that are most significant.” Over time, Hussain says that CNL Software has, perhaps not surprisingly, learned the secrets of prioritisation: “It is about what constitutes a good alarm, creating all that workflow, that intelligence.” He goes on to explain that by knowing what needs to be responded to versus what are distractions, prevents distractions getting in the way of other important tasks a person needs to do.

Thinking big

Pressed on where the PSIM-type solutions offered by CNL Software fit into the fast-developing security landscape, Hussain replies that, with a marked shift in terms of VMS solutions, and their ability to do some alarm management, and similarly with access control, it is at the larger end of the scale where demand is strongest: “This is where it is more difficult. People are having to deal with the volume and throughput of alarms across multiple sites or across very big campuses. It is hard to scale a product like a VMS system up to be able to manage 50,000 cameras. While others are coming down into the market we have decided to stay right at the top.”

As well as being at the top of things in terms of the market, at a practical level, Hussain explains that the architecture of PSIM means that solution is designed to sit above all other elements: “If an incident happens, a perimeter intrusion detection system picks up something on a fence, then we will go back into the access control system, for example, and see if anybody has accessed the nearest door. We can work out whether it is someone who should have been there. We can bring in the video from the nearest camera and if the camera is able to see that point it can look at what happened at the time where something hit that fence just to verify ‘A’ it is a false alarm or ‘B’ whether it is a real alarm to send somebody to respond to.”

On the question of the type of customers where PSIM has gained the most traction over the years, Hussain reveals that they are wide-ranging, including: ports, airports, prisons, very large FTSE 500 companies, and a Ministry of the Interior in the Middle East: “We are also working on quite a few museums in that part of the world. I would say it is a variety of markets and critical infrastructure, so nuclear, oil and gas, is another important one.” For Hussain, with PSIM, it really boils down to wherever security is mission critical and there is a need for something that is sufficiently robust: “You may have to contend with five or 10 types of systems, all from different manufacturers, and bring those together.” 

Taking a different path for Synergy

Turning to a vendor with a different take on what is needed to unify things, Synectics, by contrast, is not looking to associate its Synergy 3, command and control platform with the PSIM label. David Aindow the company’s Product and Technology Director takes up the story: “In terms of functionality it broadly does what a PSIM would be expected to do but we have purposely steered away from using the PSIM acronym to describe it.” Aindow says that the stance Synectics is taking is largely driven by a lot of negativity towards PSIM-type solutions in the market: “They had this kind of reputation that you start to deploy them and then you never actually get them finished. There's a huge amount of professional services required and the costs seem to spiral up and up and up and out of control from what we hear from the market.”

Aindow goes on to highlight the fact that Synergy 3 offers many sought after features such as: standard operating procedures, situational awareness and is an umbrella platform that sits on top of access, intruder, fire, and unified communications. These elements may sound very PSIM-like but, Aindow stresses, Synectics wanted to develop a product that fitted the needs of potential customers, such as in the casino and oil and gas environments, without trying to tag Synergy with the PSIM product label. Added to this, Aindow reports that behind-the-scenes the design philosophy for Synergy 3 was very different: “Rather than requiring a whole host of engineers – almost developers - on site like a lot of these PSIM-type deployments, we wanted to get it [Synergy] as easy to tailor, and configure, by a standard integrator or indeed skilled people within an end user, without the need for Synectics to be using all the labour.”

Fuzzy logic

Crucially, Aindow believes it is important - with a command and control platform - that the pace of deployment is in the hands of the customer: “This is much better than it being in the hands of whether we could do it in time or not.”

Drilling down to the specifics on how Synergy 3 is designed to make life easier for customers if their requirements change, Aindow explains that, for example, there is a very simple ‘drag and drop’ environment: “They can create their own user interfaces, where they create their own procedures and workflows, and they can create their own rules for what needs to happen to inform an operator if there is a real problem.”

Asked whether there is a danger when unified systems are working together, of operators becoming overwhelmed with data, Aindow says that this is only likely to happen if they are told about absolutely everything: “Many incidents are totally benign which they don't need to be notified about. What we have done with our rules engine is a very easily, configurable tool that mines data from databases and other systems and then uses a combination of Boolean logic and fuzzy logic to join things together.”

Aindow offers up a simple example to illustrate how the rules engine might work in a retail Point of Sale (POS) situation: “You have interfaces to the point of sales management system and you maybe have some video content analysis in your camera system. If the POS system raised an event to say that there has been a refund,  do you really want to tell an operator about that? Well no. If the video content analysis system has detected that there was nobody standing in line at a cash till do you want to raise an alarm on that event alone?” The argument, says Aindow, is that if these two things happen together then it makes sense to flag them up: “The rules engine allows the system to filter out the noise from the systems that you are sitting on top of and only present information to the operators to deal with when it is clear, through combining data and combining system information, that there really is something for them to be interested in.”

The right platform

In the end, whatever the approach taken to security integration or unification - whether through command and control platforms or solutions labelled PSIM or CSIM - it seems clear that a single platform route offers the best way of ensuring a consistent incident response and preventing information overload.

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