The basic principles of integration are simple and easy to grasp: combine the abilities of a collection of individual systems into one to create a much more powerful compound solution. Integration is easy, and with most manufacturers now offering some form of integration mechanism as a standard feature in their products, it is also a basic expectation among clients. Very few clients will ask for solutions with no potential for integration, and will, in fact, often make the requirement for integration a key point in their technical specifications.
With integration being such an important concept in system design, it is unfortunate that clients will often have very limited expectations of what the integrated solution should offer them. It is not uncommon to find that a client, having paid to have, for instance, a sophisticated perimeter intrusion detection system integrated with an even more expensive surveillance system, will be satisfied if the surveillance system will merely display a specific camera when a specific fence zone issues an alert. After a hefty investment, the result is a system mimicking an ability that could have been achieved with a dry contact and some camera presets – none of the true power of either of the two sub-systems have been leveraged. The power of integration may be profound, but the actual implementation of this concept may be very limited.
The key to true exploitation of integrated solutions lie in taking the mindset regarding integration itself out of the operational sphere, and into the world of intelligence. Integrated systems should not only be viewed as useful tools for empowering the operations of security or safety system, but rather as mechanisms for the gathering of intelligence regarding the environment being monitored.
The intelligence should also expand beyond the gathering of information, to encompass the intelligent use of the knowledge to manage the total solution even more efficiently. Data generated by the sub-systems of the integrated solution can now be combined into sophisticated decision making aids, while at the same time offering a view of the environment that the disparate systems could never offer individually.
Consider the example used earlier, of a perimeter intrusion detection system integrated with a surveillance platform. One of the common issues experienced with perimeter protection systems is a tendency to generate false alarms when conditions in the environment of the system mimic those of an actual attempted intrusion. If the concept of intelligent integration is now applied to this solution, it is possible to formulate a solution to this problem: if a fence zone is triggered, verify the alarm by automatically checking if an associated collection of cameras are also registering motion in that area. If the cameras are indeed indicating movement in the area, the fence alarm can automatically be marked as confirmed.
As useful as the above solution may prove to be, it is still an application of the operational abilities of an intelligent integrated system. Systems such as these should offer more than this, and should be able to assist the client not just with the management of threats, but also with the management of the associated environment.
The knowledge derived from the sub-systems should offer richer insights than merely which alarm was triggered at a specific time. The information should offer intelligence on how well the sub-systems are performing, as well as an understanding of how the environment itself is behaving.
If this occurs often, the system may be incorrectly calibrated, or the environment around the system may require some maintenance – this is much more effective management of a faulty system than the inevitable desensitisation of system operators that is typical of less intelligent solutions.
A very useful aspect of intelligent integrated systems is that the power of such a solution is directly proportionate to the complexity of the integration itself. The system gains power and usefulness as more sub-systems are integrated, and the solution collects more information.
To exploit more complex examples, if a building’s access control system can be integrated with its building management system, as well as the electrical power monitoring systems, the resulting solution can be used to manage the energy footprint of the building very effectively. The intelligent component of the solution analyses the movement patterns of the population of the building, and uses the results to build rules of operation for the building management system.
The movement of the population through the building is now used to determine which lighting sections of the building should be switched on or off at specific times, what the load of the air-management devices should be, and even what the behaviour of the building’s electrical grid itself should be. The resulting solutions ensures that the building only consumes energy where and when needed, and then also only at levels that would satisfy the population in the associated area.
As with all solutions based on technology, there is a weak link in the argument for intelligent integrated systems: an intelligent system requires an intelligent management system. These systems are typically software solutions offering very attractive abilities that leverage of the power of the integrated solution whilst also offering additional ability based on the correct management of the gathered information.
An example would be the ability to generate an automatic job card for a camera going offline, without operator intervention. If the system is sufficiently powerful it will even manage the subsequent service level agreement applicable of the job card all the way to the repair of the device. The challenge lies in the selection of the correct system, as it should be able to maximise the complex abilities of the integrated solution while itself not being complex to install, commission or manage. The software should define itself as an extension of the integrated system, and should add ability to the integrated system as opposed to merely facilitating the integration itself.
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