A platform approach to innovation and value

CCTV Handbook 2019 Editor's Choice, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring, Integrated Solutions, IT infrastructure

The technology industry is moving faster than ever and it is a challenge for manufacturers, developers and integrators to just keep up with what is happening. Users are also struggling to figure out what is happening in their corners of their world and are faced with a daily bombardment of news and information about what the new ‘big thing’ is.

Then, when users get together with their integrators and/or vendors, they can have amazing expectations of what their security technology can do – as well as other technologies. While these amazing demands will probably be a reality at some stage, there is a long process between the time an idea is born in a lab and when people start talking about it, and when it is available as a reliable addition to real-world infrastructure.

Part of the delay is the legacy technology manufacturers and integrators need to cater to when releasing new technology. More than one manufacturer and more than one end user has had the experience of being told that they can’t upgrade to newer technology or integrate it into their current infrastructure because the two platforms are ‘incompatible’.

So what can the industry do to overcome this lag? Companies don’t want to dump existing customers and users are rarely comfortable switching to the new companies on the block, even when they have awesome technology, because they haven’t proven themselves in real-world scenarios. Even when existing, large and stable companies buy the newcomers, the challenge of integration is still there.

Today, if you add the Internet of Things (IoT) into the technology mix, the future looks very confusing. There are endless platforms offering to manage your IoT infrastructure, as well as many existing security management platforms incorporating a few IoT devices and some standards into their platforms in an attempt to expand their legacy systems and embrace the new world. Easy and convenient it is not.

Surveillance is a similar microcosm

The surveillance industry is going through the same challenges. A few years ago it was all about moving onto the IP platform, while the users were concerned about their existing analogue systems. Integration was and is possible, but will you get the performance and results you require?

As IP technology grew, we suddenly had multi-megapixel systems available along with thermal and IR technologies – all suddenly at more reasonable prices. The Chinese market has driven the reduction in pricing. Initially users were paying less for questionable quality (something many were happy to do for some reason), but today we have Chinese companies producing the same quality as the legacy manufacturers in the surveillance market and the various vendors are battling for market share.

Just to shake things up a bit further, we are also seeing less reliance on hardware today. We have enough megapixels for the majority of our surveillance needs, so for companies to push out more is not a guarantee of increased revenue unless they focus on speciality markets. What is changing and adding more value than ever before is the software running on the hardware – which is why cameras are seeing more internal development in terms of processing, on-board analytics and storage – in other words, power at the edge.

Unfortunately, users will find themselves in an all too familiar situation as these new products hit the market. Backward compatibility, integration and the freedom to choose the infrastructure components of your choice will be limited because every vendor out there has their own technology stack – they develop a proprietary operating system for their cameras (and IoT devices), their own applications and they control the integration capacity. (Of course, everyone says they support open systems, but sometimes the reality may not support the marketing brochures.)

Forward thinkers in the IoT world (which includes the surveillance industry) are asking if this is really the best we can do. Would we not get much more from our cameras and other IoT devices if we had common platforms and processes upon which everyone could build their value-adding solutions?

A central, open platform with standard processes

The Open Security & Safety Alliance (OSSA) is making this ‘commonality’ a reality. Speaking to Hi-Tech Security Solutions, the OSSA’s Pieter van de Looveren and Gijs van den Heuvel explained that the organisation is forming an alliance to address the issues we all face in the surveillance industry and far beyond. Even though the surveillance market is one of the initial areas these companies are focusing on, their efforts are directed at the IoT market in general – which means all markets and instances where you have edge devices doing something and sending data to a server or cloud-based server.

For example, in the surveillance industry, we have enormous amounts of data that we store for a ‘just in case’ scenario. In reality we are fortunate if we actually use 1% of that data; even companies that excel in making use of their surveillance data may only use 10%. What if there was a platform that made the access to all the information this data contains simple, but yet safe? (Within this process, perhaps consider what it would take to turn your surveillance solution from a cost centre to a profit centre by being able to make more effective use of video data?)

This can be done by the industry moving from the current ‘pipeline’ business model to the ‘platform’ model. Our pipeline model is driven by suppliers who are the gatekeepers of innovation and push out solutions to market. Often these solutions don’t play well with others, keeping the collected data inaccessible and unused; and while they offer some good solutions, they also prevent the end user from exploring freely and making use of the technologies out there that could boost their security operation significantly.

The platform approach is far more open in that it responds to the real demands in the market and is based on an open ecosystem in which sharing data and technology is frictionless. This easy access will allow for more access and analysis, and hence more effective use of data. And to reinforce the previously mentioned comment, while we refer to video data in the CCTV Handbook, this applies to any IoT systems and devices out there.

The ecosystem is here

The OSSA was created to develop this frictionless ecosystem in order to “define a common market approach to open up new market opportunities”. The ecosystem (or platform) would by default maintain high levels of trust while ensuring performance is optimised. At the same time it would balance the playing field by allowing innovators the same access to the platform as larger, well-established companies. Moreover, all the components of the ecosystem are designed and maintained to specific levels of compliance to ensure, for example, security, communications and privacy standards throughout the ecosystem.

To use the OSSA’s own words: “The Open Security & Safety Alliance is a collaboration initiative that brings together like-minded organisations in order to create a framework providing standards and specifications for common components including an operating system, IoT infrastructure, collective approach for data security and privacy, and a drive for improved levels of performance for security and safety solutions. This will help the market and parties involved to focus on the aspects that really add value for their customers and open up new application possibilities, even beyond security and safety.”

The OSSA’s goal is to draw the whole supply chain into the ecosystem, from manufacturers and software houses, through to app developers and integrators.

The technology stack

To accomplish its goals, the organisation is focusing on developing a standard technology stack for the industry as a whole to work on. In a (simplified) nutshell, this starts with standard hardware platforms with built-in security and privacy standards, supported by a common, vendor-agnostic operating system which publishes a standard set of APIs (application programming interfaces) to make developing software for the platform easy for everyone to do.

This applies to any industry, such as the video surveillance market, where a standard platform could be adopted by the industry and where participant companies could focus their time, money and effort on innovation instead of maintaining their legacy hardware, software, APIs, etc. Where companies will differentiate themselves is in the apps or added value they develop for the ecosystem – as noted, focusing on innovation. It also allows smaller developers to make their apps available (in an app-store concept) to the global market on the standard platform.

Issues such as security and privacy will be incorporated into the design of the stack, ensuring everyone developing for this ecosystem adheres to the standards, which enforce security, etc. in a unified manner across the platform. This prevents individual developers from making mistakes or taking shortcuts which make everyone vulnerable.

Companies using the platform may initially claim that they have no way to stand out from the crowd in an ecosystem like this, but, as noted above, it provides them with a reliable foundation upon which to build their own innovations. They can focus on the software issues (such as AI) to provide value in their vertical or industry as a whole, or make part of their value-add to customers additional security that runs on top of, and expands, the standard approach.

This is similar to the smartphone market we see at the moment where the basics of all phones are the same, but the vendors and individual developers add specific value via their apps. The difference would be that the alliance would not use the platform for their advantage or to keep some people out of the market – unless they don’t meet the standards or like adding malware to their software. (We discuss the operating system, already being used in demonstrations, later in this article.)

Benefits for all

The OSSA ecosystem approach offers benefits to all participants. As noted above, manufacturers will be part of the de facto industry standard and will be able to adhere to standards for data security and privacy, adopting the foundational OS (operating system), and benefit from regular firmware updates while their R&D; focuses on the company’s differentiation and value-add for its customers instead of reserving resources to maintain and build upon their legacy OS.

Software developers will have an easy entry to the global market (as long as they develop their software to the defined standards) while taking advantage of the constant improvements and development of the foundation upon which their apps run.

System integrators will be able to take advantage of new business opportunities enabled by the common platform, such as improved integration at a lower level between different brands, while they can focus on their customers and the value they can add to solutions rather than technical integration challenges.

It’s already happening

This is not some future potential plan, however, the OSSA was launched in 2018 and was at IFSEC in 2019 with some real demonstrations. The alliance plans to have its first security cameras and commercial implementations of the platform available in 2020.

Founding members of the OSSA include Bosch Building Technologies, Hanwha Techwin, Milestone Systems, Pelco and VIVOTEK, indicating that the alliance was built with some serious backing. Since the initial launch, many additional companies from different markets have become members of the OSSA, from Dahua, to Trend Micro, through to NetApp, Netgear and more. One member is SAST (Security and Safety Things), the group developing the common industry OS (SAST is a Bosch start-up, but run independently).

Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to Sebastian Hornik from SAST to find out more.

A common operating system

SAST and the OSSA are working closely together in the development of the global ecosystem, with SAST focusing on the creation of a global, industry-standard operating system for the IoT market. Surveillance cameras are a starting point and the organisation is already running pilots of its OS. The ideal is to have this as a standard operating system on all cameras, with the various vendors adding their own value – as mentioned above.

The OS will be a part of the whole ecosystem the OSSA is driving. The OS is based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), giving developers libraries, an API framework, and codecs to work with. The organisation is focused on AI-based security apps in an effort to push the boundaries of what is available for and on surveillance cameras – within the next year they expect to have AI apps available for IP cameras running on the common OS.

The OS will be provided at no cost to manufacturers, meaning they can release cameras based on the OS faster, develop add-ons (apps) faster and be sure their underlying OS is continually developed and maintained according to the global standards supported in the OSSA vision.

In addition to the OS itself, SAST will also have an app store available in 2020 where authorised developers can make their apps available on a global scale. Since the operating system will be common across different camera brands, an app will be able to run on any camera subscribing to the ecosystem. SAST provides full developer assistance in terms of tools and APIs on its website.

The developers in question could be the current surveillance companies, or smaller developers focusing on specific markets. Like an app store, the revenue from apps will be split between SAST and the developer. The process of buying and installing apps will again be similar to current app stores, making it as simple as possible to use apps and even change apps if required. This app store concept will be available globally, expanding the reach of developers automatically.

System integrators are also supported with knowledge and insights into the hardware and software ecosystem, allowing them to manage devices and ensure their customers get the best out of their services.

An example of a development company in Europe that is already on board is A.I. Tech. The company has ported around 20 of its video analysis plugins and bundles to run on the SAST OS. Some examples include:

• AI-Loitering to detect the permanence of a person within an area of interest.

• AI-Fire and AI-Smoke to detect the presence of flames and smoke in environments where traditional fire sensors are not very effective, such as large interiors, or externally at a considerable distance.

• AI-Overcrowd can be used for raising an alarm in case there are too many people inside one or more areas of interest such as queues.

• AI-Road3D allows the counting and classification of vehicles.

• AI-Incident checks the presence of vehicles stopped in a specific area.

Other applications deal with security in public spaces: AI-ATM allows detecting anomalous situations near an ATM, due to overcrowded situations or to the presence of a person near the ATM for a long time. And AI-Bio is able to recognise the gender from facial analysis, also carrying out estimation of the age from the analysis of the face and the time spent by the person in front of the camera.

As technology expands and everything becomes connected and interconnected, the old way of developing solutions and retaining customers is proving challenging for everyone in the technology supply chain. Creating a common ecosystem upon which everyone can build will level the playing field for the end user, allowing them to select technology and solutions that meet their requirements, without the hassle of integration or proprietary workarounds.

The users will know that as long as they use technology built to the ecosystem’s standards, there will be no surprises in terms of integration, and they can rely on their partners to offer solutions that meet the standards of the ecosystem – such as security and privacy requirements – in effect ignoring the foundations and focusing on building the house to their own specifications, which won’t have to be compromised because vendor A can’t or won’t work with vendor B.

For more information on OSSA go to https://www.opensecurityandsafetyalliance.org/

For more information on SAST go to https://www.sast.io/


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