Integration has always been an issue in the security industry. There can be few installations where project and/or security managers have not had to deal with integrating older and new technologies in order to develop complete solutions that can be managed from a central platform. Although not ideal, even with today’s advanced technologies, many companies still have more than one platform to manage their various security technologies.
Cloud solutions are often seen as the solution to these problems, but even with the ‘magic of the cloud’, someone still has to integrate different systems and present them as an integrated whole. But who knows what happens behind the scenes?
Just to make things more complicated, we are now also seeing companies wanting to integrate non-security devices and operations into the same ‘central console’ in order to better manage their combined operations, which can include physical and logical security, facility operations, building management and any number of other IoT (Internet of Things) technologies.
To find out how we can go about dealing with integration issues as well as new IoT integration challenges, Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a couple of companies with extensive experience in doing the actual integration work (not necessarily restricted to the surveillance arena) for their insights into the challenges and benefits of integration.
Integration is required
Starting out, while the general expectation is that integration is playing a larger role in installations these days, are companies in South Africa really embracing the ‘new world’ of IoT and integration of best-of-breed technologies that have to work together or are companies happy to manage multiple systems, each from their own management platform?
Rudi Taljaard, enterprise business architect at Gijima Electronic and Security Systems (GESS), says there is a definite increase in requirements for multiple-vendor cooperation and the ability to make disparate systems work as part of one ecosystem. “The main reason for this is protection of investments and sweating assets. The question that everybody must consider is, do you have an integrated approach or do you use a unified platform, both cases will have advantages and disadvantages.”
He adds that there is a definite increase in requirements to monitor non-security related end points and devices as part of a total ‘smart security solution’. “If you are monitoring a server room via CCTV, for example, why can you not use the same platform to monitor humidity, temperature and other factors in the data centre?”
Taljaard says Gijima has had recent success with integration of multiple security disciplines such as video surveillance, access control and licence plate recognition. “We further complemented this with integration into perimeter intrusion detection system as well as evacuation and public address systems.”
Walter Rautenbach, managing director of local integration company neaMetrics as well as Suprema SA, adds, “Convenience, efficiency and integrated data – that should sum up our current day and age pretty well. As an early adopter who loves new gadgets, I am often disappointed with the amount of apps I need to use and continue to dream about the potential they could deliver if they worked together. I really don’t want to open several apps to see what alarm was triggered, switch on the lights, review the video and then open the gate for my mother-in-law because I forgot she was coming over for dinner.
“Remembering the names to open these apps for ever-increasing and changing gadgets is challenging enough, even before I turn on the heater, receive reminders from my fridge that I should stop at the shop because the milk is running low and get my favourite music going on my way home.”
With such rapid development of new hardware sensors, he believes integration is definitely lagging. “Perhaps this is because hardware manufacturers believe that if they deliver a new ‘disruptive’ sensor or device with some primitive app and options for integration, that an app provider (the term integrator is too vague these days) will discover it and then integrate it into their holistic integrated solution and bring in the big sales that matter – if customers can afford it.”
Benefits or more complexity?
It’s easy enough to talk about integration and the benefits of different products working together seamlessly, but there is also a question of long-term costs and complexity to keep it all together. Are there real benefits, such as long-term cost reductions and security enhancements from well-integrated solutions? Or is it perhaps just a necessary evil we have to accept? It’s not all that unusual to hear about a case where one product is updated and the new improvements end up breaking all the previous integration work.
Taljaard says long-term cost savings will certainly be realised from integrated systems. On the other hand, he says it could also have a negative impact whereby skills and training for multiple entities would be required. “This point requires very careful consideration and a business plan needs to be compiled that considers all aspects of such a project.”
Rautenbach adds that selling fully integrated solutions at a sustainable price is challenging, at best, because justification is not a straight line equation for which the ROI (return on investment) can be calculated as easily as paying a bit more for a car with better fuel consumption. “Not only do you need to look at how much less workforce you need to run the system and how much more efficient it makes operations, but you must also factor in the risks and possible damages that lie ahead if you don’t.
“Effective integration should therefore address the necessary evil and in the medium term reap the benefits to be considered.”
The hard way?
While the ins and outs of integration are complex and require significant skills, from a big-picture perspective, there are two options to choose from when you have disparate brands to integrate. One is to make use of a management platform that has all the integration complexities taken care of (or most of them, at least), or to do it the hard way via coding and developing the integration according to the various published APIs (application programming interfaces).
“Our preferred approach is always to look at a unified solution as first choice where multiple vendors and solutions can exist and be managed by a top-layer, unified application,” notes Taljaard. “Should this approach not make business sense in the business plan, the second-choice option of developing the integrations for multiple vendors would be considered.”
Taking another approach, Rautenbach adds, “We believe in making integration easy for true integrators and solution providers. We do this with unified and cross-platform SDKs (software development kits), where one SDK can be used to integrate any of our [Suprema] hardware, conforming to new industry standards for integration, ranging from following open data standards (ISO/ANSI/NIST) as well as the most recent integration interfaces such as APIs and JSON.
“Over 85% of our 2018 sales were comprised of partners that offer our technology integrated into their solutions.”
On a more personal note, he adds: “Call me old-fashioned, but all really rely on development; the question is just the level of skills required. There is a reason why our children these days get exposed to coding and robotics as early as preschool.
“With all this information flowing around us, development (or you can call it integration) will be an essential life skill with everyone doing it in one way or the other. What we are doing is to ensure the latest integration (or development) platforms are available and that we stay abreast of market changes, independent of the fact of whether you are an official specialist engineer or a new-generation human figuring out how to get mom’s iPad to optimise the household security on a Saturday morning before breakfast.”
In the business world, Rautenbach concludes that “effective and easy integration that delivers operational efficiency and solutions with measurable cost effectiveness should be the industry norm. Removing the dependability on over-priced integration specialists and making integration more available, easier and effective is how Suprema will drive the vision of this integrated norm.”
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