The convergence of physical security and IT

September 2006 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

The benefits of converging IT and physical security are beginning to be realised.

The heavy investment made in IP-enabled enterprise networking, with its promise that virtually anything can be distributed across it, is making CIOs challenge the long-standing presumption of using separate infrastructures for physical security systems. Yet, while the joining of these unlikely bedfellows might present some initial concerns, it also uncovers some highly significant cost savings and business-wide synergies.

The precedent for convergence comes from a long line of applications that have successfully integrated on the network. Most notably telephony, in the form of VoIP, that has overcome its initial hurdles and is starting to become commonplace.

The first step on the road to using the enterprise network for CCTV surveillance is to ask, what are the implications? And the first and foremost must be security. You must ensure the network cannot be compromised by virus threats, hacking or denial of service, as well as implementing stringent internal access rights for personnel.

Only the relevant security personnel should be able to access security data, in the same respect that only HR personnel should be able to access employee records. Without these precautions a laptop that fell into the wrong hands might provide access to the entire security operation. By the same token, if someone can gain physical access to the IT system they may also be able to influence, or even alter physical security throughout the organisation. Therefore the security of critical IT systems must be ensured.

Secondly, is the network able to cope? Taking realtime video imaging from CCTV cameras located across single or multiple sites and placing them onto the network can be bandwidth intensive. It is likely that a business relies on its network to deliver mission critical applications and this must not be affected. Whilst this is a concern, modern smart video security systems are designed specifically to work on an IT infrastructure and streaming video can efficiently manage and control the CCTV image traffic.

There is inevitably going to be a knowledge gap as two historically disparate functions meet. CIOs will need to interact closely with security managers and IT teams will need to start planning for unfamiliar applications, such as live security video and access control. However, with this fundamental preparation in place, the benefits of a converged network are considerable.

Streamlining security operations over an IP network increases overall business performance through reduced costs and efficient allocation of resources. Cost savings will be made through simpler maintenance, and the ease of centralising control from a number of locations to a single site. CCTV cameras connected directly to a network enhance the ease of distribution of recorded video images across multiple locations. It also removes the need for miles of coax cable, providing additional infrastructure cost savings. In addition it provides an alternative to expensive tape storage, through the utilisation of IT storage solutions already in place.

Placing CCTV video onto an IP network delivers more than security. It also provides other parts of the organisation with a host of previously untapped information assets that have traditionally been locked away on its own private infrastructure. By making these CCTV images available for others to study a clearer picture of the key business operations can be achieved.

Retail banks are among the first to start exploring the benefits of insight from video interaction supported by Cisco Systems, 'Branch of the Future' framework.

Daniel Lessner, financial services technology analyst at Datamonitor, comments: "A more united approach to branch renewal could graduate functions such as video surveillance from their traditional position as pure cost centres, to adding value back into the business. For example, CCTV footage of branches could be used to analyse branch utilisation or customer service levels in realtime."

While the security team can depend on a fully maintained high-quality backbone infrastructure, that allows them to focus on security issues, convergence provides the opportunity to transform passive CCTV systems into a valuable enterprise asset.

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