Major Trends in the Security Industry

January: Security A major security-component developer offers a look at recent movements in the market.

By Staff February 10, 2001

Less emphasis on complete system integration. During the past several years, integration has become one of the premier issues in the security industry. An industry that was built on a foundation of physical security, with an infrastructure dominated by people from law enforcement and military backgrounds, has changed significantly as a result of new technologies. Security technology has migrated to security information technology. Today’s security solutions routinely include “information servers” and PC front-ends running the latest version of Microsoft Windows NT. In many cases, those solutions employ networking and communication protocols such as Ethernet and BACnet.

The advances in information technology have brought integration to the forefront, providing more opportunities to integrate and/or interconnect multiple systems. As commonly used, the term “integrated systems” refers to two or more systems that exchange information in a common format. One of the end results of integration can be single-seat control, where a common output of information, from two or more systems, is displayed on one workstation.

Where it makes sense and when implemented properly, end-users can derive significant benefits from an integrated user interface. And while integration will very clearly continue to play a vital role in the building systems’ industry, we’re seeing less emphasis on the implementation of fully integrated solutions. What’s behind that trend? At this point in time, it appears the integrated user interface may simply present too much information for the typical operator. In an integrated system, operators are dealing with large volumes of data, and that information can come at them very rapidly. As has been seen in numerous industries where classic technology has migrated to information technology, simply having access to more information, more quickly, is not always good.

In order to make the most effective security and life-safety decisions, system operators must be able to quickly sort and react to the data before them. With integrated systems, that’s sometimes easier said than done. Constantly changing technology requires constantly changing skills. If the skill sets of operators haven’t been upgraded so that they know how to let the technology do the work for them, they can easily be overrun by information. Security managers who have not migrated their skills, and those of their employees, to keep pace with new technologies can quickly find themselves in a state of information overload. The feeling may be akin to being dropped into the cockpit of the space shuttle. In other words, there’s a lot of information in front of them, but they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. Lacking the advanced skills necessary to operate new high-tech systems, those employees may simply give up or revert to the old way of doing the job.

The bottom line is that integration requires careful planning. Too many times, the latest computer technologies are implemented without paying attention to the skill sets and capabilities of system operators. Understanding in advance the impact of new technologies—and putting in place the programs and processes required to effectively implement and manage them—makes it much easier to avoid after-implementation pitfalls and achieve the desired results. The availability of professional security services, together with strong local service and support, can also be a critical factor. All of this helps ensure the success of an integrated security solution. Integration that takes place in stages over time, paralleling changes in the skill sets of operators and in security processes, seems to be the coming trend.

Increasing prevalence of open networking protocol systems. As integrated technologies have advanced, the use of open data communication protocols like BACnet and Ethernet has become more prevalent. Those protocols enable building systems—fire alarm, access control, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), lighting-control and elevator systems—to share information even when they’re not fully integrated. The HVAC system, for example, can send signals to the access system, and vice versa. Because data can be shared among systems, it doesn’t have to be input or recorded multiple times.

BACnet in particular is having an impact in the security and life-safety industry. Developed under the auspices of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), BACnet stands for building-automation control network. It’s intended to standardize communications involving building-automation equipment from different manufacturers, so that disparate products can work easily together. BACnet brings end-users advanced, non-proprietary systems’ interconnectivity capabilities and the flexibility to choose the provider best suited to their particular application. In addition to freeing end-users from proprietary network restrictions, it also offers owners a more effective and cost-efficient means of operating and controlling critical building functions. Another benefit of BACnet is that it serves as an alternate network path within a facility. This overcomes the need to try and fit a system onto an existing MIS/IT backbone.

BACnet has turned out to be a major advance for the industry—and a welcome development for building owners. In coming years, the next generation of BACnet-capable security devices will offer a broader, more open set of options to security directors and building managers. As more devices throughout a facility communicate using the common BACnet language, end-users will be less locked in to one manufacturer’s technology. The result of those advances will be greater interoperability, simplified single-seat control and lower overall costs to own and operate building systems.

Rising use of proximity and smart cards. From all indications, proximity cards have become the technology of choice in access control. Proximity technology—where a reader emits a continuous low-level radio frequency that is automatically picked up by specially encoded access cards—provides a workable and cost-effective access control solution and is now being used in a majority of our applications. Proximity technology offers a number of advantages:

  • It’s more convenient than other technologies. Because the access card does not need to come into contact with a reader, people find proximity systems very easy to use.

  • It’s less vulnerable to vandalism.

  • Even strong magnetic fields cannot erase the encoding on proximity access cards.

We’re also beginning to see increased incorporation of smart cards into security applications. Because it has a chip embedded in it, a smart card has multiple application capabilities. The intelligence of the integrated circuit chip allows the information stored within the card to be protected from damage or theft. That makes smart cards much more secure than magnetic stripe cards, which carry information on the outside of the card. When a smart chip is integrated with a proximity access card, the card now has multiple uses. The most common smart card applications include college and university campuses, where the card—in addition to controlling access —is also used for dining, vending and other financial transactions.

Increased use of digital technology in CCTV applications and remote video surveillance. Digital technology, first used with CCTV cameras three or four years ago, is playing an increasingly significant role in video surveillance systems and applications. The cost of digital technology is dropping, and the memory and capacity of digital recording systems continues to improve. Eventually, digital recording systems will likely replace most video cassette recorder-based systems.

Digital recording systems offer a number of advantages over conventional analog video systems. The quality of digital images is usually superior to images on video tape, and the maintenance of digital systems is minimal compared to VCR-based systems. Digital systems also provide significant operational savings because the customer is not burdened with the responsibility of maintaining and managing a videotape library.

But the major advantage of a digital system lies in the instant access it provides to stored images. Images can be retrieved from a digital system in a matter of seconds. With VCR-based systems, personnel often must review hours of videotape to find a particular image. Digital images, on the other hand, are stored in a PC-database format, and searches can be conducted according to the day and time or to a specific alarm event. In the banking industry, where event-driven digital recording systems are commonly used with ATM machines, images can be retrieved according to a bank transaction number.

In addition to their use in the banking industry, digital-recording systems are well suited to applications where there are a significant number of cameras and where quick access to images is an important operational requirement. On that basis, the most common uses are in government, gaming and campus applications and in large hospitals and schools.

Digital technology is also being used in another way in today’s security applications: for remote video monitoring. Digital remote video systems allow CCTV cameras to be remotely monitored. Live images can be compressed and transmitted over the phone line to a central station, bringing remote monitoring customers added benefits and protection.

The use of digital video technology, combined with advances in network bandwidth, will also result in many new opportunities to use live video, as well as audio, in the building-management environment. Having real-time access to alphanumeric data like temperature conditions or alarm states will be further augmented by access to real-time remote audio and video images. A manager will have the capability to view and hear the conditions at a remote location prior to dispatching a response team. As we move toward that multi-sensory information management environment, better decisions will be able to be made more quickly.

Digital images are also now beginning to be transmitted over the Internet and other wide area networks. The world wide web, however, remains a big unknown. The only thing we can be sure of is that it will impact the face of technology in the building security-management arena. Remote access capability using a web browser from a PC anywhere in the world will allow security and facilities managers access to information previously only available while in the office. This also should drive more similarity in user interfaces between different systems, and advance the trend toward single-seat management, assuming the skills of the manager keep pace with the technology. Some of the possibilities include: connecting to the web from your hotel room to check on the status of the security of your facility, downloading the latest occupancy report or remotely locking down an entryway.

The continued rise of professional services. The ongoing development of software-based technology is bringing end-users sophisticated security operations and management capabilities—in access control, intrusion detection, video badging, ID verification, CCTV surveillance, alarm monitoring and systems integration. But the new technologies are also bringing new challenges. And the foremost challenge may be making sure a system functions at an optimal level, initially and as user needs change.

Most companies today use only about 20 percent of the capabilities of their security system. An investment in a high-quality security-management system won’t achieve the maximum return if a customer doesn’t know how to use the solution to its fullest. To get the desired return on investment, the advanced technology should be put to work in a solution that meets the specific requirements of the application and achieves optimal system performance, with room to grow in the future. More likely than not, that will require professional services. High-quality professional services are needed now more than ever before.

It can take a full complement of professional services—including needs analysis, systems design and programming, computer-aided drawing, operational consulting, customized training, installation and project management—to ensure that an end-user system is fully operationalized. Security systems specialists, especially those who are Microsoft-NT certified, can help customers fully leverage today’s leading-edge technology in a total solution that goes beyond hardware and software. They can help ensure:

  • System solutions are properly conceived, designed, installed and programmed.

  • The software technology is fully and effectively applied, according to the specific requirements of the security environment.

  • The end-user’s personnel are properly and comprehensively trained on how to operate the system, initially and on an ongoing basis to minimize the impact of turnover.

  • The solution is maintained and continuously assessed after the installation is complete.

Conclusion. These are a few of the major trends that we’ve identified in our work as a security-solutions provider. Much of what is presented here is based on what we’ve done and learned in scores of real-life security applications. To those responsible for security in this information age, understanding these trends will go a long way toward ensuring proper protection of your people and property and getting the most from your investments in electronic security solutions.

Written by Simplex.