Systems Integration or Unification?
The user’s goal is not only access, it is action
- By Charles Pitman
- Apr 01, 2022
In the physical security industry, the terms integration and unification are often used interchangeably. It is common to hear people mention ‘unified security’ when talking about integrating systems. The truth is— there is a difference between these approaches.
All Systems Integrations are not Created Equal
While the security sector (like the rest of the software industry) has developed a variety of methods to bring separate physical security solutions together via integration, these by and large remain a set of disparate systems with limited communication and interoperability among them. Integrating separate security functions like access control and video surveillance using software development kits (SDK) or an application programming interface (API) programming is often done superficially. When these subsystems are integrated within a Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) system, the result is limiting and quickly becomes a costly endeavor.
The reason for this is the depth at which most systems are integrated. More often than not, the initial requirements are superficial integration: users want to see information in one place, verify an event in one system against information from another, the easiest example being validating an access event with contextual video of the door where it took place.
However, simple data co-location quickly becomes insufficient – users also want to act across systems, to unlock a door where someone is having issues, for example, or trigger a call with an intercom to check on the reason they are trying to access the facility.
That’s where the limits of integration begin to show. The user’s goal is not only access – it is action. Users want access to data in one platform, but they also want to interact with events and information within the context of their current tasks, regardless of the source. With this goal in mind, it becomes clear that integrating systems by the technology they use (e.g., live streams, recorded playback, access control, intrusion alarms, etc.) is not what users want. What is needed is integration by the task at hand (for example monitoring, investigating, alarm or incident management).
Ultimately, the goal is to embed the data from integrated systems in a unified platform; not only presenting it to users seamlessly as part of their day-day activities, but also parsing that information so only actionable events are brought to the users’ attention, while others are either kept in the background or silently dealt with through automated workflow. At that point, information flows smoothly across the solution, optimizing operators’ attention and effort.
The Benefits of a Unified System
When all elements of a physical security system work together in a unified way, they not only secure a business, but yield actionable business intelligence that can be leveraged and combined with operational data to improve efficiency. When selecting such a security product to protect a business, you are not only investing in a system that works now but a solution that will be able to evolve with the needs of your business moving forward.
Unification brings together all security system components seamlessly in a single software platform with one user interface in a way that can vastly improve physical security management. Advances in analytics and add-ons can also be quickly and easily incorporated into unified security that can be used to improve operations and increase ROI.
A unified physical security platform is a comprehensive software solution that manages the different components of a security environment through a centralized open architecture built to provide complete access to all data.
It goes beyond tagging or bookmarking video when an access control event occurs or offering the capability to unlock an access-controlled door from within the video surveillance user interface. It combines information from all available sensors to provide greater awareness to operators. Whereas a traditional system shows a pre-defined video feed when a fence sensor is triggered, a unified platform combines those sensors with other perimeter detection technologies, such as video analytics and radar, tracking threats across each of them seamlessly.
For example, a unified solution in an airport can feed comprehensive security data into associated analytics software that can present a better understanding of terminal usage and density, as well as traveler and visitor flow, allowing management to take action and eliminate unnecessary waiting times. Retail customer intelligence gathered by a unified system can engage in visitor counting, conversion rates, queue management, heat maps, directional analysis, and face capture. This type of information can provide retailers with intelligence that allows them to better understand consumers, make real-time informed decisions, and increase both consumer engagement and in-store profitability.
A unified solution is developed from square one to not only ensure all systems work together but to purposefully intertwine functionality to offer a powerful user experience that includes built-in reporting and alarm management functionalities.
With unification, it’s possible to configure and manage video cameras, access-controlled doors, print badges, monitor intrusion panels, and have everything at the security person’s disposal to ensure a high level of functionality from within a single software platform.
A unified system not only looks like a single system but also preserves the ability to bring applications and sensors from a range of solution providers on to the unified platform. Unification provides everything security personnel need within a single UI to help them effectively and efficiently protect people and assets.
Troubleshooting, too, is improved with a unified platform, as operators can analyze access issues while they keep an eye on video cameras, all from the same UI. They can set things up to monitor all systems at once, or to focus on one system while still being able to move seamlessly into another by easily navigating with the same interface.
In addition to improving security and operational efficiency, unification also allows organizations to tap the entirety of their data, without relying on external tools. By centralizing information from their whole security environment in a single location, unification turns raw data into insights, and unlocks valuable intelligence for the entire organization.
It’s also important to note that a unified system is by nature highly flexible and can be expanded to meet organizations’ changing needs. It is not an all-or-nothing solution as the platform allows them to start with just the VMS functions for instance, and enables them to add access control, ALPR, analytics and third-party applications etc. as their business requirements evolve.
Unification is a more effective strategy than integration. In a unified system, all core components are based on the same code and share the same interface. The result is a security solution that not only looks like a single system but functions like one as well. A unified system provides everything security staff need within a single UI to help them effectively and efficiently protect people and assets.
Integration has long been a systems goal for security professionals. That’s starting to shift as true unification becomes not only possible, but practical. While integration provides a breadth of functionality, unification offers the foundation and depth of connectivity needed to effectively make use of all systems and data. Starting the process of bringing systems together with a goal of unification is the easier, more cost-effective approach, as it allows for building onto existing investments and making changes in an evolutionary way.
This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Security Today.