Addressing Innovation

Incorporating the right technology can provide the perfect solutions

Technology alone does not drive true innovation. Choosing the right technology, then properly adapting and utilizing it, gets you on the path to true innovation. I’m talking about new technology that can be brought into the electronic physical security industry. I believe that by incorporating the right technology, manufacturers can provide solutions to customers that improve productivity and reduce life cycle costs. That is the essence of innovation. For example, a company develops a native browser interface rather than offering proprietary software that includes a web client! Both methods provide browser access, but the first allows full utilization of the customer’s IT infrastructure, while the latter simply introduces proprietary software and added cost to the environment.

Entrepreneurs drive the passion for innovation. Today, more so than the past 10 years, there are many new innovative companies entering the market. I attribute this to three main factors, 1) the ever increasing amount of information technology that aids the spark of innovation… and there is a lot out there, 2) the increased flux of M&A activity the past 6 years has rendered many original innovators (not just engineering) to flee back to environments that are customer focused, and 3) the economic meltdown caused many companies to dismiss A-level players who have since sought out startup/ innovative environments for their new career paths.

Physical Access Control Systems (PACS) – Food For Thought

After many years of observation, I must say that VARS/customers are better served by purchasing products that are originally developed by companies who develop to their core competencies. Specifically, I conclude that access control companies do not know how to develop best-of-breed video management products and vice versa. Interoperability and collaboration should be the chosen path.

The desire for simplicity is a consistent plea from integrators and customers. The desires are not just technical, but also marketing/sales related. In some cases, dealer sales people are forced to present dozens upon dozens of options to the customer. Such complexity adds many hidden costs and potentially renders mistakes in product selection. A simple solution is to offer more inclusive packages. I’m happy to see a few companies in our market heading this way. Although little known to the electronic physical security market, the IT based product Splunk (used to index all events throughout an enterprise into a cohesive dashboard for forensic and real-time assessment) illustrates how buying can be simplified. They have two options; free (limited use) and Enterprise (fully enabled).

One of the most important new trends in the PACS market is the adoption of open source technology delivered on a network appliance or as a virtual machine. The Linux operating system is rapidly being adopted across the globe and it is widely known to include better system stability than other operating systems, as well as better virus, trojan, adware and spyware protection, lower operating costs, and its source acquisition cost is essentially $0. However, if you require the customer to supply/maintain Linux, the cost goes up dramatically. For example, there were several Unix/Linux access control systems in the market in earlier years of which none are marketed today. But by bundling the PACS as a fully pre-integrated server/operating system/database in the form of a network appliance, customers can solely concentrate on the configuration or personalization of information in their system (door names, response instructions, etc.). The costs associated with buying PCs for servers and clients, and/or licenses/upgrades for Microsoft Windows, and/or licenses for the RDBMS like Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server can be consolidated and lowered through this innovative approach. Further, in this type of solution, the PACS product is accessed through a web browser like Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, or Microsoft Internet Explorer. This eliminates the life-cycle costs of fat client licenses to serve the same functions. In certain cases, these new products are being optimized to enable native resiliency capabilities like appliance-to-appliance data replication, which can be accomplished through using an LDAP compliant data storage mechanism in the PACS architecture.

As we in the PACS community become citizens of the network, strong security must not be overlooked. As a security component, nobody wants to see a break in the chain though PACS! Stakeholders really need to consider two main elements in regards to the matter of IT security. First, just as IT suppliers (like Cisco) have included “security hardening” guides with their products, the same should hold true for PACS and other network component providers. Second, due-diligence must be performed on PACS’ underpinning architecture – OS, DB, and Web Services among other parts. One must look at the risks associated with each and the countermeasures and costs.

Note that IP is only a small portion of IT. I get the sense that some manufacturers are confused. IP (abbreviation for TCP/IP) is simply a small portion of the Information Technology world, yet some people interchange the terms. Let’s get it right.

On the subject of IP, look at the field hardware in the market that’s enabled with TCP/IP, yet the RS-485 protocol is unchanged and does not take full advantage of medium. Essentially, Ethernet/TCP/IP has just become the new serial port for the PACS industry. We as an industry must do more.

While it’s hard for me to even conceive, there are manufacturers still preaching proprietary hardware/software! And just wait, by summer you will see a few more companies launch a proprietary field hardware line. To be clear, the customer must buy the field hardware (controllers, reader modules, input boards, and output boards) from the manufacturer and they can’t salvage it to use with a different head system. We just finished an analysis project and determined that the entire investment for all components beyond the head end in a typical PACS deployment range from 50% to 90% of the spend, and the controllers and related components made up 50% of that segment. Why would anyone put such substantial amounts of capital at risk when they have viable options to avoid that risk?

We are experiencing a very exciting time. The last decade was the decade of consolidation and M&A. We are now in the decade of IT enlightenment and progressive innovation. With all of those innovators out there we are sure to see many changes come to pass within a short amount of time.

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Security Today.

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