v2.0 and Counting

Mobile security devices becoming part of security buffet

Just as typewriters and paper gave way to personal computers and floppy disks, tablets, smartphones and the mobile apps that can be used on these devices are becoming the technology of choice for business and personal use, including the physical security industry.

At the Gartner Symposium in October 2012, analysts for the information research and advisory company say that over the next five years, 65 percent of all enterprises will adopt a mobile device management solution for corporate users. It is further predicted that by 2017, 90 percent of enterprises will have two or more mobile operating systems to support.

Whether the company uses Apple’s iOS or the new Microsoft 8, the trend will continue. Tablets are proliferating and those who provide services to these companies, such as security technology firms, need to provide apps for tablets and smartphones as part of the equation with their new product releases. Even if company staff doesn’t follow through with using the app related to the product launch, the purchasing decision is often predicated on whether that mobile app exists.

When the Analysts Speak

Gartner analysts say that even though tablet users are currently limiting themselves to primarily personal functions, such as reading email, the push is on to make more applications available that can be supported on the tablet.

“The era of the PC has ended,” said Phil Redman, vice president of research at Gartner, told the symposium attendees. “The convenience and productivity gains that mobile devices bring are too tempting for most companies and their employees.”

Furthermore, Gartner analysts have predicted that by 2016, more than 1.6 billion smart mobile devices will be purchased worldwide. Forty percent of the workforce will be mobile, and of that 40 percent, twothirds will own a smartphone.

Within the security industry, demand for apps is high, even though implementation is still relatively low. Integrators can lose a job if the products they offer don’t have a related app, and asking for an app has become second nature. In response, companies are developing apps to complement the products they sell, making the systems—whether for surveillance, access control or home security— more interactive and the information provided by them more useful.

Where companies are seeing the greatest level of app adoption is in settings where the number of cameras is still relatively small, and coordination with the IT department is minimal, if required at all.

The challenge often comes with large sites that need to comply with IT department policies and coordination. This can limit the opportunity to use mobile apps because it involves providing access to ports. Conversely, sites with low camera counts and less staff are more likely to take advantage of mobile app capabilities, allowing them to do multiple tasks and check in from remote locations.

The Apps of Today

Today, the use of apps in the security industry still has low penetration numbers. Those who use apps sparingly still recognize them as good sales tools, but don’t see them as integral to the functionality of their VMS system. Or, users deploy an app to handle an after-hour incident vs. daily functions.

Still in its infancy, app usage is expected to become more widespread, as the overall use of apps and the functionality they provide continues to evolve.

So what are some of the key features that the latest round of security apps, version 2.0 if you will, are providing to integrators and their customers, and how have apps evolved?

One major progression is that apps are no longer being developed as replacements for the overall functionality of the desktop system. An app isn’t meant to be a substitute for a complete access control or video surveillance system. It is designed to tackle unique applications that can enhance the overall system, taking advantage of the technology provided by the smartphone or tablet format. Using a phone for monitoring is different than sitting at a bank of monitors, thus the application should reflect that difference.

With that in mind, what the industry is seeing in the surveillance arena is a demand for apps that can allow security officers to view live video from any camera within the system, or recorded video from an NVR or DVR. Security officers no longer need to sit in a control room scanning screens for a particular incident. Through a mobile app, the officer can view recorded video from any location, managing the playback by selecting the date and time they want to evaluate.

Increasingly, police departments are requiring verification of certain events, such as the triggering of a home or business alarm, before they respond. The police department in San Jose, Calif., instituted such a verification policy in January 2012, requiring a verified audio, video or eyewitness account of a crime that was occurring or had occurred. Through a mobile app, homeowners can view their residence and business owners can do the same at their corporate address, and verify that it is not a false alarm. If needed, the video could be shared with police.

Live Video

Video that can be viewed live or recorded via an app is helping to increase general productivity and profitability when applied to nonsecurity situations. A business owner, for instance, can call up a live feed to check on the status of inventory, or determine if additional employees are needed to service customers.

However, with increased reliance on video comes the issue of managing bandwidth. The advent of 3G and 4G networks has made it easier to view video on a mobile device while on the go. Nevertheless, the fastest growing trend in security—high-resolution, megapixel cameras—requires more bandwidth than a typical mobile network can support. Mobile app users need to think about ways to manage bandwidth, such as deploying additional hardware, that allow them to dynamically reduce the resolution or change the frame rate of a video stream to get the video across the mobile network.

Access control is another area where mobile apps are being created to make the system remotely operable. One significant capability of access control apps is the ability to lock and unlock doors.

Consider this scenario: A corporate executive is on the golf course but needs to stop by his office on the way home and pick up his laptop. He’s forgotten his access card and because it’s the weekend, there is no security officer on site. By using a mobile app on his smartphone, he can simply unlock the front door with a touch of a button.

Mobile apps also can be used to carry out the credentialing process outside of the usual security office setting. With a smartphone or tablet and the right app, a system administrator can take a photo with his phone and create the credential where employees, students or visitors are located.

Report generation is another service enhanced by the mobile app, in combination with the access control system. Through an app, a security officer can tap into the access system and create a time and attendance report, or gather information based on a specific event, such as the triggering of a door alarm.

Apps are now being created for access control within the home. The home monitoring system, with its camera, door and window sensors, can be tied to apps allowing homeowners the ability to lock and unlock doors, view their children as they come home from school, receive video clips on a regular basis and even provide access to repair technicians to view them as they do their work and then lock up after they leave.

Apps also have been created so homeowners can manage the environmental issues within the home, such as adjusting thermostats, managing lights and monitoring for unexpected events by sending real-time alerts on events like basement floods or a carbon monoxide monitor alarm. These apps provide reports so homeowners can see when and where issues have occurred, such as power failures, alarms and motion activity.

Where Apps are Headed

While these are the apps of the present, the future holds even more opportunities to improve and deepen the scope of security systems. Within the video realm, companies are working on apps that will allow streaming video to be pushed from the smartphone, directly to the video management system.

The continued development of near field communication will mean that the mobile device will replace the access card as the tool for all of those functions, and will serve as a repository for all of the information currently stored on the card. A user will simply hold their smartphone to the reader and gain access.

Finally, security companies will continue to refine their physical security products to meet the demands of the mobile device end user. Issues such as bandwidth management will be addressed as the camera or encoder is designed, rather than creating a product and then expecting the user to adapt to its limitations.

While Apple and Android continue to gain leadership in the app market, the bottom line for those with security apps is that the feature sets are transferrable among platforms, with little or no loss of functionality. So pick your platform and

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Security Today.

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