Simplify the Complexity
Designing for the future with the power of choice
- By Keven Marier
- Apr 01, 2016
Customers looking to invest in a network-
based physical security system
have many more options than
the traditional analog world used to
provide. My comprehensive experience with IP
video surveillance implementations over the past
decade has shown that the solutions providing
the most value are those based on true open platform
architecture simply because they allow the
greatest power of choice.
Cornerstone Values for Best
Practice in Project Design
To put the power of choice in context, let’s consider
it in relation to four “ability” words that act
as IT platform cornerstones: scalability, extensibility,
interoperability and availability.
Scalability. When designing a solution for
a customer, it’s critical to consider the circumstances
and conditions in which we are placing
the solution. If a customer has both big and small
sites, the power of choice gives the customer
customizable options to fit each site rather than
forcing them to try to make a big solution work
for a small site, or vice versa. This is one of the
primary reasons Milestone provides a suite of
software products: this allows customers to scale
up or down.
Extensibility. The second cornerstone in a
security landscape is the ability to extend a platform
in a way that is not initially anticipated by
the customer, or extensibility. If you envision the
customer’s needs as a road, extensibility is the
part of the road that hasn’t been built yet. The
customer knows he wants to get somewhere farther
down the road, but the path is not yet fully
paved or even visible right now.
This is where the ability to extend the system
becomes a very tangible value proposition of the
open platform. In fact, since it’s usually not possible
at the beginning of a decision-making process
to know exactly where you need the road to
lead, anticipating and planning for extensibility
is becoming a best practice.
The time continuum where “open” becomes
really valuable is not necessarily at the beginning
of the process but further ahead - and it’s something
we often miss in our considerations. We account
for “speeds and feeds” in our calculations,
but not “time.” This is where the power of choice
becomes a future value proposition, and return
on investment, beyond also being a current one.
Change the Conversation
Most systems integrators are trying to sell the
end of a solution, when customers really need
them to sell the beginning. If the customer wants
a system with 1,000 cameras, that requires scalability.
However, the first deployment may only
be 100 cameras.
An important message to convey to systems integrators
is to change the context of the conversation.
Too often we focus on the big potential
of an opportunity, but we don’t invest in making
that potential viable by taking concrete steps to
lay the foundation properly. Throwing short fiveyard
football passes one after another gets you
down the field to the same goal line just like a
longer but riskier “Hail Mary” pass; it may take a
little longer, but the success rate is much higher.
The power of choice gives a higher probability
of long-term success from the beginning of the
project as opposed to taking big risks upfront.
Two ideologies come into play here. In the security
industry, the “Hail Mary” is doing the complete
integration of all systems from the outset,
an overly ambitious and unrealistic project. The
scope becomes so big that you’re basically trying
to “boil the ocean.”
Tackling a large, complex project step by step
ensures a higher rate of success. For example, a
customer can build up their operation as needed
with a simplified software licensing structure. A
lot of companies sell licensing in packs of 50 or
100. Milestone sells them in increments of one,
and customers often mention how pleasantly
surprised they are to have this power of choice,
without bundled packs of licensing.
The underlying message here is that buying 1,000
channels right off the bat may not always be the
best course of action. For many, the prudent decision
may be to start small, then scale up. What
I’m emphasizing are the risks of making the
wrong decision: the “probability” of delivering
well on 1,000 channels is often much lower than
Find the Right Platform,
Fit for Purpose
Interoperability. The third cornerstone to consider
in good project design is interoperability.
This describes a system’s ability to operate predictably
with another system or product. It touches on
the differences between integrated and interfacing,
which are different depths of operation. Both
terms describe how a software solution will share
data with other software or devices.
- An interface refers to two programs or systems,
which may have been developed by different
sources, sharing information with each other.
- An integration implies that the products are
working as one solution, interacting tightly
(often called ‘seamless’ in marketing speak).
This is a particularly relevant discussion when
we consider the security software landscape. Many
software solutions emphasize the fact that they are
highly integrated and optimized.
This brings us to a fundamental design requirement
to consider: Is it preferable to have all
operations on one user interface as a fully integrated
system? Or, might it be better to use separate
interfaces that are fit for purpose?
By definition, an interface is less complex. This
is the state of the current security marketplace: it is
involved in the interface adoption cycle. Projects
that are interface-based tend to be more successful
than ones that are integration-based. Interfacing
is the logical first step towards a full integration,
which requires significantly more capital investment
and more time to execute.
Hopefully, in the future more companies
might look to invest in deeper integrations. However,
the market won’t bear the up-front costs, so
the majority of partners and third-parties engage
in interfaces, not integrations.
With most systems that promise
deep integration, what you can end
up with is a system that is not really
fit for the operators’ purpose. The
‘operators’ we’re referring to here
are specialized. Within a company,
one individual might handle access
control; another might manage surveillance
while a third might be in
charge of the fire detection system.
Providing an integrated system that
does all three is not the correct solution
here; it gives three operators
two more fit-for-purpose customizations
in the interface than is usable.
The operators’ response is to
remove the functionality that does
not fit each of their own purposes,
if they are able to do so.
In this scenario, an interface
that prioritizes full integration is
not a preferable option. The integration
only added complexity that
the operators are then forced to
rework to fit the purpose of their
jobs. Fit-for-purpose is exactly the
reason that Milestone employs a
UX team, who are tasked with improving
Rather than performing the integrations
in the offerings in advance,
Milestone provides the framework
for the power of choice as a value
proposition. We give our partner
community the opportunity to tailor
their solutions to fit the specific
need of each customer integration.
Interoperability is what we’re striving
for; it combines both interfacing
The power of choice should include
companies that provide you
with both the interface and the integration
framework, thus ensuring
customizable solutions that make
sense for each project over time.
Ensure That the
If you asked customers what they
want out of their security system,
you’d get a variety of answers, but
everyone would say that they need
it to be reliable. Reliability is a pragmatist’s
word. But reliability can be
fickle to define: Is a system reliable
if it only breaks down every other
week? Once a month? What is tolerable
can have different thresholds
depending on the business
What should really be the focus
is a system’s availability. The power
of choice allows you to invest in
the defined level of availability as
relevant to each customer, which
translates to measurable thresholds
of uptime in the system. With
the power of choice, we can give a
quantitative availability percentage
by designing the system to meet the
In considering best practices for
the network-based physical security
industry, the power of choice is
an important requirement that not
only determines scalability, extensibility,
interoperability and availability,
but ultimately allows the
customer to realize the potential of
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Security Today.