Simplify the Complexity

Designing for the future with the power of choice

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 people think.

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 customer usability.

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 and integration.

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 System Works

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 involved.

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 required expectation.

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 the opportunity.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Security Today.

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