We are seeing rapid IP convergence of security, safety and building control systems so that Internet of Security Things (IoST) is now finally emerging as a real concept. So what does IoST really mean and what practical benefits does it offer end-users?
Until relatively recently most systems geared to securing and making premises safe, were standalone. They were based on domain-specific, proprietary communications protocols which did not enable them to be easily connected into multi-input central control consoles.
These made inter-connection and integration of different systems very difficult. But these issues have begun to dissolve as all security systems are being networked using common Ethernet infrastructure for the first time. We have been involved in some of the first fully networked and integrated access control and surveillance systems projects. The advantages of tightly integrating these systems are clear. It enables you to verify that the person using the swipe card at a gate or door is the actual owner of that card by cross-checking the identity card details with live CCTV images. But this convergence of security and safety systems does not stop there.
Indeed, almost all security and safety systems are capable (with assistance from systems integrators like ourselves) of talking to each other as well as being linked into (and sending pre-configured alerts) to central Building Management Systems (BMS), Building Automation Systems (BAS), Video Management Systems (VMS), and Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) system, all via an IP (Internet Protocol) network. IT services and engineering businesses embedded in specific markets have also developed their own front-end interfaces and middleware to enable linkages between devices – ensuring that all devices can be located on the network.
One of the latecomers to networking was fire detection systems which were bound by strict rules requiring buildings to have direct telecom links from fire alarms to fire stations via dedicated analogue POTS (plain old telephone service) lines. But in the light of the fact that copper-based POTS lines are gradually being phased out (increasingly replaced by fibre optic cabling); and standards governing these transmission protocols, notably NFPA 72 and EN54-23, gave the green-light for Ethernet network connectivity, these too are now being linked to a central BMSs meaning that alarms to fire stations and fire crews members are often now enabled by IP networks.
So in theory at least, it is possible today to view, manage and control a ‘smart’ building’s CCTV, intruder detection, access control, fire and smoke detection, fire suppressant, public address, digital signage, process control, even lighting, Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) control systems, all via increasingly intelligent Building Management Systems.
The potential, from being able to control all this via the network, is massive. It means that remote alerts (both when devices are behaving abnormally or alerts have been triggered) can be sent relatively easily to multiple IP-connected devices. It has also opened up the potential for remote diagnosis which brings with it the ability to shorten response times – ensuring the maintenance and engineering teams arrive on site with the right parts, equipment and other resources to fix a problem first time.
A plethora of engineering, maintenance and services businesses with networking and sector-specific knowledge, including IP video systems integration businesses including us, are already benefiting from the enormous potential to offer remote monitoring, support, maintenance and alarm response-based services.
Smart is getting smarter still with advances in analytics
The intelligence is not only coming through the fact that these systems are able to talk to each other and help us react more quickly to real threats; but through a burgeoning of analytics software offerings which can bring intelligence and proactivity to IP video systems. There are many examples out there already.
Cameras fitted with facial recognition software and trained on shop entrances can now detect the demographic make up of visitors to their stores, monitoring changes caused by targeted advertising campaigns for example. Dwell-time analytics software can help that same retailer to work out which ‘end of aisle’ offers and promotional displays are working to engage shoppers. More than this, the data being generated in this scenario may help product manufacturers work out if interest is being translated directly into sales, or if there is some objection in the offer which is causing them not to buy.
IP camera integration with POS (Point of Sale) systems at the cash till helps retailers bear down on areas of frequent loss. The majority of retail theft today is still out of the till. So if tills are opened without an associated transaction, it is important for retailers to be able to isolate these events in video records. If till rolls do not reconcile with actual cash (or vouchers, cheques, etc.) in the till at the end of the day, then managers need to be able to investigate these events more closely. It is possible to pull up each such event in a VMS and run sequences of video recordings associated with them alongside till roll data to find anomalies.
Looking outside the retailer’s doors and into the car park, it is now possible to fit cameras or central VMSs with ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) analytics software to pick up the number plates of vehicles as they enter. The record of the number plate can be checked against a database of regular ‘VIP’ customers. This system might be linked to a CRM system which could be set up to issue a personalised welcome and send promotional eVouchers directly to a loyal customer’s mobile device. In the education sector, ANPR analytics has been used to allow the vehicles of teachers and support staff through the barriers at a secure school automatically, while holding visitors’ vehicles at the barrier until their identity and reason for their visit has been checked by security guards or reception staff.
Tripwire analytics adds extra security to perimeter fencing so that security teams are alerted when people come within a pre-set distance of a fence protecting a secure facility. They are also good for reinforcing measures designed for public safety. For example, cameras fitted with tripwire analytics, if placed at either end of a rail station platform, could trigger an automated public address message warning people to stand back if anyone crosses the yellow line close to the edge of that platform.
All these scenarios are real-life examples of the use of video content analytics software to deliver value over and above the original security value that traditional CCTV systems offer.
What does this mean for security manufacturers and integrators?
The reaction from the vendor community to the opportunities presented by the dual developments of IP convergence and the ‘smart systems revolution’ in the safety and security market has been varied.
We have seen some vendors buying software players in order to gain deeper penetration into specific markets. Axis Communications’ purchase of Citilog earlier this year can be seen in the context of the market leader in network cameras wanting to win more business in the transportation sector. Citilog offers software for automatic incident detection, traffic data collection and junction control. Its products help improve road safety, limit risks and help reduce travel time. Axis and Citilog have worked together for several years on both engineering and sales to provide integrated solutions to a number of mutual customers.
By the same token, Tyco’s recent purchase of ShopperTrak can be seen as part of this vendor’s plans to address the retail sector more deeply by expanding its suite of offerings in this space. ShopperTrak’s solutions include perimeter traffic counting, in-store consumer behaviour analytics and industry bench-marking. Combining these capabilities with Tyco’s existing loss prevention, inventory intelligence and retail traffic analytics solutions, it now offers retailers “a unique combination of insights that they can use to make more informed decisions to improve their revenue and profitability”.
Many key players including VMS market leader Milestone Systems are forming deeper technology partnerships with the likes Digital Barriers to address specific technology gaps and video transmission challenges, thus more precisely meeting the needs of specific markets and end-user operatives. In this case, by bringing Digital Barriers TVI solution together with Milestone’s XProtect software it is possible to offer an end-to-end solution to support first responder units in the field by enabling them to deliver usable video from a motorway multi-vehicle crash site to a local hospital’s A&E department (for example), even if mobile teams are operating in areas where cellular or wireless network coverage is poor or variable.
Forming both technology and systems integrator partnerships is a clear way for vendors to find deeper penetration in specific markets and localities.
Strong systems integration firms in the IP video space are tending to put more energy into partnerships with vendors that offer strong technical support, online support and systems configuration tools, as well as well-developed education programmes which help partners build product knowledge in a structured manner.
A new focus is on finding ways to test, certify and document specific configurations of hardware to ensure they meet or exceed the end-customers’ needs. This is particularly important in specifying IP video systems because the amount of data they generate is already significant and; with both video analytics and more widespread demand for HD quality images; is rising by over 18% per year (Source: IHS Inc.).
Ensuring systems have the right specifications (supported by documentation) to be reliable, scalable and future-proof, are key considerations for integrators planning new, more strategically valuable IP video systems. Right now we are seeing far too many vendors saying this system will integrate with that one when in reality some aspect of the software setup makes it difficult.
Firms like us are left in the position of having to find work arounds or customise solutions to meet the exact needs of our customers. However if we get these systems right, ideally with help from all vendors involved, the prize is very significant: we can help make our customers’ assets and people more secure, reduce operational costs, unlock increased productivity gains and even uncover new income streams.
Remaining challenges for integrators
IP convergence is now forcing a great deal of change in the video surveillance market as more security, safety and operational systems are brought together creating more holistic visual security and safety systems, together opening up a world of applications and opportunities for IP video vendors and integrators. Video analytics is adding sophistication, complexity and value to IP video systems, but is also placing heavier demands on hardware and software vendors and the integrators serving customers.
Integrators are only able to take advantage of this ‘opportunity explosion’ if they can build and retain the right IT networking skills and physical security systems know-how, whilst continuing to focus hard on delivering to customers’ increasingly complex and exacting requirements.
These IT skills are thin on the ground and in very hot demand in the UK, particularly as many of these systems are being joined up for the first time. Worse, vendors today rarely provide certified assurances and documentation that one of their products will work properly with another. It is being left to the systems integrator to not only design and deliver increasingly complex systems, but also ensure they work first time, all the time. Vendors that work hard on building deep, technology-level partnerships with integrators will be specified more regularly into the new breed of IP video-based systems that companies, including NW Systems, are now installing.