What's driving the convergence?

Guest commentary
Monday, August 1, 2005

Security industry analysts say that North American private-sector firms will spend $191 million on IT and physical security convergence projects in 2005, and that the government will contribute another $500 million toward broader security convergence programs. This upward trend in spending shows that the industry is searching for new and creative ways to manage the many disparate systems deployed in today's physical security environments.
Most people agree that system convergence is where the security industry is heading. But the question is: Who is driving the demand and how do we get there?
To answer this question, traditionally diverse groups--like security product manufacturers, building automation system integrators,and network IT managers--are now working together to find new ways to maximize efficiency and performance of both new and legacy systems.
However, IT managers are justifiably reluctant to incorporate disparate security and building automation applications into their mainstream data networks. Mostly because of their proprietary nature, but also because of the limitless variety of products and devices that hang on them for different purposes. This creates a logistical nightmare for the IT manager who must monitor and maintain these diverse systems. And all of this adds to the cost--for both equipment and trained personnel to manage the various technologies.
To create a truly holistic security management system, the physical security components and the building automation controls must converge and share resources for shared benefits. Today's sophisticated systems must be reliable, available and scalable. And the answer is a network-based, open architecture system.
IT managers and system integrators alike are pushing for open standard platforms capable of connecting embedded sensors and other related security and building automation devices to a single management console and that enables some level of decision making at the edge of the IT network.
An example of how this could work is a simple ceiling-mounted sensor, properly integrated through a physical security, building automation and IT network system, has the flexibility to serve as a multi-level control device at the edge of the network. It can record when everyone has left a room and adjust the HVAC and lighting accordingly. The sensor can also serve as an access control device to detect a forced entry or unauthorized movement in the space after working hours. In that event, lights can be turned on, video cameras activated and building management notified via pager or cell phone. In other words, one device can serve multiple purposes.
A truly converged physical security and building automation system tied to a single IT management console has the capability of consolidating credentials for virtual and physical security access, creating common user provisioning, correlating event response management procedures and providing more intelligent reporting for improved system reliability. In addition, pushing the intelligence of the system to the edge of the network enables remote access and real-time management response to resolve any type of event.
So, who is in the best position to deliver convergence solutions to end-users who are anxious to adopt more cost-effective technologies? In my opinion, it's the BAS system integrators that stand to gain the most. In a collaborative role with physical security and BAS representatives, the systems integrator should take the lead in delivering "best of breed" products and services that will result in a significant savings in labor and operating costs.
BAS system integrators have been working with both building controls manufacturers and security consultants for years to deliver fresh ideas and new products to end users. They know how to integrate products and systems, and they also have experience with installations and maintenance of more complex security systems.
As end users learn more about the cost savings and system performance improvements that are part of a converged IT, physical security and building automation system, they will push for the adoption of these services. End users want security systems that combine security and safety policy compliance and that protect physical assets, including IT assets and intellectual property.
Historically, 70 percent of a company's data theft is from physical assets. If a company can adopt integrated access control with physical security to verify identity and physical presence, it can significantly reduce theft and better protect its people and assets. Increased revenue opportunities in integrated system solutions as well as the opportunity to reduce the cost and better manage a company's overall security and network systems will drive change in the coming months.


Michael Cation is the chief executive officer of NovusEdge, a provider of complete physical security solutions. He can be reached at michael.cation@novusedge.com.