When one thinks of IBM and security, chances are it is that of the information technology realm such as firewalls, anti-virus programs, log-on authentification and so on. Increasingly, however, the IT innovator and global giant is entering into conversations, as well as actual deployments, of networked physical security systems. Focusing mainly on video surveillance and analytics, IBM is leading the charge to meet (and collaborate with) traditional security suppliers and providers at the apex of true and complete physical-logical security convergence.
I recently spoke at length with IBM’s leading crusader on this front, director of physical security technology for IBM Security Services, Steve Russo. The bulk of that dialogue can be found in the upcoming June issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. Until then, here is some bonus material that also serves as a preview.
How much resources and manpower is IBM putting into physical security?
Steve Russo: I can’t give you exact numbers on the staff. It is changing. I will tell you about our structure and the way we’re organized. I’m responsible for the global business for physical security. The way that we work is I have a direct team, which encompasses engineering, research, as well as presales, architects and so forth. And then we have within each of our local areas, our geographies are country level and we have teams of people who are responsible for activity at the local level. So we are concentrating on key geographies. The U.S., of course, is our largest. But there is also quite a bit of work in Europe and the Middle East, and there’s starting to be more activity in Latin and South America. So the way that we’re organized now is we have a global team and then country teams that are responsible for the projects at the country level. The country teams usually own those projects and I support them in making them successful.
If we look at a company like Cisco, would they be a direct competitor or more of a partner? How does that work out?
Russo: Actually, we’re both in many different areas. We partner with Cisco in many different areas of technology and we do compete with them in some areas. In the area of physical security, we do partner with them, and we work closely together. They are providing some components and technology, which integrate with our technologies. We provide service capabilities that they don’t have today. They are not exclusive, but they are one of our key partners.
Using the recent news about New York‘s problematic subway system as an example, can you comment on the issue of surveillance systems not recording, not being properly maintained or desperately needing analytics and that sort of thing? How we can improve this situation?
Russo: I can’t really discuss the activities that are going on for the transportation system in New York. I know about some vendor activity that was going on there, but we’re not able to discuss that. In general though, in some areas and cities we deal with, we see a renewed interest in doing more to advance their systems. Some of the problems in getting all of this to work goes back to the areas we mentioned earlier, with the move to IP and starting to implement very large, Internet-based systems but the expertise isn’t there. So then there is some difficulty in providing function that maybe they were able to do in the past in smaller scale implementations. So again, there is a renewed interest in advancing the systems. It all comes down to budgets and funding at the end of what can be done, and really working with trusted vendors and people who can bring solutions to completion.
IBM helped design, built and implement an integrated network video monitoring system for Chicago’s Navy Pier.
Can you point to some technologies that you are particularly excited about?
Russo: One of the areas that is of great interest to us is the granularity of analytics. There is a fine line today between the capabilities of the technology and science fiction. Many of the Hollywood shows — “CSI,” “24” and the like — are on the side of science fiction and sometimes that becomes the standard. While many of the things being depicted are in the realm of possibility, we’re not quite there yet. When I speak of granular levels of analytics, it is about understanding activity in highly crowded scenes; for example, being able to do analytics on megapixel-type images, which is something that with just the sheer processing power is difficult to do. Another area of great interest is camera stitching, where we’re starting to stitch camera images together to provide a broader view across a larger geographical area of activity to help better understand events. My major interest in all of this is the ability to take information about the real world and turn that into intelligence. The more metadata we have from what’s going on in the world around us, the more we are able to analyze and integrate it with other activities to create comprehensive views of different events.
Although not so much on the technology side, we are also working very closely with a number of customers, especially in public safety, on how these tools can be used to progress their capabilities today. Very often the mindset is, ‘I want technology to tell me when something happens so that I can react to that something that is happening,’ which is and always will be an important factor. In addition to that, understanding how we can use technology to prevent things from happening is at least equally important. By looking at historical patterns and trends over longer periods of time that then allow me to see where I may have situations of crimes being planned or security holes and vulnerabilities that I can do something about before something happens allow our customers to be much more proactive. That’s an area where it’s a combination of the understanding of how it can be used, in let’s say a public safety setting, and then determining how that now relates into new requirements for the technology to be able to provide useful tools.
Some of IBM’s access control offerings are crossing the line from logical to physical security.
Has the economy slowed down the R&D and speed to market for some of that?
Russo: It definitely has. There are some small companies that were based primarily on venture capital funds and that have not gotten over the curve of being profitable. We’re seeing some of those funds drying up and the patience being shortened to bring these tools to market and allow them to grow. There were some vendors I thought had very good technology I saw last year at ISC [West] that had no presence whatsoever [at the 2010 show]. That concerns me a bit. We find the effects of the economy to be more prevalent in certain industry segments. In some areas that were hit hard, such as banking and retail, we saw some of the projects