Con-verge To tend to meet in a point or line, inclined toward each other, as lines that are not parallel.
In-te-grate To bring together into a unified, harmonious, or interrelated whole or system. (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 2001)
Like many words and sayings, the terms integration and convergence have been tossed around so abundantly and haphazardly in recent years that it is easy to lose sight of what they really mean. As shown above, these words actually stand for virtually the same thing: The cohesion of seemingly disparate elements.
In the electronic security industry, integration indicates products and systems either designed or configured to work together in a common system, such as CCTV and access control. Convergence indicates the merging of different disciplines of technology, such as electronic security and information technology (IT).
Integration has been a buzzword in this industry and many others the past 10 years. Prior to that, things were fairly straightforward as alarm dealers typically only installed burglar alarm systems and, sometimes, fire alarms. However, the development of and demand for video surveillance, access control and other building controls made it more necessary and desirable — particularly from an end-user perspective — to have these systems joined together to function as one.
Convergence found its way into our industry’s vernacular much more recently, coming into vogue the past three years as electronic devices became increasingly miniaturized, computerized and software-reliant. For the most part, attention has been redirected from refining hardware and circuit boards to creating programs that optimize functionality, flexibility and user-friendliness.
For many today, the vision is achieving seamless systems integration. This security utopia would feature open-architecture, infinitely scalable plug-and-play devices requiring no intervention to communicate with each other. They would combine to create powerful super systems exceeding the sum of their parts.
It seems inevitable that this dream will eventually be realized. Considering the rate of technological advancement, customer demand, and time, energy and money being expended — much of it by manufacturing giants with deep pockets — it’s just a matter of time. However, while seamless integration/convergence will probably occur in our lifetimes, its progression has several hurdles to clear.
One of the largest obstacles is getting manufacturers to share intelligence and agree on common protocols. It’s hard to convince companies that have built their organizations on proprietary devices and accessories to change that business model. Yet this process is gaining momentum as conglomerates acquire and absorb other manufacturers into their ranks. Meanwhile, a large influx of IT-trained people has brought the computer industry’s open-platform mentality with them. Unfortunately, most of those people do not know much about the electronic security industry. If they did, they would realize how resistant it is to change. It’s not that alarm dealers are stuck in their ways — although some are — it’s that their businesses are predicated on safeguarding human life. New technology must be failsafe before it can be adopted.
Meanwhile, although customers are asking for simple, full-featured solutions, are they willing to pay for them? Just because manufacturing powerhouses are banking on integration and convergence, does that mean the money will materialize to support these concepts?
I believe it will in the long run, though it will not be an overnight revolution and everyone is going to feel growing pains for the foreseeable future. It is vital not to be blinded by the allure of technological bliss. The more all concerned parties cooperate and never lose sight of what’s truly best for the customer, the better off everyone will be.
Fortunately for installing electronic security contractors, when it’s all said and done, no amount of integration or convergence will eliminate the need for the high levels of quality design, installation and service in which our industry excels.