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Learning the Language of Security Integration

Learn the true definition of systems integration and the craft’s three distinct levels.

Many security companies call or market themselves as systems integrators, but when it comes down to it they know little more than how to splice wires, mount and hook up devices, along with some rudimentary programming.

What then exactly defines the profession and craft of being a true integrator? What necessary skillsets are involved in blending most any type of device or system into a seamless solution? There are differences in complexity as it relates to how each individual performs their job as integrators. These qualities are essential for managers, salespeople and technicians alike. Some of these folks are top systems integrators while others are plug-and-play installation specialists.

Most integration practitioners in the field are positioned somewhere in between the two extremes. And yet the job of unifying building subsystems necessitates a number of key abilities, least of which is an intimate knowledge of computer programming and general network technology.

The objective of this story is to offer an expanded view of the professionals who work in this capacity. This includes the development of definitions as it relates to the complexities and skillsets associated with three basic levels in which all integrators work: traditional alarm dealers (low-level integration), security integrators (midlevel), and systems integrators (high-level).

In addition, we’ll look at the advantages associated with a move from traditional security to systems integration, plus a sidebar will explore ways you can upsell new and existing clients to an integrated approach.

Low-Level Integration: Traditional Alarm Dealers

Low-level integration usually relies on low-tech hardware to marry dissimilar systems together, such as relays and opto- isolator devices. Relays and other isolation devices used at this level act as a trigger enabling disparate, self-contained silos of detection and control in high-rise structures and large buildings to respond to changes in the environment.

This is common in schools, manufacturing and office complexes where security can share resources with other subsystems in order to save energy, better protect and balance electrical loads. For example, hardware integration has long been used in lighting and HVAC. Control at this level is oftentimes based on occupancy.

“Lighting control is something we do although there’s still a loose-fitting connection between it and security,” says Jeremy Brecher, vice president, technology, electronic security, Diebold. “It’s my opinion that there’s really not a perfect alignment in how security affects energy management, but we do have clients that have done pilots where they can manage areas of their facilities based on who is in the building.

Integration at this level is carried out by traditional “security dealers” largely using plug-and-play solutions.

SIDEBAR: How an Integrated Security Solution Opens the Door to Upselling

“We commonly use relays powered by a RS-485 data bus, which is sent out off the system bus port,” says Louis Katona, president, VidCorp Security Systems. “These relay modules are controlled by software/firmware in the integration platform we use and can be extended about 4,000 feet with data rates of up to 10Mbps.”

The deployment of RS-485, -422 and -232 continues to this day, even when there is a network that ties it all together. The use of drivers, sometimes custom made by the equipment manufacturers or a third-party firm, allows IP-based systems to talk with devices that utilize traditional types of physical connectivity.

Midlevel Integration: Security Integrators

Midlevel integration usually entails the use of a specific packaged system that is typically installed by security integrators. Systems that fall under this heading usually use a unified, standardized means of communication between dissimilar platforms that favor security. In order to make this hap-pen, security platform manufacturers have developed partnerships with other equipment manufacturers so the products they make will readily talk and work together.

The level of complexity in most of these systems involves a firm knowledge of electronics with the addition of computer programming and networking. Here, drivers, middleware and software are common elements as they truly are the glue that holds these integrated systems together.

“A driver is a small program that communicates with a physical device based on the seven-layered ISO model enabling multiple devices to connect even when they do not speak the same language,” says Bob Setterbo, an application consultant and proprietor of The Setterbo Group. “It’s the middle-ware that translates one machine language into another so different devices in an integrated system can understand each other.”

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