Hot Seat: Championing Standards

Brivo Systems President and CEO Steve Van Till is on the frontlines as a leading advocate for standards in the electronic security industry. His efforts include serving as chair of the Security Industry Association (SIA) Standards Committee. He joins the conversation to expound on the topic. 

What are your top priorities as chair of the SIA Standards Committee?

The organization hadn’t really published any new standards in quite a while, so my first goal was to get back into the business of publishing standards. We just completed the first totally new one during my tenure. It came out of the Access and Identity subcommittee, and it’s the new protocol [Open Supervised Device Protocol; OSDP 2.1.5] for communicating between control panels and readers. That was about a year in the making. I was very happy to see that.

We also just formed a new subcommittee on use of the cloud and security. We’re defining the charter of that group right now. We have a draft of a white paper that’s going to be published in a month or two that says what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and what subject matter we cover as well as what subject matter we don’t. Improving the standardization and use of cloud technologies in security is really one of the other things I’m interested in.

Are there instances where standards efforts overlap?

We want to avoid duplicating efforts of other organizations. For example, ONVIF has been very successful at defining standards between cameras and NVRs or other video systems. There’s no reason for us to go in and try to compete in that area. There’s no use for having two standards for that in the security industry. It fragments things.

We’re working toward being complementary to some of the other standards organizations and we have a vision of harmonizing standards across these organizations. For example, the OSDP standard, since it’s talking to panels, if you look at PSIA they’re talking about the data streams between the panel and other upstream systems. Wouldn’t it be great if these various specs were coordinated or harmonized in some fashion so that you weren’t putting together puzzle pieces from two different puzzles at the end of the day?

Does a lack of cooperation remain between manufacturers and standards groups?

My view is that manufacturers have really gotten the standards message. The industry, when I came into it roughly 10 years ago, was still very focused on proprietary architectures and proprietary interfaces, and a lot of people thought that was a defense of their position in the industry. The attitude has changed 180° at this point and people understand that standards are a net gain for the industry in security, just like they have been in IT for many years.

What is a case of where new standards are needed in the industry?

There are a number of different areas that people in security work with, such as video and access control. Alarm interfaces have been standardized for longer than anything else because the central stations needed to one or two protocols at most to speak to all the devices in the field. There was a very natural reason to standardize on the equipment side.

The cloud is doing the same thing that central stations did before in the sense that you have a focal point and you have lots of different devices wanting to talk to that focal point. And they need to speak the same or similar languages in order for that whole architecture to work.

There are other parts of the industry, things that are a bit more peripheral. Audio would be an example, and use of VoIP and SIP [session initiation protocol] architecture. That’s really replacing a lot of proprietary ways of doing audio between devices. Mass notification used to be a proprietary thing and now it has standards around that. We’re always looking for the new places that need standards, but I would say the industry’s attitude has come around and participation levels have gone way up.

You mentioned the acronym SIP. Explain what that is.

It stands for session initiation protocol. For example, when using an IP phone from Avaya, and it’s calling someplace else, it’s using SIP to set up those phone calls. Skype is doing the same thing. It’s pretty widespread phenomenon. Now you’re seeing it, for example, in the security industry where people are using intercoms at a door. What’s behind the scenes now that everything is IP is that there’s a SIP relationship between that intercom unit at the door and whatever central switch is processing all those intercom requests.

Does existence of competing groups help or hinder the standards writing and adoption process?

I think it helps. The benefits of competition apply there just like they do anywhere else. There’s a danger of too much fragmentation for an industry that’s the size of the security industry, but so far I think it’s been pretty healthy.

What is “Big Data” as it pertains to the security industry?

The term is borrowed from the IT world where it’s really the latest buzzword that everybody’s talking about. What gave rise to it in the IT space is that the Internet in its various uses and forms now generates such large quantities of data that traditional means of processing the data, like standard relational databases and so forth, are no longer adequate tool sets for doing analysis. They’re not fast enough; they’re not robust enough, what have you. So there’s been a new generation of tools that have grown up that are better suited for doing things with really large datasets. An example of that would be Google. They’re processing essentially the whole Internet and indexing it and so forth, and they had to invent new ways of doing that. Some of the things that they created have now filtered down into other kinds of products that can work with very large datasets. So very large datasets that exceed the boundaries of traditional relational databases is one characteristic.

The other characteristic of a lot of Big Data applications on the Internet side is unstructured data. Traditionally relational databases only work if all of the data that you’re putting in there has the same structure — of this table, that table or the next table — but you have to essentially know. A lot of the new tools from the Big Data software world deal with unstructured data, different kinds of data in the same analysis, and they’re able to work with that kind of mess, if you will.

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