Tech Talk: Welcoming Interoperability With Open Arms

While it has not progressed at the same pace as IT, physical security is nonetheless surely if slowly heading toward open and interoperable devices and systems. Find out why this is important to the future of electronic security and some of the organizations paving the way.

Unless you are a larger, very high end or highly specialized integrator, you’re probably not overly familiar with the term open platform. It can be defined as a software system based on open standards. While this does not always mean it is “open source,” open standards can allow different systems to share data and communications that make integration of once proprietary systems easier. Some past examples of industry open standards would be the alarm communications protocols of the Security Industry Association (SIA) and Ademco’s Contact ID (CID).

Regardless of where you fall within the broad spectrum of installing security contractor specializations, it will behoove you to know more about open platforms, systems and standards. This is because it is undoubtedly a key future technology trend. So let’s dig into some basics, shall we?

Digital IP Communications Standard

The recently developed ANSI/SIA DC-09 – Digital Communication Standard details the protocol and related details to reporting events from premises equipment to a central station by using IP to carry the event content. While I use the term “recent” it can be frustrating watching how long it takes for platforms like this to mature let alone become commonplace in the field. The work on this standard started back in 2007 when the concept of IP-based alarm communications was very new. However, it is now 2013 and only a few manufacturers have jumped onboard.

I started out in the security industry when digital dialers were introduced. Digital communications over POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) was at first proprietary and central monitoring stations complained about having to provide and maintain dozens of different alarm signal receivers. Eventually, after much procrastination in implementing communication standards, some protocols such as SIA and CID were created to provide many alarm panels and receivers a common communication language.

You would think we would have learned from the past, but we have not. The same is happening today with trying to utilize the new ANSI/SIA IP communications standard. Central monitoring stations now face up to 20 proprietary IP communication formats and a receiver for each. History repeats itself and, unfortunately, we never seem to learn.

Taking a Peek Into PSIA

The Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) was founded in 2008 with a stated objective “to develop specifications for physical security technology that enables plug-and-play interoperability across and beyond the security ecosystem.” An example is that more than 1,500 companies have registered for the PSIA 1.0 IP Media Device specification.

PSIA ( has seven specifications, three of which are considered system specifications. The Service Model; Common Metadata & Event Model; and Common Security Model form the “bookshelves” on which the functional specifications rest. The functional specifications currently are IP Media Device; Recording and Content Management (RaCM); Video Analytics; and Area Control.

One of the panelists at a PSIA panel discussion I attended not too long ago was Bill Minear, an “old school” security veteran of 38 years and senior consultant for Raleigh, N.C.-based TRUSYS. His input further clarifies the importance and value of the open platform movement.

During the session, Minear was asked, “What systems and devices need to interoperate, and why?” He responded: “All systems and devices need to interact together. Access control, video, video management, visitor management, IDS, and it all needs to work off of one platform. It is so much easier and cleaner for people like me to design and specify when there are not so many different parts that need to be integrated to make systems talk to each other.”

ONVIF Looks Onward and Upward

The Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) promotes development of a global standard for the interface of IP-based physical security products. The ONVIF specification defines a common protocol how network video devices should exchange data such as live video, audio, metadata and control information. ONVIF-conformant network video transmitters and receivers from different manufacturers are intended to communicate with each other by requesting and sending live view video streams. The specification also aims to ensure that conformant devices are automatically discovered and connected to network applications, such as video management systems (VMS). There are currently 2,762 ONVIF-conformant products on the market.

The cornerstones of ONVIF ( are:

  • Standardization of communication between IP-based and physical security devices
  • Interoperability between IP-based physical security products regardless of manufacturer
  • Open to all companies and organizations

While ONVIF’s initial focus has been on video integration there are indications of further penetration into markets such as access control. ONVIF utilizes Web services and source code generation through standardized WSDL. This relieves manufacturers and developers from interpreting the interface as it is based on source code generation. The generated code for the interface is always the same, thereby eliminating the risk for misinterpretations. ONVIF also relies on compression standards like H.264.

PSIM Aims to Bring It All Together

Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) is open platform software that is designed to integrate multiple unconnected security applications and devices, and control them with one comprehensive user interface. These solutions allow organizations to reduce costs by achieving higher efficiencies and improve security through increased intelligence. What makes PSIM stand out is the ability to connect systems at a data level, contrasting other forms of integration that only interface with a limited number of products.

A complete PSIM software system has the following capabilities:

  • Collection of data from many disparate security devices and systems
  • Analyze and correlate data, events and alarms
  • Verification of a situation in a quick and easily digestible format
  • Resolution from standard operating procedures (SOP) based on best practices
  • Reporting that tracks all information for compliance reporting, training and analysis
  • Audit trails of operator interaction, manual changes and calculated event reaction time

Openness to New Opportunities

As you can see from these open platform and standards organizations, much has been accomplished and is now available for integrators. Another positive development that has caught my attention is the rising interest levels and participation of major IT organizations such as Cisco and Microsoft in areas that encompass elements of physical security.

Despite these encouraging signs, I am not alone in growing impatient about the need for these standards to rapidly mature and be better understood by the industry. I place much of this burden on security manufacturers to embrace this important and necessary evolution. However, it will also take more participation by integrators regardless of size or market focus. I urge all security industry professionals to realize now is the time to seriously consider the opportunities open systems present. 


The Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) and Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA), organizations devoted to establishing open systems standards for the electronic security industry, are offering free utility software online. Shown here are PSIA’s Board member companies.Image Courtesy PSIATech Talk Tool Tip

One of nice things about working with open platforms and standards is that the source code is often available. This encourages opportunities with open source software developers. One of my longtime favorite locations for open source software is

This month, I have selected from that site an ONVIF Device Manager program and a beta version of a PSIA program. The ONVIF program appears to have some good activity and initially some pretty good reviews. Some recommended features are: device discovery, live monitoring, service configuration, event handling, video analytics calibration, firmware update, and configuration backup and recovery. Both programs can be downloaded for free.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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