Security Industry Opens Up to Standards


Just as a wave in the ocean stirs up sand, silt and foam, the Convergence Wave has stirred up much in the traditional security and networking industries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of (and lack of) standards for security products.

There is no question that we need to change the way we do things. The benefits to the user, such as ease of use, flexibility in selecting product and confidence that the chosen system will be future-proofed, are numerous and critical to the growth of this market. There is also no doubt that the industry is trying. Groups like the ones we will explore momentarily are fighting years of old-school attitudes and ingrained ways of thinking. Fortunately, the manufacturers are starting to step up and listen.

Governing rules and standards made networking the technical powerhouse it is today. If we want to see the security industry make similar strides, we need to seriously look at adopting a comparable mindset. Let’s take a look at the history, and where the advancements and changes are becoming the most evident.

Digital Demands Uniformity

If it weren’t for standards (an established and documented norm or requirement for a technology), we wouldn’t have networking or the Internet. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, organizations like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Electronics Industry Alliance/Telecommunications Industry Association (EIA/TIA), sat down and created sets of rules that determined how data is exchanged over a computer network.

Before this time, the earliest computers were completely proprietary, with only a given manufacturer’s machines able to communicate with one another. This was called “islands of technology.” The scientists, researchers and academics in those standards organizations realized that the full potential of this “network” thing could only be realized if all computers could communicate with all others, to one degree or another.

In the security industry, however, things progressed differently. For whatever reason, security manufacturers saw no need for standards or rules, and each manufacturer did things its own way. Most system interconnections were done at the serial level, or with simple I/O such as relays and contacts. If a serial connection was needed for two products to communicate, a product would usually have a document with the basic communication commands, usually in a simple text format like ascii. This was all that was needed at the time.

Things were about to change. At first, the wave crept up slowly. Computers started to take the place of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and embedded CPUs in the physical security marketplace. Over in the video security side of the house, digital video recorders were just beginning to make their assault on VCRs, and digital processing was starting to enhance analog video cameras. During the late 1990s and the opening days of the 21st century, technology advancements came faster and faster. It was quickly becoming evident that all products in the security marketplace were going to be affected in some way by the network industry.

Resistance Proves to Be Futile

As mentioned, network technologies brought loads of standards along with them to the party. The IT integrator’s normal way of thinking was that everything needed to work together. That was the way it was. To the video manufacturer, however, open standards and architecture represented a threat to the bottom line. “If I allow their recording system to control my pan/tilt/zoom, no one will want to buy my recording system” was the thinking in some places.

This proprietary line of thinking was the same for access control systems; they saw no reason to play nice with others. “If the people want part of my system, they need to buy all of it!”

During the past five years or so, however, that way of thinking has been profoundly ripped away. Customers and IT-savvy integrators demanded open standards and open architectures. They believed all systems should be able to communicate with each other, as networking devices do. Each manufacturer’s profit or loss should ride on the particular features, performance or price point of their device, not on that product being the only one that can work with some other system and locking customers into a technological prison cell.

SIA Assumes Leadership Role

As the demand for interoperability and compatibility between manufacturers has grown, so has the need for standards bodies and organizations. Several are attempting to gain prominence in the marketplace, but none have reached the level of acceptance or importance as have the IEEE and EIA/TIA for networking.

One of the most well known of these organizations is the Security Industry Association (SIA). To quote from SIA’s Web site, “The Security Industry Association is a nonprofit international trade association representing electronic and physical security product manufacturers, specifiers and service providers. SIA promotes growth and professionalism within the security industry by providing education, research, technical standards, and representation and defense of its members’ interests.”

SIA’s membership consists of representatives from manufacturers, distributors and integrators, diversity that gives the organization a broad sampling of opinion and input. The association’s main focus has been to establish standards for all areas of the security industry, not necessarily focusing on a single technology or area, although its standards documents do address specific technology issues.

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