Picking A PSIM Platform

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Connections, Open Platform, Financial Strength Top Integrator Criteria

Greater Manchester Police.jpgAll major physical security information system (PSIM) solution vendors promise to correlate data from a potentially limitless universe of systems, devices and sensors to reveal emerging incidents in real time, then help users respond to them faster and more effectively.

So how do integrators and their clients determine which PSIM platform will be the the better fit for them over another?  

Number of connections to security subsystems, openness of the platform and the financial strength of the PSIM vendor top the list.

Connections, with a Caveat

"The first thing we look for is what integrations already exist; that's the big one," said Steve Rogers, vice president, LANAIR Group, Los Angeles, Calif., which implemented a PSIM solution from Proximex at Port of Long Beach.

"Getting all those systems to plug in and relate events is a major, major piece of work," said Greg Thornbury, vice president, SecureNet, a Carollton, Texas-based integrator researching PSIM solutions. His clients in oil/gas, petrochemical and finance sectors tend to have old versions of major systems as well as homegrown applications. His question for PSIM vendors is who they connect with and how.

"The value of the product is in the hooks," said Ayal Vogel, vice president, sales and marketing for Safeguards Technology, Hackensack, N.J., which has worked exclusively with Mer Inc., Fair Lawn, N.J., to date. "The value increases by the number of connectors that are preexisting," he said.

Figuring out how many preexisting connectors a PSIM vendor has is not as straightforward as it may seem. (See story "Critical Connection Questions"). PSIM platform connections may be counted in terms of connections to categories of systems (e.g., access control, video management, sensor aggregators); to vendors within those categories (e.g., Lenel, Milestone, Augusta Systems); to the various versions of each main platform offered by those vendors; to all the additional subsystems, devices and sensors that might be connected to a subsystem platform or data aggregator; or every device, sensor, reader, etc.

Further, even when connecting to the same types of systems from the same vendors, every PSIM vendor will put its own stamp on its connectors.

"All claim to do everything for everyone, but some are stronger and deeper in specific areas, like access control, video management, computer aided dispatch," said James Henry, CEO, Henry Bros. Electronics in Fair Lawn, N.J. "Not everyone is exactly the same."

Connection Quality

Integrators also make it clear that not all connections are created equally. Some may be comprehensive, two-way connections that go deeply into the subsystem's functions, so that the PSIM solution can send messages and issue commands to it. Others may be much simpler "handshake" connections, one-way and less functional.

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Connections, Open Platform, Financial Strength Top Integrator Criteria

Greater Manchester Police.jpgAll major physical security information system (PSIM) solution vendors promise to correlate data from a potentially limitless universe of systems, devices and sensors to reveal emerging incidents in real time, then help users respond to them faster and more effectively.

So how do integrators and their clients determine which PSIM platform will be the the better fit for them over another?  

Number of connections to security subsystems, openness of the platform and the financial strength of the PSIM vendor top the list.

Connections, with a Caveat

"The first thing we look for is what integrations already exist; that's the big one," said Steve Rogers, vice president, LANAIR Group, Los Angeles, Calif., which implemented a PSIM solution from Proximex at Port of Long Beach.

"Getting all those systems to plug in and relate events is a major, major piece of work," said Greg Thornbury, vice president, SecureNet, a Carollton, Texas-based integrator researching PSIM solutions. His clients in oil/gas, petrochemical and finance sectors tend to have old versions of major systems as well as homegrown applications. His question for PSIM vendors is who they connect with and how.

"The value of the product is in the hooks," said Ayal Vogel, vice president, sales and marketing for Safeguards Technology, Hackensack, N.J., which has worked exclusively with Mer Inc., Fair Lawn, N.J., to date. "The value increases by the number of connectors that are preexisting," he said.

Figuring out how many preexisting connectors a PSIM vendor has is not as straightforward as it may seem. (See story "Critical Connection Questions"). PSIM platform connections may be counted in terms of connections to categories of systems (e.g., access control, video management, sensor aggregators); to vendors within those categories (e.g., Lenel, Milestone, Augusta Systems); to the various versions of each main platform offered by those vendors; to all the additional subsystems, devices and sensors that might be connected to a subsystem platform or data aggregator; or every device, sensor, reader, etc.

Further, even when connecting to the same types of systems from the same vendors, every PSIM vendor will put its own stamp on its connectors.

"All claim to do everything for everyone, but some are stronger and deeper in specific areas, like access control, video management, computer aided dispatch," said James Henry, CEO, Henry Bros. Electronics in Fair Lawn, N.J. "Not everyone is exactly the same."

Connection Quality

Integrators also make it clear that not all connections are created equally. Some may be comprehensive, two-way connections that go deeply into the subsystem's functions, so that the PSIM solution can send messages and issue commands to it. Others may be much simpler "handshake" connections, one-way and less functional.

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"For real added value, PSIM solutions must be able to not just accept messages or even offer response templates, but must be able to trigger actions in other systems," said Rubens Costa, global technology manager, security, for Johnson Controls, Milwaukee, Wis.  Another factor is portability of policies and actions: Costa said many large PSIM customers will have dozens of facilities spread out internationally, and want to push policies to these buildings, but also adapt them to local languages and culture.

ClassicPSIM.jpgNot all of these features may be within the control of the PSIM vendor or integrator. "A lot of integrations come down to what's opened up by the application you're integrating to," said Rogers at LANAIR. The depth and features of a connection can rely on what feature sets are detailed by the subsystem vendor's SDK. (For more information, see table above; click to enlarge).

"You don't want to have half an integration," said Rogers, "such as being able to get alarm data out of a Lenel system, but not badge or cardholder information."

The Test Drive

Because of all the complexity surrounding the number, kind, and richness of connectors, nearly every integrator said they visit working PSIM installations to see systems in action.

"Ninety percent of our evaluation is to see it working," said Pierre Trapanese, president and owner of Northland Control Systems Inc., Fremont, Calif., said. "See examples of the system running in the real world," he recommended. "See how the alarm comes up, the look and feel, how the operators respond."

Trapanese looked at one solution that was elegant and easy to use, but the subsystems to which it connected were all brand new. "A lot of our customers have a lot of old, legacy systems," he said. So he saw a system that "wasn't as beautiful, was a little harder to use, but would connect with what I would call a piece of junk," he said.

 "Drilling in behind the pretty web site is usually the struggle," said Rick Woods, senior applications manager in the national accounts group at ADT. ADT, for example, will buy a PSIM system, then test its various connectors. Woods notes all systems will have positives and negative results; having a working relationship with a PSIM vendor enables integrators to provide feedback the vendor may use to address the issues.

Connections also need to be compared to a client's situation: what systems they have today, current needs, and how they anticipate those systems and needs changing. Clients with less focused answers may be better served by a PSIM with a wide range of connectors; those with more defined needs and expectations, or those who work in a vertical industry with well-defined system types, would be better off with a PSIM with experience and connectors specific to it, said Henry.

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"Detailed due diligence on the part of the integrator is needed to tie claims to reality," he said. "The real risk for the integrator is that the end user hears the propaganda. Then the system falls short, and it's the integrator who doesn't get paid," he said.

An Open Platform

The architecture of the PSIM solution--specifically, how open it is and thus how easily it can connect to a variety of systems and/or how easily the integrator can write connections to it via a software development kit (SDK)--is closely related to the connector question for vendors.

"Is it very closed off and proprietary, or does it use more standard technologies, like a web services-based solution that uses XML to open up their infrastructure to where it's possible for the integrator to code integrations to it," said Rogers.

Several integrators mentioned preferences for working with .Net-based platforms, web services and Extensible Markup Language (XML).  "When you get into a more custom programming environment, it becomes harder for the integrator to find developers," said Rogers.

Other integrators, citing the explosion of new security products specifically and technology in general, said they'll be expecting PSIM platforms to manage those connections.

"We're leaning on the manufacturers to do the integration," Vogel said, noting that in tough economic times, integrators are operating with leaner staff and find it challenging to integrate dozens of different specialty products.

The Financial Numbers

For many integrators and their clients, a PSIM vendor's financial health is as key a consideration as its technological capabilities. The financial strength relates to the PSIM vendor's ability to support the platform over the long term--including supporting integration of upgrades and changes of underlying subsystems, devices and sensors as those vendors bring out new versions of their products.

"Our first concern is, how big is this company we're dealing with?" said Woods at ADT. He said ADT looks at the quality and depth of the engineering team, the company's funding, and how many installations and customer references it can offer.

"Are they on life support and need to make the sale to deliver the next round of financing or are they beyond that?" said Trapanese, who works with many Silicon Valley clients. He said one client met with the PSIM vendor's backers to actually discuss putting the software in escrow in the event the vendor failed, a measure that Trapanese says is "pretty common" in the Valley. (There was no escrow agreeement in this instance.)

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The numbers can cut the other way, too: "Price has been a barrier to implementation," said Varco. Customers don't like paying 100 percent when they may need only 20 percent of a PSIM solution's capabilities. (See other story for more on market segmentation.)

Closely related is that customers are asking harder questions about total cost of ownership of the PSIM solutions--not just up front price, but what it will take to keep the system at peak performance over time, said Varco. Part of that discussion centers on forward and backward compatibility of the PSIM with its own upgrades as well as subsystem upgrades and maintenance.

Showing and proving ROI to customers is the number one factor in closing a PSIM sale, Varco said. "Even in a modular sale, every time we propose any security solution to a client, it's competing with some other investment," he said. PSIM vendors prepared to put number to how alarm management, training savings, extending the life of existing systems, getting more from new ones, are better positioned to win the sale.

The PSIM Interface

It's the look-and-feel of the PSIM system--how and what data it presents to operators--that most integrators mention as the next criteria, with ease of use and quick training time directly related to the interface.

All integrators said it's critical to consider the sophistication level of the operators who will interact with the PSIM interface. The more complex the interface, the more training or ability the operators many need, which can be a problem if there's high personnel turnover.

"Some vendors required the operators to use the system one way, and one way only," said Rogers at LANAIR. Others permit operators to customize the interface as they grow more familiar with the system, such as determining where on the monitor they prefer the video window or what level of detail an alarm notification would present.

Related to that is the use of business logic tools and/or templates to help integrators and clients determine responses to alarms and definitions of events. The more flexible these are, the more granular the solution can be about which alarms get escalated and when and appropriate notifications and actions.

Other Considerations

After the four major criteria, integrators mentioned a range of factors that can influence which PSIM vendor they and their clients select. Several integrators noted the increasing influence of IT on decision making.

If the PSIM vendor understands and can address IT's concerns, "a comfort level and a bit of respect falls into the relationship," said Woods. IT's issues typically include whether and how the PSIM solution meets their network security requirements and bandwidth requirements, such as how moving video and graphics-intense images to and from remote locations might affect other network traffic.

Some integrators specialize in particular industries or installations and need PSIM vendors who can support their specific requirements on day one. Because Safeguards' specialty is perimeter intrusion detection, Vogel looked for PSIM vendors with experience in handling very large projects, "large" meaning number of sensors and physical geography of the installation. Experience with industry compliance regulations, such as those for nuclear power plants, is a further plus, he said.

Henry Bros. expects to support CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive) sensors. "This is a specialty in and of itself. I don't see any common PSIMs with rules engines to triangulate that information," said James Henry.

That brings the criteria back to a PSIM solution's architecture and the company's ability to support its existing offering, continue to maintain integrations with new and upgraded versions of subsystems, plus adapt to future technologies and threats.

"Who's good, who has the right platform, who will be in existence five years from now--you really need to triangulate all that," said Henry.



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1 Comment

excellent article. I particularly like the comments made by Mr. Costa. My corporation is facing major challenges with compliance management. Today our top priority is to implement process and procedures across all locations and hour current systems in place does not help it.

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