SP&T News

In pursuit of standards

ONVIF and PSIA — understanding the benefits. A Q&A with industry leaders like Anixter, Genetec, Axis and Bosch

September 28, 2010  By Jennifer Brown

  • Kevin Nixon, Anixter
  • Steve Bocking, Genetec
  • Jason Caissie, RBC
  • Colin Doe, Veridin
  • Willie Kouncar, Verint
  • Bob Moore, Axis Communications
  • Willem Ryan, Bosch Security Systems
  • Brian Keller, Diebold
Two standards groups — Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) — are working to bring the next level of maturity to the access control and IP video side of the security industry.
There are some members common to both camps who see the end goal as bringing greater interoperability to IP video through standardization, something that has been lacking in the industry for years. With integrated security systems becoming more complex, it makes sense that standards evolve. In the IT space standards define markets. However, many companies in the security industry still aren’t paying attention to, or see the need for standards.
 So what are the benefits of having standards in the security industry? What needs to be communicated to make all the players, including sales and marketing professionals, understand is that standards can improve the experience for the end-user and streamline how systems are put together.

There’s also the question of the end user customer — do they understand the difference standards can make to their systems and the bottom line? These are the questions we put to industry experts recently at a roundtable sponsored by Bosch and Anixter. Here’s what they had to say:

SP&T News:
Do you think the customer understands the issue of standards and are they aware of the two groups?

I think for the most part it depends on how educated the customer is about developments in the industry. I think it’s 50-50 out there in terms of how many customers actually know these standards exist let alone care which one is implemented. From our perspective we’re more about finding a performance fit. So I will still write in the functionality we want out of the system and if that’s satisfied by ONVIF or by PSIA that’s fine, it doesn’t really matter.

Doe: As far as ONVIF and PSIA is concerned, we’re sitting on the fence a little at the moment waiting to see where the chips fall after everything is said and done. It looks like another Blu-ray/HD thing to me. It’s been interesting, because to me, adding standards increases customer value and reduces cost. It’s been an interesting learning curve for clients and for integrators over the last five to 10 years. The first part of the industry we saw go onto the network was access control, but that didn’t really bring the kind of issues to the client systems as CCTV does because of the higher bandwidth issues. I tend to find that the larger clients have a better understanding of how the systems are going to interact with their network and how they’re going to use the system compared to the smaller clients that are not as IT driven. So, depending on the size and the client it will depend on how much knowledge they have going into it whether they appreciate what standards can deliver. As an integrator it’s our job to educate the client on what they need. But until the client starts saying this is what they want, none of this is going to gain any traction. I think you’re five to 10 years away before any of this gets any traction. You have legacy products that have to be replaced before it will come forward.


SP&T News:
Where do you think the greater importance is — for access control or video?


Keller: I think it floats between the two. I believe in standards right from installation to product supply and delivery. I’m a big believer in open systems, and in order to have open systems that work on everything you need to have standards so that everything talks and works together and functions together. To me it’s very important to have both access control manufacturers and video manufacturers on board with standards so it can all talk to each other. It’s better for everybody — better for the manufacturer, better for the end user. As an integrator we really push open standards such as the Genetec platforms, the Axis platforms and Verint because they do integrate and work with everybody’s products and for the most part they already have strategic partnerships with Lenel and C-Cure and the other larger access control vendors out there.

SP&T News: IMS Research says this push to standards will make manufacturers more competitive.

Ryan:  I think it depends on who you are in the space. I think it will help manufacturers be able to specialize on what they do best. Once the standards are in place each manufacturer will be able to bring their sweet spot to the market. Whether it’s imaging, or access control, whatever the technology sweet spot it is, it will rise to the top and make it more competitive but at the same time I think that brings better solutions to the market and to the end user because they’re going to get the best of breed in whatever technology form factor they’re looking for.

Moore: ONVIF is still fairly new, it’s only two years in and today there are only about 200 products that are ONVIF compliant. But you’re seeing a rapid increase in the number of products becoming ONVIF compliant and because of that I think you will see greater awareness amongst the end users and integrators and it will be more of an area of differentiation. I think being ONVIF compatible in the future will be more important than it is today.

Kouncar: The customer base that we serve tends to be larger customers. We rarely sell a video-only system, it’s usually integrated with access control or other business systems. Standards are a natural evolution for our industry. I don’t think PSIA vs ONVIF really matters, if we do standardize our industry it will make everything easy for the customer and there will be greater ROI as we focus less on integrating and more on making interesting products for the customer base. You mentioned the focus on standards has mostly been on video. Today it may appear that way but the approach for PSIA from the beginning has been access control, video recorders, and perimeter security because that’s what the founding members are from — that it’s a global system-wide approach that’s needed, it’s not just video — video is a component of the whole equation.
A lot of time is spent on integrations and a lot of effort is spent on integrations which essentially doesn’t add value other than bringing systems together, so if we can standardize that part where it requires less effort from manufacturers, it allows us to focus on adding value to those solutions and on putting resources and investment on areas that make a difference for customers.
For the customers there are a slew of other benefits that will come from standards and for manufacturers it makes us more competitive, but it’s also a double-edged sword for the incumbents like Verint and Axis who manufacture some of the devices. Once you have standards it’s an open field for all the start ups and smaller players because now they don’t have to give you a business case to integrate — they’re already compatible. It’s going to put some pricing pressures on manufacturers which is another benefit for the end user. The most important aspect for the end user is more time invested in delivering value rather than tying everything together.

SP&T News: Steve, Genetec has always promoted the fact that it offers an open platform of products. What do you hope happens as the standards discussion takes place?

Bocking: We’ve been pushing open platform for a long time now. We take each product line and make it compatible to our software and there is a lot of effort that goes into that. What I think is interesting is that we are doing a lot of education with clients because some companies are now saying “we’re open architecture too,” but if you dig a bit, what they are really saying is that they are supportive of ONVIF but it may be two years away. I think that it’s important to educate clients that if they buy a product today, they understand what is truly an open architecture/ONVIF/PSIA system. I spend a lot of time talking about that because for us it’s easier than for some of the other manufacturers who are changing from a closed architecture to an open architecture system. Another interesting trend I’ve seen is a couple of closed architecture manufacturers saying that they are now open architecture and going to be ONVIF on their software side, but if you ask about ONVIF or PSIA on their hardware they are saying, “uh no,” they want to keep their hardware closed. So they want to try and have their cake and eat it too.
It’s important to not use a reference to standards to trick end users — we have to make sure it’s explained.

SP&T News: So it’s a marketing challenge then?

Bocking: Absolutely.

SP&T News: Kevin, for Anixter it must be a challenge because you distribute products on both sides of this.

Nixon: Yes, it would make our job a whole lot easier to have standards. A lot of times when we’re working with end users or with integrators to help design systems, compatibility is a big issue right now and for an end user to utilize the most up-to-date hardware. A new camera may come from Axis or Bosch or whoever the manufacturer is and depending on the software supplier it may not be supported for weeks or many months until updated drivers and support comes out for it. Often it’s our responsibility to make sure everything is compatible. So it would certainly help in system design and deployment if everyone was utilizing  the most up-to-date technology.

SP&T News: How do you view the way the standards bodies are working and whether one will emerge the leader?

Nixon:  When I look at the two bodies, ONVIF really is concentrating on video transport and standardization. Much like if you go back to an analogue system and NTSC you can take a 20-year-old camera and a brand new camera and put them on the same system and they’re going to be compatible. Today you can’t do that with an IP system and I think that’s probably challenging enough for a governing body to keep them busy just with all the new compression technologies and transport technologies that come out. So I don’t see any reason why there can’t be two governing bodies because PSIA is concentrating more on the integration of the software and storage devices and access control. That will probably be expanded into emergency evacuation, emergency call systems, sound and paging, and probably building automation. Really, in the future what you’re probably going to be looking at is Personal Security Information Management (PSIM) — something which will take all those systems and give you a monitoring platform. And until we have standardization, really, you can’t do that because everything is basically a customized system design.

SP&T News: So what will be the biggest benefits of standardization? We talked about greater ease of integration, but what about cost?

Keller: The way I see it is that with standards everything will work right out of the box; you won’t have to re-engineer every job. You know when you plug it in it’s going to work with every job because it will speak the same language. I like that idea because for me, I really like the Bosch domes but at the same time I love the Axis encoders and Verint has the great wireless, so as an end user you get the best of breed of each world if everything talks and works together without having a dedicated engineer sitting in a back room trying to make it work. For the end user it means a reduction in cost because you don’t need to pay someone $100 an hour to engineer the system, and for the installer there’s less frustration because it works. It all talks and communicates and for the manufacturers it will be easier because they will hopefully be able to reduce the costs to us — for example, Genetec has to re-engineer for every camera that comes in.

Doe: Our training costs would be lower as well because we have to train our contractors and technicians on everything we put in. If we can just educate on the standard and not on every product that will be a big savings. If everyone is going to one standard then technically everything should work together. One of my big beefs is that if a manufacturer says it’s going to be ONVIF or PSIA compliant, then every component should really be to one of those standards or you’re really not compliant. ULC is that way — if every component is not part of the standard, it’s not ULC listed.

SP&T News: Willem, Bosch is investing a lot of money into doing this but is it still a long way from being a major selling point for the customer?

Ryan: What we find interesting in talking to customers is that from what they tell us, end users have been asking for a standards for a long time but they never said, “I need a standard and it needs to be ONVIF or PSIA.” They’ve wanted systems to work seemlessly from the get go and it has been the integrator’s job to make that happen by whatever means necessary. We’re saying to make this happen a lot easier we’re going to make a standard for video and access control and make those things easier. We just need to start letting them know it’s available. It comes down to training and time-to-money. The quicker integrators can get it done it will mean cost savings for everyone. We want to shorten that time-to-money ratio so they can do more complex jobs a lot quicker. The more we work together in the industry on this the more we will see understanding of what’s available and what’s ready to be done.

SP&T News: What’s it been like to collaborate on this?

Kouncar: It’s been interesting. In working together nobody is really giving up stuff that is going to give up market share.

Moore: We see it as something that will further drive adoption of the IP market, interest in the market and create larger demand for network video.

SP&T News: Steve, for Genetec, how will it change your business if you no longer have to do all this custom work?

Bocking: There’s a lot of time and effort spent because there is no interoperability standard right now so we see it as giving us an opportunity to focus on different features of the cameras — more user interface stuff instead of back-end integration of the camera.

Kouncar: I do think we have to be careful not to over-market this stuff because standards are not magic. It’s really about how to get all this stuff to talk and the impact that can have on our industry.

SP&T News: Finally, should there ultimately be just one standard?

Bocking: I definitely think there should be just one. For us right now it’s like we have to modify two new brands of protocols. It’s going to be double the effort if there continues to be two. To really lower the cost for the integrator and end user there has to be one or the other. Right now there is the focus on the video transmission and compatibility between the VMS and the edge device. I truly think you need one or the other. It’s like Blu-ray or HD, Beta Max or VHS.

Kouncar: Today there are hundreds, so two is better than a hundred. But I agree with Steve, ideally there would be just one but personally, I’m a big proponent of a dialogue between ONVIF and PSIA to try and see if that’s possible. But there’s more than just logic involved in the context of all of this.

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