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What’s IBM up to? Q&A with Steve Russo, director of Big Blue’s physical security technology

The SP&T News team visited IBM’s booth on the ISC West show floor last month. Clearly, the conversation we needed to have with them wasn’t going to get accomplished in five minutes amid the hustle and bustle of a busy conference, so we arranged some phone time with Steve Russo, director of physical security technology, IBM security services.

Russo explained IBM’s goals in the physical security market and how it’s leaning on key partners like Genetec and Axis to earn business and deliver solutions to clients. He also provided some information on Big Blue’s strategy for Canada and what we can expect to see from the IT giant in the coming years.

April 21, 2010  By  Neil Sutton

SP&T News: Can you fill us in on what IBM has been doing in the physical security space in the last 18 months?

Steve Russo: In this business for IBM, we have really been focusing on public sector, public security, city surveillance, city safety, as well as safety in public transportation. We see that we are gaining quite a bit of traction with our solutions in those areas. One of the areas we focus on within our solutions is really moving from a security system that is reactive in nature to be an intelligent system where we can be more proactive. With the roots of IBM being a large information technology company, being able to take information out of what is going on in the world around us and turning it into intelligent and being able to mine that intelligence.

We are concentrating on the intelligence piece. Those are assets that come out of IBM’s research division and have been commercialized through an engineering team. We have created solutions we consider to be highly scalable for city surveillance.

We work with partners in areas like video management where we do not actually perform that function. We rely on partner technology, Genetec being one of those, that will allow us to bring the full solution together. We provide some of our own assets but also work with key partners so we can bring to our client full solutions, whether it is our technology or technology that comes from these partners.


SP&T News: IBM has addressed the physical security market by partnering with companies like Genetec and Axis, but are you going to market with any of your own products?

SR: There are some pieces that are IBM labeled. What we are not doing is rebranding technology that’s not ours in our solutions. We don’t find that to be necessary. So there are components of technology that come from partners, so we use our partners’ branding for those pieces. There are components, such as our intelligence store and the analytics piece, which is ours. There’s an asset management component, which is ours, out of our Tivoli brand. There are middleware components that we have for our database and for highly scalable web application servers and so forth. All of those things are IBM assets and are already branded IBM. There is also new development of components and pieces, some of which I can mention and some of which I cannot yet, which will be branded IBM.

SP&T News: Are you leaning on more of a services play in the security market, leveraging IBM Global Services?

SR: I’m part of IBM Global Services — specifically within Global Services, a group called IBM Security Services. I have a combination of services people, as well as development, engineering and research. Given that this is really a full solution that we are providing, not just middleware components that would be integrated by others, we are doing a lot of that integration. We act not only as a developer and provider of technology, but also as a system integrator.

SP&T News: How are you going to market with Genetec?

SR: We already use them in a number of our clients today as video management. The base video management we don’t do, we rely on partner capabilities. We’re not exclusive to Genetec. There are other packages we support, but we have brought them into a number of large city deals and we intend to continue the relationship with them. We have just released a tighter integration where we can feed into the Genetec alarm inbox and a number of other aspects to create tighter integration between the two. They will continue to be a strategic partner for us.

SP&T News: How is IBM trying to market itself and get its name more associated with physical security?

SR: In a few different ways. In public sector, we have a number of activities that are underway. We have a larger campaign going called Smarter Planet. Within Smarter Planet is a campaign called Smarter Cities, and within that, Secure Cities. That is one of the focus areas where we are marketing our capabilities. Also through other shows like ISC West as well as some conferences that we are hosting for our key clients to show the value that we are bringing to the table.

SP&T News:
With physical security becoming more dependent on IT, does that give IBM an advantage, having such a long history with IT?

SR: Yes, we do think so. I’m sure you hear this all the time: this idea of convergence, and what does it mean? One area is, we provide both logical and physical solutions. Now that the physical security realm is moving more and more to an IP base, which opens the door to a number of exposures relative to intrusion, viruses, other types of malware. Providing the solutions and the components which allow us to protect the physical infrastructure with is now IP-based.

The other area is in the ability to do large-scale information processing. At the core of our physical security solutions is the Intelligence Store (which) allows us to collect information literally about millions and millions of events that happen on a daily basis, and be able to integrate that with other types of IT or transactional information. One of our solutions is what we call the crime information warehouse, which is a repository of information about various criminals, suspects, people that are known to be on watch lists, their associates and so forth. A whole lot of information gets correlated together so that law enforcement can have an understanding of not just a particular person but all their associations, places they have lived and so forth. Now we are combining that with the visual aspects through our smart surveillance that allows us to bring together the IT world with events that are happening in the real world around us. We take information out of that video and turn it into intelligence.

SP&T News: Do you have a particular strategy for addressing the Canadian market?

SR: The market in Canada, for us, is just starting to grow and gel. Given that IBM is fairly new to the physical security business — we’ve actually been in the business for almost 10 years, but doing basic integration. In the last five years, we have started release these assets that we consider to be key differentiators in information management and so forth. So with that, we have been focusing on key areas where we have skilled expertise so we can deliver on these promises. In Canada, the skill base has been limited. We are now expanding that and providing key quota to grow in Canada. It’s a growth area that we are now just venturing into this year.

SP&T News: Where do you see IBM trying to position itself in the next few years?

SR: We’ve already got a number of large cities which we are in production in or deploying to. We expect to grow very heavily in North America and in Latin and South America as well as Europe. We are doing some work in Asia — we do have some production clients there — but we are doing this in a controlled way. The motto that I use is that we are looking to make the cities safer and we’re doing it city by city as we’re moving forward. We intend to have more robust solutions and grow into full capabilities around our control centre and asset management. Really to move towards more prepackaged solutions where we can limit the amount of custom integration, so we can move from very large cities, where we are today, to medium- and small size cities.

SP&T News: Are you still marketing a product called S3?

SR: Its name has changed. The core of that is the knowledge store that I mentioned. So absolutely we are. It is a critical piece of our solution portfolio. I wouldn’t say it is a business unto itself because it does get combined with these other assets, but we have changed the name, but yes, that is at the core. It has been productionized. It is highly scalable.

SP&T News: What is IBM’s position on the two competing standards that are emerging for surveillance?

SR: We are members of the PSIA, which is one of them — ONVIF being the other. We are trying to participate with both of them and understand the direction they are going toward. The industry overall is seriously lacking in standards. Our opinion today is that they don’t really compete. Many of the vendors are on both. We feel that we need to watch both of them closely. They have very different focus areas. In ONVIF, camera manufacturers are the core start of what is being done there, and their focus is standardization of data that is coming out. I would say they would have some overlap on PSIA and that is also looking at interoperability of systems. We are currently members of the one and watching both. The only reason we’re not on ONVIF today is we have some concerns with the wording for IP (intellectual property) and ownership of IP, which we’re working through.

Each of the standards organizations has legal terms and agreements for ownership and so forth. We need to look at those closely so, honestly, we’re not giving away key competitive secrets. But we feel that the industry overall has to move towards more standardized definitions for meta data and for interoperability with other systems. We are very much focused on trying to contribute as much as we can to those efforts.

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