Opening up to PSIM for security and building systems integration
Tim Compston, Features Editor at SecurityNewsDesk, sits down with Jay Shields, Managing Director, of Glasgow-headquartered VMS (Visual Management Systems) Ltd to find out his thoughts on all things PSIM.
According to Jay Shields, who has decades of experience in the security and IT industries, the concept of PSIM (Physical Security Information Management) for an integrated system solution has really only developed into what we know today over the past five years or so. He reckons that the key factor that has unlocked things for the better is the widespread adoption of IP: “Since systems went more to IP – and everything has an IP platform – it became apparent that you could communicate across that platform.” He contrasts the ability to bring different elements together now with how things worked in the past: “I remember when it was all done electrically. Basically a lock in a door would be integrated through the system electrically. Integration was all by wires whereas now it is by software with TCP/IP being the common platform,” says Shields.
Asked about what, in his view, makes a good PSIM solution, Shields admits that he is ‘slightly biased’ as the company’s Titan Vision suite, for example, is an open system. Having said this, he believes that the virtues of an ‘open’ approach are widely recognised and reflected in the way the wider market is moving: “The industry is really going towards an open type of system solution because nobody wants to be stuck with a system that they just can’t integrate with.” He draws parallels from the early days of his computer industry experience by recalling IBM’s original token ring: “When you look at all of the proprietary systems that were originally brought out to communicate between computers they all spoke their own language and only to their machines. When TCP/IP appeared with PCs that broke down those restrictive barriers and started giving you a true cross-platform capability,” says Shields.
Open vs proprietary
As we talk, Shields delves deeper into some of the reasons why an ‘open platform’ for PSIM usually makes the most sense: “It [an open platform] means that there are a far wider range of applications that you can run and it is much easier to integrate. We look at video as just another form of data and you can really start linking your data across platforms.” Shields adds that with an open platform, when it comes to upgrading, you are not dependent on whatever a specific manufacturer has on offer: “You can easily move with the development of different systems especially when you are looking at PSIM where you want to integrate video analytics and other third-party systems.”
On the other hand, the problem – Shields emphasises – with ‘proprietary’ is that it serves to ‘lock things down’ and gives control to the manufacturer as opposed to the customer: “When you are stuck with one manufacturer then you can be dictated to. Manufacturers will argue that their system is best – and that you can communicate across platforms using other things – but what they are trying to do to you is basically to tie you down to one source,” concludes Shields.
Not all PSIM solutions are the same
Discussing what is actually meant by PSIM and whether some vendors are mudding the waters by labelling solutions as PSIM which, in reality, are merely souped-up versions of some sort of video management software, Shields is quick to respond: “I think that it is totally confusing, especially when everybody is calling their front-end a PSIM when I don’t think, necessarily, they all are.”
In practice with PSIM, Shields outlines the things that in his experience people typically seek to bring in: “Really the main ones are access control, CCTV and probably the alarm. If the alarm goes off in a building you want a camera to turn around to look at it and you want to connect to somebody that needs that information. That historically has been where PSIM comes in and what we are doing.”
Looking ahead, Shields spotlights the fact that PSIM is becoming more involved in the management side of data and the actual response to that data: “The manager on a site wants to know how many alarms they have and what is causing them. Why are they getting so many false alarms? If the wind was too high on a site – according to data from a ‘WindHog’, for example – then you may need to desensitise the fence.”
Pressed on whether adopting a PSIM solution, as the front-end for so many systems, could potentially lead to ‘information overload’, Shields tells me that the opposite is actually the case. He stresses that the whole point of PSIM ‘is to filter things out for you’: “With PSIM it is about giving you the data that you are really interested in. This can also change with the circumstances, from a windy night to a higher threat level in the area. Is there a group which tends to target a site at a particular time? There are all sorts of things that come in which change ‘dynamically’ so PSIM has got to be able to allow you to factor that in.”
Understanding site dynamics
Given the above, one of the failings of some PSIM deployments that Shields is keen to spotlight relates to the common practice of not allowing the user to alter the settings with, essentially, things left as they are after day one. For Shields this is too much of a straight-jacket: “A better approach is to make the system easy to work with and to allow the operator to tailor it as they learn the system. Also when a new piece of technology comes out – like video analytics – it should be straightforward for them to add this to enhance their system’s performance.”
The reality, laments Shields, is that a large number of people simply set-up a PSIM solution for what they think is the initial problem and do not change it: “How many times have you been somewhere and the camera is still looking at a corridor where they have now built a brick wall so nobody goes into that area anymore?” Shields concludes by reiterating the point that any PSIM solution has to be: “dynamic enough, and flexible enough, to allow for change.”
Rounding things off, the parting message which Shields is keen to leave me with relates to what he views as the biggest element for successful PSIM deployment. Basically it boils down, he says, to understanding your customer. Although this may seem obvious, Shields believes that it is too easily overlooked by providers: “You really need to ask: what are they trying to achieve? What are the site dynamics? How are they going to operate the system? It is really getting to know what they want from a PSIM solution, and what they can link to, and trying to take the human element out to allow the data to give you the answers and to respond to that accordingly. You just bring a human [the operator] in when there is actually a decision to be made.”