The airplane doors were closing and I was shutting down my Treo when a message popped up that Cisco bought SyPixx, a small video surveillance technology company. During the bumpy ascent, I thought about how the security industry is in store for some turbulence.

The facts have been pouring in for a couple years now. Yet it wasn’t until 2004 that I understood the magnitude of the change uprooting years of tradition in security: In five years, the systems on which nearly all physical security deployments will rely will be software and networking applications sold by information technology companies.

That places the IT industry in a position to influence and even replace giant sectors of the security industry. One example: Hewlett-Packard. With its state-of-art software development; efficient hardware manufacturing of cameras and panels; a global distribution channel; and relationships with executives in every major corporation in the world – the day HP decides to get into the security business, it’s game-over for hundreds of traditional security suppliers.

Cisco is there already. The market-leading network technology vendor just proclaimed physical security to be their next “emerging technology.” In Cisco-speak, that means they expect to earn an extra $1 billion a year from it.

The IT world isn’t going to wait for the physical security vendors to get their act together. Intel, Oracle, Microsoft, Symantec, EMC and many other IT giants are setting their sights on the $120 billion security industry, too.

Collateral benefits for security executives

Just like Cisco’s vision, a security director ought to be able to link disparate camera systems to different keyboards and joysticks, and to manage different access control systems with a single software interface. And while you’re at it, why not coordinate identity and access management with logical and network privileges?

Security executives who organize surveillance, access control, alarm and environmental control over the IT infrastructure reap rewards of faster and more accurate response times, streamlined and less expensive processes, fewer errors and better overall security. In addition, senior executives will appreciate the thorough auditing and compliance to regulations. Overall, security will be more efficient, more effective and more appreciated.

Being appreciated is one of those rare conditions of the security professional. Normally, we are happy not to be noticed, since our work is associated with bad things happening. But the security executive is key to enterprise success when you can actively express value. Software makes it easier to measure and demonstrate that value. Actually, outside of the security department, nearly every other metric in the organization is measured with software and network-based reports. That’s what the business unit managers turn in to the CFO, and what the CFO shows the auditors, and what the auditors discuss with the board. Sales people, middle managers and even manufacturing floor personnel all rely on software and networking applications to do their jobs and to show their effectiveness. It’s only natural that physical security does it too.

Come to think of it, quite a lot of security is managed and measured with software and networking already. IT security protects the intellectual property, data storage, communications lines, personal privacy, research and development systems and productivity tools of a company. Clearly, the “other” security ought to leverage the benefits of software and networking.

And now that Cisco is about to become one of the dominant physical security providers, chief technology officers and chief information officers will exert more influence and oversight of physical security. Fasten your seatbelts, everything is about to change.

Converging from IT Side

Last month, San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems, Inc., said it agreed to acquire SyPixx Networks, Inc. of Connecticut. That firm has network-centric video surveillance software and hardware enabling existing analog video surveillance systems to operate as part of an open IP network. Then, days later, Sun Microsystems said its working with Activ Identity on HSPD-12 physical and network access controls.