The emergence and rapid growth of a networked platform for video surveillance has brought the industry to a point where a discussion about standards is essential to determine a course of action. Most recently two groups have emerged, each purporting to be the best forum to establish standards for the digital video surveillance and security industry: ONVIF, the Open Network Video Interface Forum, and PSIA, the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance. They join the already established SIA Standards Committee and its OSIPS (Open Systems Integration and Performance Standards) family of standards (including access control, identity and carrier management, digital video and access points) in proposing to develop product standards that enable interoperability.

Unfortunately, standards are often perceived as promoting a single company or group’s commercial agenda, when in fact they are vital to efficient manufacturing and market development. Standards can enhance and expand market access, help to create new markets and encourage innovation by creating a solid foundation upon which to develop new technologies.


The Categories of Standards

Specifically, a standard is a framework of specifications that can fall into one of three categories: de jure standards, de facto standards and open/living standards.

De jure standards are those approved by a recognized standards organization, such as ISO (International Standards Organization), IEEE (Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) or ANSI (American National Standards Institute). De jure standards are documented and vendor-neutral, and are often given an identification number for precise reference, such as H.264 compliant or 802.11b. The documentation will normally include what the standard is for, its specifications and the compliance criteria, as well as some kind of test suite for determining compliance.

A de facto standard is a technical or other standard that is so dominant in the market that the industry generally follows it as if it were an authorized (i.e. de jure) standard. De facto standards are also generally the property of one or a limited number of companies.

Open or living standards are sufficiently documented to be implemented or verified by a third party but are not as fully recognized as de jure standards. They are in common use and can be implemented freely without payment of any royalty. Open standards do not prohibit extensions, and implementations of open standards may be extended or offered in subset forms; however certification organizations may decline to certify them. Examples of successful open standard implementations include the Ethernet, TCP/IP, HTTP and XML.


The Adoption of Standards

The need to consider the adoption of standards for the digital video surveillance and security industry has been driven, in part, by the maturing of the market as well as by the demands from the end-users and the government segment.

Systems comprised of multi-vendor solutions and a “best of breed” approach offer several significant advantages to the end-user, including quality, performance, design and cost. However, with a multi-vendor system there is the question of who is responsible for full system operation. Further, best of breed solutions can turn into a headache when or if a vendor upgrades the software or a component and it is no longer compliant with the system, or if the vendor is purchased by a manufacturing rival. Alternatively, the manufacturer assures integration of single vendor systems but applications may be limited by what the manufacturer can and cannot offer.

When digital tools are utilized in applications, such as data mining, communication and overall security, the need for a unified set of standards becomes even more critical. Imagine if the computer in accounting could not talk to the computer in marketing; or remember when fax machines first were introduced and not all of them could communicate with each other. Even in our everyday lives, imagine the chaos that would result if we all just arbitrarily used a paper size other than the standard 8 ½” x 11” letter size for daily work, if railway tracks were all different sizes or if small appliances each used different kinds of plugs. Just as standards govern our lives, industry standards can help to harmonize the issues we are seeing now.

Whether they are de facto standards, de jure standards or open standards, the need for some kind of standards-based interoperability is becoming more prevalent in our industry with every new product introduction or solutions-based system. When sensibly and properly applied, standards can be a win-win situation to the benefit of the manufacturer, the reseller and the end-user.