In this column last year, I cautioned readers about compatibility challenges when selecting video integration with an existing or propose access control system. This year, there appears to be more challenges as there are more choices. My take on the ever increasing offerings in IP video hardware and software for 2010 is: you should still be careful with your convergence; however, the industry continues to respond to non-compatibility issues via new product offerings.

My preferences still lean to open source video and card access hardware, software and storage appliances. Those preferences are based on the network and server capabilities and topologies at my disposal. I also have server and network administrator support for security technology solutions that aren’t available to all decision makers in the enterprise. Open source makes sense for me as I’m fortunate to have a team of network administrators, software developers and server administrators available to me at no cost. It would be foolish not to leverage those resources for access control, alarm monitoring, and IP video. However, this was not always the case.

When I entered the world of enterprise security approximately 20 years ago, my responsibilities included traditional burglar, fire, radio, wire line (telephone) and security video systems. There was a short list of enterprise level vendors and I worked directly with manufacturer representatives. The technology didn’t exist to leverage information technology personnel and even if it had been available, network infrastructure and mainframe server administrators had their attentions focused elsewhere.

My closest colleagues will be surprised to read that I still regard proprietary systems as safe choices and, for some applications and certainly for select colleagues throughout the enterprise, virtually a sole source choice. There is safety in proprietary access control and video systems and there is safety in open source access control and video systems. How can they both be safe? Open source has safety in that there is a significant reduction in system obsolescence. Proprietary systems offer safety in that the numerous components that comprise an access control system – and please recall that I regard video as a standard component in such systems – will work together. Many proprietary offerings use fewer field hardware components, for example, card readers may contain components that comprise independent circuitry in a more open source solution. You will become reliant on one vendor or integrator for service and expansion, but that may be your best choice for your circumstances.

I am cognizant of my habit of emphasizing that there are no “one size fits all” security technology solutions and a mantra of back to basics physical security. I say this as I am consistently reminded of this stark reality on a daily basis at the office. I briefly mentioned fire alarm systems earlier in this column. I no longer have responsibilities for selecting fire alarm systems; however, when I did, I was adamant on the philosophy of a proprietary, sole source solution for my institution. That philosophy promptly changed when my responsibilities no longer encompassed every aspect of life safety and security technology. Years later, circumstances indicated that I was right to demand sole source, proprietary fire alarm systems for my environment.

I’m not claiming to be able to predict, the future technology needs in the security and life safety field. There have been times, in hindsight, when I wished some of my hard fought proposals and purchases had been denied. In the case of a proprietary fire alarm system, if I had “won” my battle, I could perhaps be hailed as a remarkable visionary... Not for fire alarm system selections, but to fill a current need to notify my department’s customers via a central announcing system of impending and current emergencies – my proprietary selection had that capability. That said, in my case, luck would have it that when circumstances mandated mass notification systems, my institution had already embraced VoIP telephone and other recent technologies that could perform mass notification functions and incorporate existing legacy fire alarm and public address systems.

I’ve noticed, as have most of us, a sharp increase in “cold calls” that we receive from security vendors and system manufacturers offering a magic solution to the current hot buttons in our profession. I’ve decided to take more of those calls this year and I was surprised to find that a few extra minutes spent, listening, asking the hard questions, and when appropriate, demanding proof. If nothing else, they spawned some new concepts for discussion and consideration with my colleagues. As I often repeat, we can (and should) remain grounded in the basic principles of our profession, with this addition: while maintaining an appreciation for the worth of a few hours spent attending new product demonstrations; maintaining an open mind for a future filled with improved compatibility and exciting new product concepts and offerings, and asking...pushing for more.

The changes in our economy and the new challenges we face each day need not sway beliefs in traditional physical security practices. I again maintain that the basics of our field still can and should be applied to what we’re facing today. It’s all right to be conservative and cautious, but it’s not all right to close the door to new technologies, new solutions – there are too many good choices available to disregard.