With the shift from analog to digital and few managed systems to many, security operations teams are facing new challenges when it comes to managing vast amounts of real-time and archived information, and making sense of it all when important decisions need to be made quickly. Meet big data.

Historically, top systems integrators (SIs) dominated large-scale integration projects that combined multiple safety and security products. These SIs became masters of electronic data interchange between complex systems and could rollout very large integrated systems in just a few years and with a very sizeable check, of course.

Times are changing. Having spent three days on the show floor at the 2013 ISC West Conference, it was clear that integrations and convergence of safety and security technologies were a key theme, and I predict that we’ll see that trend grow sharply over the next three to five years.

For security operations management, there is a big shift to using integrated commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) systems that are lower-cost, faster-to-implement and typically offer more flexibility in terms of vendor support and swapping. Two such examples are (1) physical security information management (PSIM) systems, truly offered by only a handful of companies today, which act as hubs to integrate a variety of systems from access control to video cameras to personal alarms triggered by mobile apps; and (2) groups/clusters of vendors who have pre-existing integrations that can be enabled for new end-users in just hours (not months or years) and provide the ability for both systems to access/interact with the other system’s data – often by use of an Application Programming Interface (API) provided by both vendors – without the need for additional custom work to be performed.

This all makes sense. When assessing a threat and managing an incident, events occur in real-time and data from a number of systems can all be important. If there is an active shooter on a campus for example, it would be helpful to pull up the closest camera, send/receive text and images from people nearby, control access and lockdown procedures and manage dispatched officers all from one central console. When this data can be visualized, consumed and acted-upon jointly, there is less chance of making a mistake when seconds count – lives might even be saved.

PSIM systems today are emerging as the gold standard for providing security dispatchers with the highest level of situational awareness. Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm, expects the market for PSIM systems to grow at a rate of 35 percent between now and 2021, at which time those vendors should be enjoying a $2.8 billion market for those services, according to the firm’s June 2012 report Global Physical Security Information Management Market: A Global Trend Changing the Way Security is Considered.

The lower-cost price points of non-PSIM COTS systems are also enabling smaller and medium-sized security operations teams to enjoy the benefits of an integrated system within their budget constraints. Increasingly, these end user buyers will look to vendors whose systems play nice with others they already use so as to further leverage existing investment and ensure interoperability of key data between those systems. Keep your eyes peeled for many more integration announcements to come throughout the balance of 2013, with a massive surge around the 2013 ASIS Annual Conference that runs September 24-27 this year in Chicago.