In recent years, “cyber” has monopolized most of the serious coverage in the security industry, and rightly so, given the underprepared stance of many government and commercial organizations in the face of persistent “leakage” of information and malicious attacks. Yet too often, the equivalent dialogue around physical security has been disappointingly predictable. The industry fixates on pixel counts and IP versus analog. The more enlightened may debate the benefits of the latest breakthrough technology or an attempt at greater industry cooperation. At this point, insert “video analytics” and “ONVIF interoperability,” or any one of a hundred themes.

Yet there is a debate that isn’t being had: a debate about outcomes and cost-effectiveness, and about pre-emptive over reactive, agility over brute force, proportionate measures versus uniformity. It’s a debate that embraces new technologies yet isn’t enslaved to them. And it’s equally as relevant to a government about to spend millions on a complex and costly border security project as it is to a commercial entity seeking to secure vulnerable sites. It’s a debate that reorients an organization’s security stance to become more adaptable, like that of their adversaries, by shifting the focus to more targeted, distributed and rapidly deployable solutions. But most of all, by equipping the operator – the one tasked with actually identifying and intercepting any threat – to be a more effective part of the response.

So what of industry? Significantly, large electronics and equipment manufacturers dominate. Each is focused on a relatively narrow area. And while some specialists seek to tailor more specific products, these silos persist. They are the focus for innovation, bringing low-light cameras, adaptive video analytics and other developments that enrich capabilities and options. Yet, innovation often micro-optimizes a single component, leaving other capability gaps unresolved and the overall solution suboptimal. Furthermore, security is often deployed via costly, complex projects with the installation of fixed measures and a complex on-site IT infrastructure to process, store and transmit alarms and video.

For buyers, this presents a fairly flat choice between broadly similar alternatives. And conventional security systems offer an inherent sense of confidence. Whether it is seemingly impregnable fencing or megapixel multi-camera surveillance, a typical physical security solution comes with a lot of equipment and a large price tag. For many, the ability to visualize their vulnerable sites in a patchwork of control room screens becomes a proxy for protection. Yet fixed surveillance and security measures are merely a deterrent – and one that may dissuade only the most opportunistic of foes. Those with motive, whether organized criminals, saboteurs or even terrorists, will be more determined.

If this all sounds rather bleak, the alternative is accessible. This is not a petition for adopting new technology. It’s a
wake-up call for exploiting what’s already available in the form of ubiquitous cellular networks, low-power sensor networks, cloud platforms and a plethora of mobile devices. These are technologies that enable more flexible, rapid deployment – and more importantly redeployment – of security measures. They also allow wider access to time-critical alerts and contextual information, beyond the bounds of the control room. Instead of fixed cameras prone to vandalism or evasion, picture a network of covert sensors that are alerted to an intruder before the intruder is even aware of them. Imagine a security response that is able to intercept a persistent adversary, not review the damage once they have gone. Instead of fences and cameras that are routinely avoided, picture a man-portable system that can be repositioned without wiring in, monitoring high-risk areas and gathering intelligence of potential hostile activity. Imagine a security system that expands as required, built on a virtualized cloud platform with mobile apps that don’t require investments in IT or user training.

As in other fields, generic technology approaches can miss the point. Instead, it requires product systems and apps that are designed with a thorough appreciation of operational realities and technological or environment constraints. It relies on smart “edge” devices that detect and transmit alerts and intelligence by exception, working seamlessly with a virtualized application and transmission platform to present information to users – wherever and whenever it is most needed. It relies upon purpose-designed technologies that allow all of the necessary video, alarms and contextual information to be delivered securely, reliably and cost-effectively – in and out of the cloud. The technology is proven, the path to adoption simple, the case for capital and operational cost savings compelling.

So the next time the planners, engineers, consultants and contractors have finished deploying your shiny new security system, when your new cameras are streaming multi-megapixel high-definition video to your state-of-the-art control room, ask yourself how adaptable your new system is to the threats you face. Or instead, ask that question when you start to design and procure your new system.