Unified security systems promise more control and flexibility over different solutions, offering more benefits than integrated security systems.
Integrated security systems have become popular after the arrival of IP-based surveillance cameras, access control systems, alarms, and related devices. Integration has revolutionized security management, providing operators unprecedented control, situational awareness, and flexibility to protect a place.
But integration is often not easy, especially when you use solutions from different brands. Although companies have come to agree on several standard protocols over the years, ensuring seamless operation round the clock is a challenge.
Now there is something that offers more than all this – unified security systems.
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What is a unified security system?
A unified security system is where all components use shared core building blocks, such as maps, schedules, users, and privileges. A single user interface allows access to data captured from all connected systems like video surveillance, access control, license plate recognition, alarms, intercoms, etc.
According to Jean-Pierre Picard, Product Marketing Manager at Genetec, the result of such a setup is a security solution that not only looks like a single system but one that also preserves the ability to also bring applications and sensors from multiple solution providers onto the unified platform. Unification provides everything security personnel need within a single UI to help them effectively and efficiently protect people and assets.
"I think the easiest example is to look at what happens if you're starting with the video management system as your foundation," Picard explained. "There are a lot of video management systems that can integrate data from video surveillance, access control, and several other systems. But at the core, they remain a video management system. They were built around video management activities, investigations of video footage, keeping bookmarks to find relevant footage, recording, rewinding, and fast-forwarding. But something like an access control system is built around very separate activities."
Unification is a starting point where the platform itself is not built around specific product categories but around the common security activities. This helps find a common way to offer a user experience that meets all the needs of the different types of investigations.
6 advantages of unified security systems
Unified systems can collect information from different security solutions and analyze the information as a single data set/stream for a seamless alarm management process. Certain factors make this more advantageous than integrated systems.
Single user interface for operators
Unified security systems provide a single interface that operators and system administrators need to interact with. In traditional integrated systems, an operator has to toggle between windows to access data from different solutions. This could lead to the operator missing important events. With a single interface, unified systems eliminate any such issue.
Speeds up response time
When it comes to after-event investigations, an integrated system requires security personnel to go back and forth between two or more separate systems to find the incident. Then, they have to align the data in the systems by correlating time stamps. If the systems are out of sync, the task becomes that much more difficult.
"But, with a unified platform, searching for an event or incident is done in one place," Picard explains. "This greatly simplifies and speeds up the process because video, access control, communication, and other sensor data can all be found together. All the data in the platform is also bookmarked in time, which makes it easy for personnel to find and view the evidence relevant to the investigation."
Reduces training time
Using unified security systems decreases the number of solutions that operators need to get trained on. There are two advantages to this. First, operators can concentrate all their energy and efforts to become proficient in one system. Second, this reduces the costs that customers would otherwise incur in training their employees.
Fewer false alarms
False alarms are a significant concern that plagues security customers, despite all the technical developments. Rick Focke, Director of Product Management for Access Control Solutions at Johnson Controls, points out that since unified solutions share the same backend interface and are natively integrated at a deep engineering level, the system can accurately filter alarm information. This can help determine the appropriate level of notifications, priorities, and even if the event should be escalated to a specific operator for a response.
Reduces total cost of ownership (TCO)
A combination of the factors mentioned above should reduce the total cost of ownership for the customers. Picard points out that deploying a unified platform reduces TCO because organizations do not have to pay for multiple, disparate systems separately. And with a single point of contact for support, issues are resolved faster, with no time spent trying to identify which vendor needs to act.
Better business intelligence insights
A unified system allows operators to access data from different systems in one place. From a business intelligence perspective, this means that operators can easily compare patterns across solutions.
"A unified platform makes it easy to compare trends and patterns across multiple systems, with common visualization tools that simplify exploration," Picard pointed out. "By making connections and presenting the results in a readable format, analytics transforms the data into actionable intelligence that can be shared with stakeholders outside the security department and across an organization."
Limitations of unified security systems
While unified systems offer a high level of convenience for customers, an integrated system is sometimes more appropriate for end users looking for a high level of flexibility in their choice. This is especially the case if a unified system forces customers to use solutions from a specific vendor alone.
"Often video systems are updated more frequently than access control systems, so timing can also be a factor in the decision to adopt a unified or integrated system approach," Focke said. "In many cases today, the line between unified systems is getting blurred in that many third-party integrations feature in-depth functionalities."
For example, some systems can offer advanced alarm management workflows, advanced alarm analytics, or specialized features such as clip management to store video clips associated with alarms onto a separate server for longer than the traditional 60–90-day storage period.
Operators can often manage the day-to-day camera operations using the management platform. However, they might still have to switch to the specific vendor camera management tool for other administrative updates.
Despite the limitations, operators can achieve greater control over solutions when they are unified. As the industry moves ahead, there may be more interest in this because it improves efficiency and lowers cost.