As technology has advanced, applications and technology solutions have increasingly been built using open systems. This has made it possible to connect disparate security solutions on a single security management platform easily and cost effectively, writes Neil Cameron, GM, Johnson Controls Systems and Service: South Africa. 
The software that runs this platform is the smart component – it turns data into information, enabling smart decision-making that saves man hours, money and lives, improves response efficiency and effectiveness, and can even shrink the organisation’s environmental footprint.
So how easy is it really to get to this point, what does it cost, and what value can be derived in practical terms by adopting an integrated security strategy? The short answer is that it takes less effort than people think: the investment is quickly earned back in savings, and the value can be experienced almost from day one.
The benefits – multiplied
Singly, security solutions like CCTV, access control, fire and intrusion alarms, deliver limited benefits. If a fire alarm goes off, security staff must physically identify the problem before they can act.
If, however, the CCTV and access control systems are integrated into a single system, staff can visually identify the challenge and take action, sending someone to extinguish the cigarette left burning in the cloakroom, or pressurising zones to contain a blaze, and making use of the access control system to seal off access and determine safe routes for evacuation.
Similarly, if facility equipment like lighting systems and heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) solutions are integrated to the same platform, possibly via a building management system, organisations can refine their building management schedules – via the access control system they know who is working where in the building and at what times, so can switch off lights or air conditioning to intelligently manage energy use and costs.
Open systems today make use of common protocols – OPC, Bacnet, LON works, XML. These are very easily integrated into management/control applications, which can be configured to meet risk and security needs.
The platform
There are a number of security management platforms on the market. Quite often, organisations will integrate their stand-alone security solutions to their smartest, most sophisticated security application – say their access control solution or a building management system. From here, depending on the functionality and capability of the application, they can configure systems to work together to achieve various goals.
The capability of these front end systems or “platform” solutions vary widely. Some will let users do little more than switch off the lights or focus the CCTV camera remotely in a section of the building or perimeter.
Others have multiple interfaces and drivers built in with sophisticated high-end functionality that use intelligent algorithms to prompt decision-making, send alert and ensure processes are completed. They can be configured to do anything from ringing school bells in a certain pattern to restricting access to specific areas or directing employees to be scanned by an X-ray machine based on their profiles and history.
Where it is practical, building an integrated security and facility management solution with good engineering and architecture into the master plan – either at first build or on refurbishment – can deliver more real sustainable benefits for an organisation, a building owner or lessees.
Master plan
The benefits of designing an integrated control and management platform to be included in the construction of a building are myriad – instead of seven different vendors and tradesman (CCTV, access control, air-conditioning) putting in their own wiring and sending in their own support and maintenance teams, users have a single wiring system designed to take the entire load.
This cuts on installation time and costs, maintenance and downtime, improving reliability. In addition, with a single front end, upgrading becomes easier and more cost effective.
The benefits are quantifiable – there’s the energy savings which are becoming vital in South Africa; security staff can be better employed because they can remotely interrogate alarms; and risk for staff, clients and assets is lower because more intelligent decision-making becomes possible with greater access to contextualised information.