The convergence of security and other building technologies offers considerable commercial, operational and environmental benefits. Here, Alistair Enser explains how joining previously separate systems together avoids duplication of effort and increases efficiency, while at the same time providing a far greater level of insight that makes for better decision-making.
Many of Risk Xtra’s regular readers will be familiar with the so-called integrated system, which is typically a standalone entity with interconnectivity, usually via APIs or an interface that allows cause and effect. Convergence, however, is all about harnessing resources: powerfully, effectively and efficiently.
A converged system involves bridging or ‘zipping’ two systems together. This can happen at many levels, such as edge devices sharing commonality, or at an application level where databases are shared rather than linked. A converged system can also operate on a communication level by sharing an IT network.
We already find convergence in buildings. A common application is the use of access control, intruder detection, building management and lighting systems that, for instance, sense room occupancy which allows the more intelligent deployment of resources and provides insights into how a building is actually used (as well as keeping it more secure).
Commercial buildings have changed beyond all recognition over the last decade or so and, with new technology being introduced on an ongoing basis, the process of evolution is far from over. According to Zion Market Research, the global intelligent building market is expected to show a compound annual growth rate of more than 34% between 2017 and 2024.
What, though, is an intelligent building? How do we define it? The Intelligent Building Dictionary defines an intelligent building as ‘a building that integrates technology and process to create a facility that is safer, more comfortable and productive for its occupants and more operationally efficient for its owners.’
This represents a departure from days gone by when every building application had its own isolated infrastructure that used disparate systems, standards and protocols. This resulted in duplication of effort and materials, the necessary co-ordination of multiple cabling infrastructure installations within an overall project plan and a cost overhead to the overall project budget. It also produced a legacy of multiple underlying communications technologies and increased complexity and cost in ongoing facilities management.
By eliminating duplicate technology and adopting a converged approach towards networking, databases and end devices, end users obtain a smaller and more powerful system. This system typically comes at a lower cost, provides increased security and delivers operational savings. It also affords enf users valuable insights into the buildings that the system serves.
Driven by data
A key driver for convergence is the Internet of Things (IoT), which is steadily maturing from the early adopter proof of concept to full-scale roll-outs with increasing numbers of connected devices coming online around the world. Put simply, the IoT describes a situation where items in the physical world, and sensors within or attached to these items, are connected. IDC forecasts that there will be 41.6 billion of these connected devices by 2025.
By harnessing the data and information created by these devices, businesses can improve their level of intelligence and decision-making. We call the insight gained here ‘business intelligence’ or BI.
This covers data, computing and analytics within business operations and offers enterprises an indispensable tool for reducing operational costs. By focusing on high-value, application-specific data and collating, deciphering and presenting it in a way that makes sense, BI helps users make better decisions by showing present and historical data in a business context.
Today, the use of cloud and analytics, and the Big Data that it harnesses, brings far more power to prevention by delivering insights and improved decision-making.
BI-based analytical tools can be used to analyse patterns of behaviour, predict potential outcomes and highlight risks. In a nutshell, having a good analytics engine is as effective as employing significant numbers of monitoring, Health and Safety and facilities management personnel. It simply allows the end user to expand their bandwidth and more accurately determine proactive activities and outcomes.
Features and benefits
Although security technology is already providing these types of tangible business benefit, many users are failing to realise its optimum value. What appears to be missing from a large proportion of design and builds, or even retrofits, is an appreciation of security’s operational potential.
The use of biometrics, analytics and Big Data, when applied responsibly and for good reason, can enhance the reach and productivity of security officers, police officers, Health and Safety and facilities management personnel by saving them time or reducing the manual element of them having to search through hours and hours of recordings and access control transactions and/or other data.
At a device level, the choice of technology specified should be scrutinised and assessed. This is a big challenge. Consider, for example, the uptake of Bluetooth Low Energy (which is great for low power connectivity, but limited in bandwidth) versus Wi-Fi, which has ever-increasing bandwidth, but higher power demands.
Safe and secure
While it’s obviously vital to specify the right security technology, the benefits of convergence can only truly be achieved by using a professional security service provider to implement it. As the old adage goes, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.
End users, therefore, need to work with a provider that’s certified to ISO 27001, compliant with Cyber Essentials, knowledgeable about the General Data Protection Regulation, conversant with hosting and disaster recovery solutions and, just as importantly, takes the time to understand an organisation’s overall business needs and is willing to engage with all relevant stakeholders.
Art of the possible
This is important because planning a converged building services infrastructure involves more than just connecting various systems and building functions. It must include a clear definition of the goals and desired outcomes of doing so. It’s important to not try and ‘boil the ocean’. The focus must be on a system that ‘moves the needle’, creates value and reduces risk.
The impact on all stakeholders should be addressed when designing a system to determine what specific functions or systems share commonality or need to be interconnected. It’s also important to identify who will ‘own’ each specific system and function such that the operation of the new systems can be properly managed and responsibilities assigned appropriately post-implementation. This will avoid any disagreements about who’s responsible for supporting and managing these solutions.
Also, while converged systems can be more powerful, more stable and more flexible than integrated systems, consider that they can also present challenges in identifying the root cause of any issues encountered given the close interoperability of devices across the system. Those that design, install and maintain converged systems need to have the technical expertise necessary to diagnose and fix problems when they emerge.
Although there has been significant progress, there’s still much to do in terms of educating end users about the part security technology can play in creating intelligent buildings.
The adoption of a converged building services infrastructure as an afterthought, an absence of support from a project board, insufficient collaboration between the IT and building systems design teams or the late engagement of IT in the programme are likely to lead to significant issues.
Similarly, any failure to consider corporate IT security policy in light of a converged network environment, and an appropriate regime for application control, will likely lead to problems with acceptance.
Adopting convergence, and achieving a successful outcome, requires commitment, enthusiasm and collaboration from all parties involved. For those prepared to grasp the opportunity by adapting to new practices in systems design, project planning and construction logistics, while investing time, effort, experience and expertise, the results will reward the hard work involved.
It’s therefore perhaps better to consider convergence as a journey rather than a destination, and recognise that we’ve entered a new and exciting world of next generation buildings. Many of the insights security technology provides make it an invaluable part of a converged ecosystem that delivers flexibility, offers tangible commercial and operational benefits, provides occupants with an effective working environment and develops a truly intelligent building that meets the needs of now and the future within a secure environment.
Alistair Enser is CEO at Reliance High-Tech