Can PSIM deliver value?

Ever since the term ‘PSIM’ was first coined in the security and site management sector, the biggest debate amongst those offering the technology has centred around what it actually means. It could be argued that more emphasis has been placed upon ‘owning’ the term rather than marketing the true value-added benefits of these solutions. Benchmark asks whether PSIM can deliver real-world solutions to installers and integrators.

PSIM – physical security information management – is something of a grey area for many. Indeed, when PSIM was first highlighted as an ‘emerging technology’ by research companies, many attempted to find out a bit more about what it offered. More often than not they found little more than long and complex debates between the companies offering the packages. Typically these debates – many of which still continue today – were focussed on discussing what PSIM is, and what it’s not!

At times the debate was fierce, and on occasions it became personal. Often, if you read between the lines, it appeared that the companies were trying to imply that they, and they alone, offered PSIM, and the competition did not. For end users looking to better understand what PSIM could offer them, the whole debate about what constituted ‘true PSIM’ was actually a little distracting! It didn’t really ‘sell’ it as a complete technology!

There was another issue that PSIM faced, and that was the perception that the packages were only suited to metropolitan-wide systems. This thinking was generally created due to the way in which many PSIM providers marketed their solutions. For example, if you saw a PSIM demonstration at a security event or exhibition, it would inevitably involve a map of a town, with ‘disaster’ scenarios including taking control of transportaion links, critical infrastructure and even the emergency services. This, coupled with media streams and communications management across a wide range of public bodies – including local (and at times national) government – made the whole concept of PSIM seem unsuitable for the vast majority of typical sites.

Even talking to those tasked with selling PSIM could end up in frustration. It was almost as if they were involved in a competition to try and list as many possible uses for which the technology could be deployed. It was so open-ended that the actual benefits of what was on offer to an individual installer or integrator, or for that matter an end user, were lost in a sea of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’.

A negative option?
Whilst much of what has thus far been said might create a negative impression of the whole PSIM market, it has to be said that the sector is maturing, although nowhere near as quickly as was originally projected.

As with many technological advances, and especially those that are software-based and therefore offer an inherent degree of flexibility, the real-world benefits can easily become obscured by technobabble and hyperbole.

Too much emphasis is placed upon how the software packages achieve what they achieve, while somewhat skirting over the specifics of what they do. Blanket expressions about functionality, such as the often quoted ‘threat correlation’ and ‘situational awareness’, replace a clear explanation of how the packages will actually work for any given business or organisation. Unfortunately, this often can mean that end users who would have an interest in the solution miss the detail of what it can achieve for them!

PSIM isn’t alone in this respect; the problem is a common one where a technology is developed because certain functions can be realised, rather than being developed in response to specific market demands.

A lack of demand does not mean that the technology doesn’t serve a purpose. Often, advanced solutions are not demanded simply because users aren’t aware of the possibilities. In truth, this situation hasn’t been helped by the previously mentioned issues either.

In 2010, one of the large research companies predicted the PSIM market would be worth $200 million in licence fees by 2014, and if ‘services, maintenance, design and consulting revenues’ were added, projected a figure of $1 billion. However, a few years after the report was greeted with great enthusiasm by the PSIM providers, the researchers reported lower levels of growth than expected, and stated that ‘limited awareness’ was ‘the greatest inhibitor of market growth’. They added that ‘confusion over the definition of PSIM and, more importantly, what it does, remains a key limitation to faster growth’.

PSIM does offer benefits; the challenge for installers and integrators is to select the right partner in order to apply these to real-world applications!

There are two final points about the way in which PSIM solutions are marketed and implemented which are worth considering. The first is that some companies with a more security-centric approach are trying to drop the ‘PSIM’ tag. They claim that the perceptions of the industry and users don’t really correlate with what they are offering.

Although referencing ‘complete security management’ isn’t a million miles from PSIM, this slight change does remove a number of the associated pre-conceptions.

Also, while many PSIM manufacturers are quick to point out the depth of disciplines that PSIM can address, many users that Benchmark has spoken to prefer to reserve the software for control of security systems only. Many reject the argument that a fully integrated site management tool would be more beneficial, instead treating security as a discrete element from their business management controls.

Gaining benefits
PSIM is an over-arching software that brings together a number of disparate solutions, to give one unified point of control. Despite the reference to physical security in the acronym, the software offers a wider range of operations, and can often be used to control a diverse number of critical and social systems, right up to elements of public infrastructure.

Whilst such solutions are often cited to demonstrate the flexibility on offer, the reality is that PSIM solutions can also be used for a number of other less complex applications. As already mentioned, many users prefer to reserve the packages for use as a security control interface.

Whilst the marketing materials for PSIM packages often discuss managing thousands of video feeds, thousands of doors, tens of thousands of users, alarm management and a whole host of other actual security tasks, the software itself typically relies on other systems – VMS, access control systems, intruder alarm and management systems, etc. – to handle the actual security elements. What PSIM does is effectively integrate with those various systems to provide a single point of control and management.

The significant elements of a PSIM solution allow the collection and management of data from diverse systems. This data can be shared to enhance decision-making processes, and workflows can be introduced to ensure the verification and validation of processes. This latter element can be of assistance where compliance is a significant issue for end users.

Whilst the main focus is on situations that are risk-related, the software can also be used on a daily basis for general management purposes.

With the required – and typically bespoke – elements in place, the software can then streamline incident handling by presenting a defined workflow for any necessary actions, and can deliver accurate real-time reporting to assist any incident management. Because of the bespoke elements of workflow creation, most PSIM providers will work directly with the end user to ensure that this element of the system is correctly implemented.

Workflow is an important differentiator when considering PSIM against other software-based security solutions. This allows individual businesses to create a series of checks and validations which must be followed by operators, and which can also form the basis of compliance and regulatory reporting.

In the past, when PSIM was compared to VMS (video management systems) and other general security management software, the PSIM providers were quick to point out that significant differences existed between these solutions and PSIM offerings. The main difference came down to workflow management and reporting.

VMS and CMS offerings are increasingly becoming more advanced, and now provide high levels of integration with a variety of systems outside of the video and core security arenas, including the world of business intelligence. Some even often basic workflow management. Often much of the functionality will be handled within the VMS or CMS.

PSIM differs, in that it controls other systems rather than replicating their functions. In effect, PSIM will allow disparate VMS and CMS systems to be brought together, along with traditional security systems and site management tools. It can also provide the bridge between man and machine on sites, as well as allowing for a single interface, no matter where the various system elements are geographically located.

In summary
In order to fully appreciate the strengths of PSIM, the first task is to strip away much of the marketing speak and get to grips with what the software will add to a complete security solution. Some refer to PSIM as the glue which binds fragmented systems together, whilst others claim it is a tool for ensuring compliance and high level reporting. As a greater understanding of what is on offer is gained, so the potential for such software becomes more obvious. As with any solution, the trick is to balance a site’s requirements and expectations with what a specific PSIM product can realistically provide at an affordable price.

What PSIM does deliver is an ability to bring together systems, to collate and manage data, and to share the results with other systems to enhance their overall performance.

The systems dedicated to specific tasks are still required; however, the data they capture, and the results of processing that data, can be shared and centrally controlled, thus providing an important and pivotal overview of a complete solution, whether that be a single complex site or distributed sites over a wider geographical area.

In short, PSIM can be the element that turns systems into solutions.

BENCHMARK
Benchmark is the industry's only publication for installers and integrators which is dedicated to technological innovation and the design and implementation of smarter solutions. With an unrivalled level of experience in technology-based systems, Benchmark delivers independent and credible editorial content.

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