It is true to say that technological innovation has always been the lifeblood of the security industry. When much of what we did was hardware-based, changes due to innovation were slow, but were also at times significant in their scope. This made them headline grabbing on many occasions. In today’s market, a more software-based approach means that innovations are more frequent and less spectacular. However, they are still vital to our future.
Recently the finalists for the 2016 Benchmark Innovation Awards were announced. It is, for me, always a time of year when the industry can take pride in what it has achieved. The shortlists do take time to create, and on occasions spark fierce debate about which technologies and services deserve recognition.
There is a slight concern that deciding the finalists always raises, and it stems from that moment when we realise that something significant has been achieved by a manufacturer, but that the impact of it has somehow gone under the radar.
Going back a few years, when many security solutions were hardware-based, it was hard to miss innovation. When manufacturers created a product, it involved long R&D cycles, followed by sourcing and testing of components, tooling and production runs. Once a product was launched, certain changes could not be made. Firmware could be updated, but adding or altering component parts often required an entirely new product.
Product updates happened every 12 months if you were lucky, or sometimes this became 24 months. Launches tended to be in annual cycles to fit in with local exhibitions.
This often meant that the incubation period for a new version of a product might be up to two or three years! If you consider what was cutting edge three years ago, you soon see that the difference between a Version 1 and Version 2 product could be significant.
Indeed, often a single upgrade would result in a radically different product. Installers and integrators were aware of all relevant changes, because manufacturers took very obvious steps forwards.
Also, the innovators stood out like sore thumbs. Their products would have a 12 month lead on the rest of the market. Innovation was obvious and it was appreciated because the industry highlighted and celebrated the developments.
Today’s security sector is undoubtedly more innovative than ever before. However, much of that innovation is on-going and happens quickly. Because many systems and solutions are software based, a manufacturer can offer a Version 1 product on a Monday and be delivering a Version 2 product later that week. Software changes are fast to implement and easy to distribute.
Some manufacturers are well known for offering regular firmware updates. In some cases these are little more than bug fixes and are indicative of a product being launched before it is market-ready rather than of the manufacturer having an active R&D team.
However, for a wide variety of reasons, they can make significant changes to how a product works. For example, one VMS supplier told me recently that they often add or customise software features for specific projects in response to end user needs. These features and functions then might be included in future releases or upgrades, but because the marketing collateral has already been created, it’s not flagged up to installers and integrators.
Some security engineers will enquire about whether certain functionality is possible only to find out that it’s already included!
Initiatives like the Benchmark Innovation Awards not only serve to recognise those manufacturers who invest resources in R&D, but can also serve as a reminder to installers and integrators of what is possible with today’s advanced solutions.