Don’t Think ‘Cloud’; Think ‘Services’
The cloud has had something of a mixed journey across a number of different sectors, especially in terms of site protection, safety and security. Some integrators and users willingly embrace what it offers while others are more conservative when it comes to accepting what it can deliver. Suitability for cloud-based services is often the big differentiator for users and those providing solutions, but in the smart systems market opinion generally leans towards increased use of the technology. Benchmark considers the benefits of the cloud in service-based applications.
The cloud is fairly accurate as a description of the potential on offer in terms of service-based options. For those who are biased towards service delivery, it is a defined but remote location which can be common to many users, an off-site space that is discrete from the everyday working environment, but which can be accessed at will to deliver common services without a need for costly dedicated hardware and software. Flexible, scalable and efficient, it makes the delivery of smart solutions a simpler task.
For those not so keen on offering services, the cloud is argued to also be a fitting name: fluffy, fragile, difficult to define and potentially out of their control.
An argument could be made for either stance, and as usual there is some truth in both sides of the argument. What makes things even more complex is that not all cloud services are the same, nor do they intend to carry any similarities. This means integrators and their end user customers have to carefully investigate and understand the service offering and terms of service for each provider they might deal with.
Cloud services can be diverse and many bear little or no relation to others. All that can be inferred when the ‘cloud’ tag is attached to an offering is that third party hardware and software will be used to deliver all, or some element, of the procured services.
While the term ‘cloud’ is ubiquitous in today’s technological landscape, it makes little sense to reference it when selling smart solutions. After all, if a device is hard-wired it wouldn’t be presented as a ‘copper detector’ or a ‘cable door entry reader’.
The cloud, in itself, is not what’s being sold. The services delivered from the cloud-based infrastructure are what the customer will invest in. These services will add benefits to their system, increase the efficiency of their security (as well as other business procedures) and enhance the return on investment while lowering the total cost of ownership. It is the services which create efficiencies for the customer’s business or organisation.
Services can include (but are not limited to) management of systems and devices, configurations and adjustments of solutions, user interface and operational control, reviews and searches of captured and/or live data, access to audit logs, delivery of advanced services such as analysis and reporting, data sharing and archiving, local and remote connectivity, software provision and management, cybersecurity, etc..
Licensing models vary from provider to provider, as do device capacity, functionality and terms of service. In the security market, there are a number of independent service providers, but the majority of service-based offerings come from manufacturers who are able to expand the functionality of new and legacy systems and add intelligent features. The good news for the integrator is much of the complex set-up is done by the manufacturer. The devices seamlessly link with the services.
Although we’ve said to think in terms of services rather than the cloud, it must be mentioned that the cloud as a vehicle has many positives. Cloud connectivity allows the offering of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This model is based upon the use of software in the cloud, based upon a subscription fee. What is interesting with SaaS is that the offerings have generally evolved from being a could-based server hosting the software, meaning users had to log in to use it, to more of a licencing and management role, allowing users to download off-line variants of the software.
Issues of downtime due to a lack of connectivity are eliminated, and as more users are mobile with a wider variety of infrastructure being used, issues relating to infrastructure are reduced.
With the increased interest in smart buildings and IoT, cloud-based services add value and embrace technologies such as data push, unified control (both local and remote), data sharing, real-time reporting, etc.. In some cases, the services can also replicate those offered by local hardware. This can add value if satellite sites need limited protection.
However, these services should not be considered as an alternative to local systems where the functionality and capacity of a hardware-based system is needed. Users will still invest in localised smart systems to achieve specific goals such as site security, safety, video recording and management, etc.. The addition of supplementary services simply makes the solution more flexible, easier to manage, and capable of offering subscription-based added value without requiring a significant capital outlay or time and resources dedicated to installing and maintaining additional software and/or hardware.
Increasingly, smart systems are not only protecting and managing premises, but are used to collect business intelligence data, such as people counting, heat mapping and footfall analysis. The user will not want to allow other departments to interrogate the core system, and this is where add-on services can make sense.
The services can be used to generate reports that add value for the end user, but which don’t always have the same degree of urgency as security- and safety-based tasks. Most facilities managers won’t want their marketing department accessing the core system just to access a footfall report, for example, but a service-based add-on can push that information to the relevant department without any impact on the main system.
Data collected by the system can be processed and delivered in a report format. Because the reports are delivered via the cloud, staff can view and interrogate the data without having to interact with the core system.
The delivery of services – whether SaaS or simply adding functionality and smart features to solutions – will become a more important part of the industry moving forwards, and users will expect such provision. Service offerings are improving, and as such service-based off-site solutions remain a sector to watch!