Home System Design PSIM: A controlling element

PSIM: A controlling element

by Benchmark

In recent years, PSIM has become one of the most widely debated topics. However, much of the debate has been between industry figures, and has revolved around what PSIM actually is, and how it is defined! What is more important to those seeking to specify or purchase solutions is how well the PSIM approach translates into real-world benefits. Benchmark considers the potential on offer.

PSIM – physical security information management – is the term used to identify the 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 the infrastructure for a metropolitan area. Whilst such solutions are often cited to demonstrate the flexibility on offer, the reality is that PSIM solutions can be used for a number of other less complex applications.

The significant elements of a PSIM solution allow the integration of diverse systems, the sharing of data to enhance decision-making processes, the verification and validation of processes, and the delivery of full awareness of all aspects of a situation as it develops. Whilst the main focus is on situations that are risk-related, the software can also be used on a daily basis for management purposes. With these 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.

Often, PSIM is compared to VMS (video management systems) software. Whilst VM offerings are increasingly becoming more advanced, and now provide high level integration with a variety of systems outside of the video arena – including many that are related to other site management tasks beyond security – the core functionality on offer includes required tasks such as recording, video analysis, tracking, etc.. PSIM differs, in that it controls other systems rather than replicating their functions.

The strength of PSIM is its 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 is what turns systems into solutions.

Seamless control

When Millennium Bank in Portugal decided to realign its security operations, it faced something of a challenge. The financial institution has over 800 branches, along with a number of other buildings, and many of these utilised legacy systems of various specifications. To remotely monitor these systems, and to utilise captured data in an efficient and cost-effective way, was a challenge in itself. However, on top of this it was vital to also ensure that the provisions taken would address evolving threats, both at the present time and in the future.

Many of the systems used by the Bank were in place and fully functional. The next step was to bring them all under the control of one centralised security centre, thus providing the seamless delivery of real-time information. This would allow efficiencies to be realised, whilst also enhancing the level of protection on offer. It was a case of designing a situational awareness solution that could accommodate all, or most, of the Bank’s previous security investments.

The Bank decided that the solution would need to be used on the corporate network, and be linked to over 800 branches and other buildings. The solution needed to be integrated with a host of systems including video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection, fire detection and other alarm systems. It was also necessary to interface with the Bank’s IP-based telephony solution, as well as SMS and email gateways.

The decision to create the unified solution followed on from a Europe-wide access control implementation by the Bank. The concept was to link this with existing video surveillance and alarm-based systems. The immediate goals were to increase the efficiency and the effectiveness of monitoring and response services whilst reducing operational costs, and to create an alignment of procedures for various security operations.

During the project, the Millennium Security Room was created. This main control room can monitor events from all branches and buildings in Portugal. However, future planning also meant that the control room had to be able to offer redundancy. Millennium Bank wanted the option to make the system globally supported by a set of control rooms that could operate in redundancy mode, and would be able to manage security events for several of the group’s financial operations outside of Portugal.

At the core

Once the criteria for the solution were established, the next stage was to identify a solution that could effectively achieve the goals. After a consultation process, the Bank settled on the Situator from Nice Systems.

The implementation of the Situator-based solution meant that all of the remote sites could be managed from the control room, which was staffed by just four operators and one supervisor. Each operator workstation includes three monitors. The first shows video footage including flagged events, access control transactions and alarm activation data. The second stream provides a pre-defined workflow, ensuring that the operator follows procedures accurately if an incident requires intervention or investigation. The final screen shows geographical information, allowing the operator to have an immediate understanding of the layout and facilities at any given site.

One of the impacts of the new unified solution is that despite the control room handling more data, the number of actionable incidents has actually decreased. For example, the new system handles over seven times as many system notifications as the previous set-up, but thanks to the integration of video and situational awareness, there are eight times fewer events that are classed as actionable. More significantly, the number of patrol or police responses to false alarms has been cut by nearly 73 per cent!

The system enables the Bank to evaluate all incidents and to identify spurious events generated by hardware faults, communications failures, maintenance issues, staff error, etc.. The reports from these incidents also allow any deviations from process to be actioned by region, city or specific branch. Additionally, Bank management can ascertain that any responses to incidents have full compliance with established rules and standards. The gathered information has also been used to further improve procedures, resulting in significant cost savings. Indeed, the Bank has identified that its monitoring and response costs have been reduced by 30 per cent per year.

Whilst the unified solution approach has ensured that the Millennium Bank enjoys higher degrees of security, enhanced compliance with its processes and procedures, and reduced costs relating to monitoring and incident response, it has also been able to implement the project without any significant loss of its previous investments in security systems.

The Bank retained its existing access control and video surveillance systems. The only change required was that some of the intruder alarm control panels at branches needed to be upgraded to newer digital models. However, the cost of this was insignificant given the many benefits that the new approach delivered.

It could be argued that the true test of any integrated solution is the inherent degree of interoperability. It was therefore necessary for the Bank’s solution to seamlessly interface with a wide range 0f disparate systems, across a number of diverse technologies. The result was that on occasions, drivers had to be created by Nice Systems to allow the Situator platform to integrate correctly with other legacy systems used by the Bank.

This did, on occasions, cause minor delays, but the Bank reports that the partnership formed with the supplier was both effective and rewarding.

In reality, PSIM is still a relatively new trend, and given the pace of change in the security industry in recent years – and the rate of development going forward – it is unrealistic to expect any such solution to have a complete off-the-shelf choice of drivers for any and every sub-system. Obviously, with time, the number of previous implementations will swell the available drivers and plug-ins. However, any truly bespoke solution will always require a degree of customisation if the end results are to be fruitful.

In summary

Whether you want to call it PSIM, situational awareness, total system management or system integration, it matters not; a unified approach can deliver enhanced performance and cost savings.

Such a solution needs to be bespoke. It cannot ever deliver the required benefits if a ‘one size fits all’ approach is taken.

Whilst Millennium Bank constrained its solution to security – a significantly important issue for any branch-based financial institution – the reality is that such solutions can control a wider range of systems as a part of the total solution. Everything from basic building management functions such as energy control, through to monitoring social or mass media, can be added to create an ever more encompassing vision of the total situation.

A final note is one of caution. Often, when manufacturers want to demonstrate the capabilities of PSIM systems, they will show a simulated application using city centres, with control exercised over public space security, traffic management systems, the emergency services, transport infrastructure, etc.. This can give the impression that such solutions are only viable if you are taking full control of a metropolitan district.

If that is the impression you get, don’t just write the technology off. You might miss out on some very beneficial value if you do!

Confused? Join the club!

Ever since the concept of PSIM was widely touted to end users, one of the biggest debates between the self-proclaimed leading lights behind the technology was ‘what is PSIM?’. The battle, it seemed, was for various parties to have the definition of PSIM established to suit their agendas. When the biggest argument becomes a definition of what the technology should or should not constitute, and when that argument is being driven by those providing the technology in question, it is inevitable that those seeking such solutions won’t be queueing up to sign on the dotted line!

As with many technological advances, 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 what they actually do. Unfortunately, this often can mean that end users who would have an interest in the solution miss the detail of what it can actually achieve!

PSIM isn’t alone in this respect; the problem is a common one where a technology comes into being because certain functions can be carried, rather than because the market is demanding them.

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, the technology really isn’t helped by the PSIM moniker either.

PSIM stands for Physical Security Information Management, a phrase coined for the security sector, but which now defines systems that have a reach far outside of the security arena. It doesn’t best sum up the full scope of options available from the technology, and for many seems to pigeon-hole it into a more confined space.

The impact of this has been negative, as highlighted by the recent report from IMS into the lack of growth for PSIM solutions. In 2010 the research company 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, earlier this year the researchers reported less 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 is now to apply these to real-world businesses!

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