By Tom Asp
from the July/August 2015 issue
Whether it’s a coffee shop entrepreneur building her business nationally through the addition of locations, a major corporation adding international sites via an acquisition, or a local school district constructing new facilities to replace aging ones, securing multiple sites presents a special challenge to facility management and security personnel.
Access control and video surveillance systems are most often impacted within the multi-site scenario. Consider a business that is growing through acquisition; its new location in Toledo operates on one access control platform, while its corporate headquarters in Dallas is based on a different one. There are separate databases with employee information and individual servers to handle the data.
Under the current scenario, an employee who travels between headquarters and the new site in Ohio might have to carry two credentials so he can gain access to both buildings. And chances are good that at some point, he is going to find himself with the wrong access card in his pocket.
Similarly, a business owner with several retail sites may desire to monitor the video cameras covering her stores from a single location. Yet, with the disparate systems currently in place, she isn’t able to do so and has to log into multiple systems to view live video.
These kinds of issues are just the type that facility managers seek to address with their integrator partners when looking at multiple site security situations.
Increasingly, integrators are seeing organizations reviewing their facilities’ security needs not only to improve the safety of personnel at their multiple locations, or to simplify the overall security infrastructure, but also to buoy the bottom line.
Improvements in technology have greatly expanded the capabilities of security systems across various sites, making it easier to achieve multi-site coverage for access control and video with a reasonable investment that offsets the cost of retaining multiple systems in the long run.
Thus, it has become critical that both facilities personnel and security integrators work in concert to develop a strategic plan related to multi-site security.
So what steps should facility managers consider when dealing with multi-site security? Initially, they should consider devising one-, three-, or even five-year plans that chart out what is required at existing sites as well as what future needs entail. This should take into account budgets and updated safety and security standards, which can change over time.
As organizations grow, whether organically or through acquisition, they are best served by thinking ahead about what challenges they could face. Acquisitions most often lead to multiple disparate systems, in which case an organization will have to decide what needs to be addressed, in what order, and at what speed replacement or consolidation should take place.
Often this begins by taking an inventory, especially with a new property in the portfolio: What types of systems are in place at the newest facility? Do they overlap with the central system? Can one or more of the components be easily converted into something that is compatible? How many people are involved, and how is their work impacted by the current scenario or by converting to something different?
If it’s a video system, some questions to ask include: What kinds of cameras and video management systems are being used? If there is a need to add cameras or recorders, is the system scalable? Can it be networked with the central system, or does there need to be a major overhaul of the technology?
No matter what kinds of answers are revealed to craft a plan, patience is in order. While the most successful projects begin with a concrete plan, even then, there should be the understanding that things can and do go wrong.
Transitioning from multiple vendors to a single platform for access control or video management can require months of planning and an equal amount of time to roll out the system. When working globally, there are additional challenges ranging from time differences to language and currency barriers to infrastructure incompatibility.
There are organizations that will jump in with both feet—tackling a multi-site scenario with the idea of getting everyone on a level playing field as quickly as possible. Others prefer to build out a system gradually.
If an end user chooses to stay with multiple access control systems for a period, they need to be prepared to stay on top of the various maintenance and management issues involved with having several databases and the computer systems to run them. This means keeping up with numerous vendors and their reps and, depending on the situation, different people throughout the country.
A standard access control system makes it easier for employees that travel between different facilities, but organizations can cope in the meantime, especially if they choose the right integrator partners and security systems vendors.
The Integration Process
So what should a facility executive look for in a manufacturer and an integrator? When selecting an enterprise-level system, it becomes important to choose an integrator that can provide support regionally, nationally, or even globally, depending on the scope of the business. If an integrator doesn’t have a global presence, at minimum they should be able to recommend appropriate providers that can offer compatible coverage.
An integrator can help steer facilities and security personnel through the selection process as well as support them going forward. Because a multi-site project can cross state lines or even international borders, it can be helpful to work with integrators who have access to business partners in other parts of the country where their lead integrator may not have an office.
Although there is usually a single integrator who interfaces directly with the customer, knowing that they can direct a client to others around the country or internationally can make a project go more smoothly.
In addition to finding the right partner, integration among disparate systems is being aided by the move to standardization.
The adoption of security industry standards, like ONVIF, is beginning to address this move. ONVIF has established a set of specifications that allow IP video and access control devices from different manufacturers to work together, across brands. This brand-neutral interoperability between devices gives integrators and end users the ability to build “best of breed” solutions without making a long-term commitment to a single brand or manufacturer.
The adoption of security industry standards, like ONVIF, is helping with compatibility issues among different manufacturers’ systems, but there is still a long way to go before products are completely compatible.
Bringing video onto one platform—such as back to a single headquarters based command center—is more of a challenge. Here the considerations involve not only the streamlining of information processing, but also how such a system will impact the overall corporate IT infrastructure.
Because of the greater size of the video packets of information being transmitted, an organization may decide it is more cost-effective to continue to maintain its video at each site, rather than tax the system’s bandwidth to bring it back to a central location.
For some end users such as major corporations, an enterprise solution is necessary. But for others, the key is to bring the various locations up to certain standards that have been set for the security systems, even if they continue to operate primarily as standalone units.
Decisions about selecting vendors for multi-site systems can be based on a host of factors, including whether a company is adding on or building a new system, or the type of business vertical and expertise represented.
The addition of a retail store into an existing network is often easy to achieve because they are simply implementing a packaged system—usually just video and intrusion —with the new construction. Education is another vertical that often rolls out a packaged plan with the addition of a newly constructed site.
In some instances, a facility will opt to go with a single vendor for all the components, knowing there is compatibility among the products. Meanwhile, others will look at best-of-breed technology and rely on the integrator to ensure interoperability at the highest level possible.
What matters most is determining a plan that works for the particular multi-facility enterprise and implementing it effectively with an integrator partner who has the knowledge and capability to make the transition as seamless as possible.
Asp is a member of Security-Net, a network of independent security systems integrators with offices throughout North America. In addition, Asp is the president and CEO of VTI Security, based in Burnsville, MN.