The merger of physical security and IT is known as convergence
Examining the road to convergence
The use of Internet Protocol (IP) in the security industry is increasing but little is known about the relationship between end users and the merger of traditional physical security and IT otherwise referred to as convergence in the security trade press. Markus Lahtinen of the LUSAX project examines the growth of convergence in the security industry and discusses complexities of this relationship.

The LUSAX project at Lund University in Sweden started in 2006 as a strategic research partnership together with ASSA ABLOY, AXIS Communications and Niscayah, to understand the industrial impact and end user consequences following the increased use of the IP to connect security equipment and transmit security data. The swift use of convergence can be confusing, but three main types of convergence are discerned:

  • Technological convergence: increased use of IP-enabled security equipment and technical integration of physical security systems like access control and video surveillance, as well as potential integration with other operational enterprise systems (for example staff and payroll databases)
  • Organisational convergence: the process of coordinating and integrating internal IT security, logical security and physical security for both efficiency reasons (to lower costs) and effectiveness reasons (for example, to address new organisational risks and threats that require coordination between IT and security)
  • Industry convergence: meaning the suggested merging - or even absorption - of the IT industry with the security industry

At the beginning of the research project, there was a sense of urgency in the security industry to ‘catch up' on the knowledge and efficiency associated with the IT industry. Following the terminology from above, industry convergence would push for both technical and organisational convergence. However, the diffusion pattern has not played out as fast as projected back in 2006. The verdict stands clear that technological convergence ishappening, but at an undetermined and slower pace.

The verdict stands clear that technological convergence is happening, but at an undetermined and slower pace

Despite the industry buzz on convergence, little is known and systematically documented on how security end users actually reason and act in relation to technological change. In order to understand the increased use and diffusion of advanced security technology, it is necessary to survey the preferences held by the end users to the value propositions associated with this new technology.  Yet of equal importance are questions on how security departments organise themselves internally and how they act and behave in relation to their immediate internal and external environments.  In summary, convergence cannot be meaningfully separated from the organisational position held by the security department.

Security directors and the security industry: the relationship myth

Based on survey data and interviews with top-tier security directors, several organisational concerns not previously documented have now been identified. One such organisational finding concerns the relationship between the security director and the security industry with regards to what sources are used to keep informed about industry developments.

The answers suggest that peers, colleagues and internal expert(s) matter more than trade shows, trade press, systems integrators and security consultants in keeping informed about industry development. Further statistical analysis suggests particular importance is given to internal expert(s), suggesting  that the internal expert plays a pivotal role in filtering industry noise and that peers and colleagues play an evaluative role to industry impulses filtered by these internal experts. Also, the internal expert usually collaborates with a security consultant in case of major system upgrades. This means that detailed decisions about security equipment rarely ends up at the security directors' table. This finding contradicts the commonly held view that top-tier security directors interact directly with the security industry.

Security directors recognise the value propositions of IP-based security

A second finding is the overall agreement seen by security directors in relation to the value propositions associated with new technology. Value propositions are understood as what contribution IP-based security may have to the security operations in terms of improved efficiency or increased security effectiveness. One example is scalability, meaning that adding an additional surveillance camera, for instance, does not require any costly back-end upgrades. Also, having security equipment running on the same network enables for integration beyond security purposes - for example real-time connection with the global employee database.

Understanding the organisational tree is key in understanding convergence
Knowing the place of security departments in the organisational tree is important in understanding convergence

Taken together, security directors see the value of security technology and also recognise the associated value propositions, but IP as such is not the primary item for top-tier security directors.

Standing of security departments in the organisational tree

Third and finally, the relationship between the security department and the immediate organisational environment is one sometimes described as being conflicting in the sense that physical security is portrayed only as being a cost-entry without any clear profit contribution. We believe this has mainly been used as industry-driven rhetoric to suggest a scenario of diminishing the importance of the physical security director, further bolstering the sense of urgency around the corner.

Quite the opposite, the collected data suggest physical security to be a well-established business process; and often even externally recognised as being a strategic one at that.

Consequently, the initial view describing the security department as being in an isolated position and a ‘necessary evil' is not shared by security directors. This might partially be attributed to self-preserving views held by the respondents, but too much attention has been directed into this form of simplifying security operations, unfortunately at the expense of understanding the underlying premises under which physical security operates.

Implications of convergence in the security industry

A security operation by its very nature is defensive, risk-averse and reluctant to simplify while strategic business logic often rewards risk-taking with a need to simplify complex market conditions. This implies an inherent and fundamental conflict between security decision logic and general market-oriented business logic that is not to be understood as being problematic, but in the best of cases being mutually rewarding. Management of successful security operations strike a balance between these logics.

The process of convergence will not follow a straight path
The path of convergence will follow a non-linear path

All in all, complex organisational conditions have direct impact on the diffusion speed of new security technology like converged systems. Industry-driven ‘copy and paste' deployment recipes for new technology are less likely to be adopted by advanced end users the same way it happened with the diffusion of core business-supporting software, for example software managing invoicing, inventory, and word processing software; relying only on logical components on standardised input/output hardware. Security systems rely to a greater extent on a combination of logical and less standardised physical hardware. This requires a more advanced input of system integration skills, be it skills for installing low-voltage analogue systems or network and IT skills for networked security systems.

Also, the diffusion pattern depends on the type of end user industry. Retail, for example, has a clear performance metric in the form of shrinkage that ties in directly with deliberate thefts. This enables the security operation to match accrued costs and investments to clear measures on losses. Banking and finance, a sector more regulated than most others, requires advanced security systems, where several subsystems need to be tied together to offer functionality that supports security effectiveness. Hence, procurement and major systems revisions in this sector follow a complex chain of decisions involving resellers, security consultants, architects (in the case of sustainable constructions) and internal security staff such as internal experts.

Having described a selection of organisational considerations affecting the convergence, it stands clear that this process will follow a non-linear path, more so for advanced multi-national end users focused on functionality and security effectiveness than the underlying technology providing for security services. For the same reasons, traditional security suppliers are kept insulated and are still in a position to harness their existing relations with end users. However, as a response to increased demand for converged systems, proactive security suppliers may in the long run increase their know-how and leverage their market position by following an incremental approach by engaging into end user projects requiring hybrid or full IP-based security systems.

Markus Lahtinen Markus Lahtinen
LUSAX project
Lund University