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Security Industry Association builds on historic role developing security industry standards

Standards are a lowest common denominator, onto which companies can build additional bells-and-whistles to distinguish themselves in the market
The best standards are often baseline, common-denominator standards that leave room for innovation
The collaboration between ONVIF and SIA to develop new access control standards is just the latest standards-related news from the Security Industry Association (SIA), the American trade association headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., near Washington, D.C. 

In fact, SIA has a long history and tradition of standards development, dating back to the 1980s. SIA has produced 15 or so standards in all, including six American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards.  (The rest are “industry consensus” standards.)

SIA is an ANSI-accredited standards-developing organisation (SDO), participating in activities that promote openness and interoperability of electronic physical security systems and components. Overseeing SIA’s standards activities is the SIA Standards Committee, whose 30 to 40 participants (representing SIA member companies) review proposals for standards activities, design SIA’s standards roadmap and make other strategic decisions.

 “Anyone is free to submit proposals, which are discussed at the general meeting, and the Committee votes on whether to work on a standard,” says Joseph Gittens, Director, SIA Standard Committee.

Whether SIA takes on a standard depends on whether or not there is already another group working on a related standard. “We try to be a harmoniser in the industry, which means eliminating duplicate efforts,” he adds. (Hence the collaboration with ONVIF). Other considerations include the business need for a standard, the time and resources to complete a project, and whether it would need to go through the ANSI process or could be “fast-tracked” as an industry-consensus standard.

Addressing SNMP is a way the physical security industry can help to close the gap with corporate information technology (IT) departments
Membership to all SIA standards subcommittees is open to anyone

A variety of SIA Standards Subcommittees deal with specific technology areas, from Access Control and Identity to Digital Video, Intrusion to Perimeter Security. A precursor to a new SIA Standards subcommittee, the Cloud Steering Group, is working to define the role of SIA Standards in the rapidly advancing fields of cloud services and mobility.

ANSI accreditation requires that there be no barriers to participation in standards committees, so membership to all SIA standards subcommittees is open to anyone – including end users, integrators, non-SIA supplier companies, and consultants. “Anyone who is interested is more than welcome,” says Gittens. He estimates that around 200 people participate in all, across all the Subcommittees, with the SNMP Subcommittee drawing the most interest with around 50 participants.

At the technology cutting edge, SIA’s SNMP (simple network management protocol) Subcommittee deals with network communications at the product level. The group is developing a standardised set of MIBs (management information bases) to monitor the health and availability of security devices on a network using SNMP. The broader Subcommittee reflects the fact that issues of network communication cut across all the various product groups as more technologies migrate to IP networks.

Addressing SNMP is a way the physical security industry can help to close the gap with corporate information technology (IT) departments, says Gittens. The gap involved on the physical security framework related to networks and how devices work on the network. “Security is looked at as IT’s stepbrother,” says Gittens. “There’s always been an issue between security and network managers as security products have evolved as things that sit on the network. Use of [SNMP] is a way to speak the same language as network professionals to make that relationship more a partnership and to promote knowledge.”

Limitation of Standards

"It’s hard to have a standard
for interoperability. There are
different standard ways of
doing things"

There is a limit to what can be accomplished using standards, says Gittens. “A lot of people take standards to mean that everything will work with everything,” says Gittens. “A well-defined standard has well-defined elements; it’s not complete interoperability.”

“Interoperability means different things,” says Gittens. “It’s hard to have a standard for interoperability. There are different standard ways of doing things. People misuse the word standard to mean total and complete interoperability, which is an unrealistic expectation.”

Also, “proprietary” isn’t necessarily bad, and in fact many of today’s de facto standards began as proprietary. “There are many standards in place that have come out of proprietary [specifications]. They have become de facto standards because they are the best way to do something.”

He says standards are a default, or a lowest common denominator, onto which companies can build additional bells-and-whistles to distinguish themselves in the market. “We don’t want to have homogenous products, they need to evolve. The best standards are often baseline, common-denominator standards that leave room for innovation,” he says.


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