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True open platform IP video: the distinguishing characteristics

 We must be able to distinguish between surveillance software manufacturers with a true open platform and those without
Acquiring a true open platform surveillance software requires an informed decision

Research reports pertaining to the IP video surveillance market repeatedly talk up the trend of "Open Platform". Keeping with that trend, it seems that every manufacturer is claiming its offerings to be IP-based and Open Platform. In the security industry these days, it has become almost embarrassing for a company to admit having a proprietary (single vendor) solution - there seems to be a tacit understanding that an open platform's flexibilities and efficiencies are the way to go. However, as with any fashionable trend, many of these manufacturers seem to be just paying lip service. It is therefore very important to be able to distinguish between manufacturers with a true open platform and those that wrongly claim to have one. In this article, Eric Fullerton, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Milestone Systemsoutlines five distinguishing characteristics to look for to determine if the IP system investment they are about to make is truly open platform. 

What defines an Open Platform Software

Wikipedia defines "open platform" as: "In software and web- based architectures, an Open Platform describes a software system which has published external programming interfaces that allow using the software to function in other ways than the original programmer intended, without requiring modification of the source code. Using these interfaces, typically known as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), a third party could integrate with the platform to add functionality. An open platform implies that the vendor allows, and perhaps supports, the ability to do this. Using an open platform, a developer could add features or functionality that the platform vendor hadn't completed or hadn't conceived of."

Software training is often the ultimate differentiator between a true open platform and those offerings with only some aspects of an open platform 

In the context of the security industry/ IP video surveillance, a key aspect of an open platform is the ability to "future-proof" one's security investment by enabling upgrades and adding features as they come to market, through integrating third-party solutions and innovations that become available. Other important defining hallmarks of open platform software are discussed in detail below.

The five hallmarks of open platform surveillance software

1. Common external programming interfaces

The characteristic of this hallmark is a company's provision of a common Application Programming Interface (API), which can be easily used by security consultants, partners or end users.

The ability to provide APIs is defined by the architectural design of the surveillance software - an open platform that enables third parties to make system and device interfaces with "calls and pushes" to or from the product, thus creating greater operational efficiency of combining data, scheduling, alerts, reporting, maintenance, etc. APIs should be made publicly available, to any party who will sign a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). 

 Checklist illustration, within the security industry/ IP video surveillance, an open platform enables upgrades
In the context of the security industry/ IP video surveillance, an open platform effectively enables upgrades

2. Published documentation

Published documentation weeds out software solutions that claim to be open but are actually only open to a limited extent. It is possible to acquire a third-party integrated solution even though a vendor does not offer a published Software Development Kit (SDK) - it may be that the vendor or a select partner has exclusively performed the integration with a specific system or hardware. Such exclusivity would allow the vendor to claim their offering as "open", however limiting other party's choices to their own profit channels.

Some companies provide published APIs, through the SDK, that are easy to use and open to any enterprising system integrators. This SDK includes a set of documented examples, enabling people to use the APIs by sharing written cases of the APIs in operation. This also has a number of already written (software code) integration elements that can be copied directly to a third-party application.

3. Software training

Training is often the ultimate differentiator between a true open platform and those offerings with only some aspects of an open platform. If a manufacturer's open platform offers published APIs and an SDK, there lies merely the foundation of a truly open platform. The next progression is to train third-party programmers how to write code to the APIs and use the SDK. Training a company to integrate seamlessly to published APIs and getting the most out of an SDK is the true added value for the partners involved, an added value that can then be passed onto benefit end users.

Published documentation weeds out software solutions that claim to be open but are actually only open to a limited extent

4. Project Consulting

Project consulting demonstrates that system integration expertise and support are available at the source, and that the IP video platform manufacturer can take necessary steps to make sure any collaborative integration project with the open platform is smooth and seamless. Alternatively, the original company's engineers can take full ownership of performing an integration, putting it through intensive quality assurance upon a third party request. A department of skillful systems engineers is proof of the depth of competency in a company's product development - and future road map viability.

5. "Walk the talk"

Finally, following the aforementioned hallmarks, the list would be complete only when the company conducts its business according to the open platform approach. The open platform approach is a core requirement of today's security vendors: when "talking the talk", they must also "walk the talk".

Perhaps putting the above hallmarks to the test would ensure that IP systems that claim to be open platform are truly open and, consequently, "future-proof" security investments.


Eric Fullerton, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of Milestone Systems. The company specialises in true open platform IP video management software

Eric Fullerton
Chief Sales and Marketing Officer
Milestone Systems

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