Tech Deep Dive: PSIMs

From artificial intelligence-enabled cameras, to biometric solutions, to radars with GPS capabilities, enterprise class security systems are collecting an unprecedented amount of data. But none of this information holds true value without properly filtering, analyzing and showcasing it in a digestible manner for threat assessment and action.

In the mid-2000s, physical security information management – or PSIM – emerged as a solution to address this need, bringing together video, access control and other systems under a unified platform for greater situational awareness.

While PSIMs have helped to automate operator actions and improve real-time response, they have also evoked other challenges. Let’s take a closer look at PSIMs – where the technology was, where it is today, and where the greatest business opportunities are for integrators.

Clear Need; Slow Adoption

PSIMs initially evolved from command-and-control software, which was deployed in monitoring centers so security guards could review and investigate alerts from multiple devices, such as cameras and alarm panels. One of the key factors driving the demand for PSIM technology over the last decade was the number of disparate security systems that operators had to grapple with in mission-critical applications.

In markets like critical infrastructure, there is almost a guarantee that surveillance, intrusion detection, access control and other solutions will be provided by different vendors. Part of this is because no single manufacturer is the best at every technology. End-users want a total solution with the highest-performing components; thus, they will deploy products from an array of suppliers.

The other reason has to do with various physical security upgrades and standards being realized at different times. An energy utility may invest in thermal cameras with classification analytics one year for its substations to comply with NERC protocols; then three years later, it may purchase new visible cameras to improve identification functionality. Five years later, the utility may deploy new access control components.

Since these technologies all have distinct operating systems, it creates more complexity and work for system operators. As such, there was strong initial interest in deploying PSIM solutions because of their ability to consolidate multiple systems into a common front-end.

The result was reduced training and operational load for the security officers who would only need to navigate one, easy-to-use interface. With a truly intuitive interface, an operator could open an incident list with different dates and click on one alarm, which would trigger the rest of the interface respond to that click. Synced archived video from all cameras would be pulled up instantly as well as a map showing the location of the alarm.

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As PSIMs solved key issues in operational efficiency, other challenges emerged. Integrators quickly realized the tremendous amount of work required to maintain interfaces to system components. PSIMs with software based (API/SDK) interfaces created some of the greatest difficulties, as they constantly changed and required development as the original manufacturers added features and fixed issues.

This was one of the reasons for PSIMs gaining the reputation of being complex, expensive, overpromised and under-delivered. Moreover, the fact that PSIM solutions were often oversold reduced consumer confidence. This ultimately deterred many integrators from selling PSIMs and clients from implementing them.

A Better Approach

Addressing the greatest obstacles of PSIMs requires a three-pronged approach with buy-in from the security industry at large, manufacturers and channel partners.

Standards for device control and system communications is the first key to the success for PSIM solutions, and the industry is making progress in this regard. ONVIF, now in its 11th year, has driven industry-wide interoperability through its development and promotion of standardized interfaces for IP-based physical security products. More and more vendors are developing ONVIF-compliant products today, and as manufacturers continue to adopt standards and others follow suit, PSIM configuration will continue to simplify, making it a more appealing solution.

From a technology standpoint, a good PSIM should have an architecture that provides a path to migrate forward with an integrator’s changing requirements without having to upgrade the core software.

One approach that is typical of the more effective integrations are PSIMs that use hardware-based protocols. It is much easier to develop new device drivers rather than new software. For this reason, hardware protocols tend to be more consistent. They enable a longer shelf-life of the PSIM solution and enable integrators to expand the system and grow with their customers’ needs over time.

It is also imperative that integrators select the right PSIM partner. An essential question every integrator should ask a prospective vendor is, “how many existing device and system drivers (or similar systems) can the PSIM connect to?” The answer will help determine whether the PSIM is capable of interfacing to the integrator’s proposed solution. If there is a lot of development that needs to be completed, the chance of success is reduced. Questioning existing reference installations and evaluating how long the software has been installed can be very telling as well. Choosing a partner with a track record of deployment of 15 years vs. three years is a safer bet.

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Evolving Features and Capabilities

Beyond best practices to improve PSIM performance, new integrations are bringing together cutting-edge tools beyond traditional security devices that enable end-users to act quickly, mitigate risks and view surveillance beyond the point of fixed cameras.

If an unidentified person enters a restricted area of an oil and gas refinery and is detected by a radar, for example, a next-generation PSIM solution could not only direct PTZ cameras for auto-tracking, it could also automatically dispatch a drone equipped with visible and thermal imagers to follow the intruder. As oil and gas refineries are typically in remote, hard-to-access locations, drones are an optimal solution to provide immediate and expanded visibility so operators can evaluate whether a suspect is in fact a threat that warrants a call to police, or it is simply an employee who forgot their ID card.

A large part of the new PSIM foundation is collecting data and making the data searchable, sortable and exportable for business intelligence. Focusing on data aggregation and analysis enables PSIM solutions to provide metrics for organizations beyond just security, which increases the overall value of the solution.

In a port application, for example, a PSIM collects data from surveillance cameras, access control points, and license plate recognition systems. Functionally, the PSIM shows when an employee’s car drives through the gated entrance; an advanced use of the application would be to enable an operator to see every time that employee’s car drove through the gates in the last month. Further, the PSIM could display how long vehicles have been parked in a given area using LPR. Leveraging people counting analytics, a PSIM could generate a report on how many visitors pass through a specific port checkpoint. All of this data can be used to improve the port’s operational processes.

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New PSIM integrations are also enabling cross-sector cooperation. Using the port example, a progressive PSIM could not only interface with security devices on the perimeter, but also with intelligent transportation solutions on the road such as vehicle detectors, traffic sensors and traffic signals.

Integrating traffic analytics and traffic management software, the PSIM could detect road debris or accidents in real time so that officers could be dispatched to the area to direct traffic and improve flow. This is just one example of how PSIMs are enabling greater connectivity as well as smarter, safer cities.

Monetizing PSIMs

Because PSIMs are more time-intensive, customized solutions, integrators who want to offer them need to make sure it is worthwhile for their business. Here are a few ways integrators can use PSIMs to drive their bottom line:

RMR generation: Integrators can offer an annual software maintenance agreement with a PSIM solution and usually apply a 15-20 percent markup. This ensures the solution brings in guaranteed revenue on a yearly basis, and it also enables integrators to provide continued support to customers.

Upselling add-ons: Integrators have the inside scoop on their clients’ organizational changes, and when the client will likely request a new project. With this knowledge, integrators can forecast and generate their own business by targeting these new projects. For example, if the new project requires long-range thermal cameras on the perimeter, integrators can recommend adding radars or additional technologies to the main system.

In the end, PSIMs are a prime opportunity for integrators to provide a total solution to customers that works efficiently and provides enhanced value. PSIM solutions are certainly still relevant as they allow integrators to evolve with their customers’ needs over time and stay engaged in new technologies and projects.

Mark Brown is Director of Security and Surveillance for FLIR Systems. Request more info about the company at



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