PSIM Problems

By John Honovich, Published Apr 21, 2008, 08:00pm EDT

PSIM is a great concept but has major structural problems that may limit its utility to the very largest security organizations. Expect video and access systems to continue to add features that provide the most fundamental aspects of PSIM with greater reliability and lower cost. Look carefully before deploying PSIMs and seriously evaluate less fancy but more solid alternatives from your video and access systems.

What is PSIM?

Physical Security Information Management is defined [link no longer available] as "Technologies and processes to collect, understand, and respond to data relevant for security. Products in this category variously offer aggregation, visualization, system control, incident response and reporting."

What problems do PSIM present?

PSIM has 5 serious operational limitations and deployment complexities:

  • Requires integration with dozens of subsystem manufacturers because the market is fractured amongst many different providers.
  • Requires on-site integration services.
  • PSIM functionality is constrained by limitations of different subsystem manufacturers can provide.
  • Suffers from exponential false alerts when attempting to cross-analyze information from different subsystems.
  • You are stuck with your PSIM system so be careful before you buy.
  • PSIM did not cause this problem but suffers from it nonetheless. The video management, access and video analytic market are fractured amonst dozens of player with no player having a majority share of their space. This means if they are to support your organization, its likely they will have to add support for subsystems you have and they currently do not.

    This is expensive, time consuming and risky work. Plus, as subsystem manufacturers update their software, the subsytem can break their APIs, breaking your PSIM system.

    If there were only 5 or 10 subsystems to deal with, this would not be a big deal but with literally 100+ among the various subsystems, this is a dramatic cost.

    2. Requires on-site integration services.

    Partially because of the reasons described above, PSIM demands on-site integration services. This means flying experts out for days or a few weeks to integate and optimize your system. It's hard to imagine PSIMs ever becoming close to plug and play and because of this starting costs are always going to be in the $20,000 to $40,000 range. If you are a really large organization, this is no big deal. For everyone else, this further limits the appeal.

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    3. PSIM functionality is constrained by limitations of different subsystem manufacturers can provide.

    PSIM's depend on the functionality of the underlying systems to build their overall functionality. This makes it hard to integrate advanced functionality limited from an individual subsytem manufacturer (how do you handle it in your user interface if only one company has the feature?). Accordingly, PSIM systems tend to standardize on more basic functionality that is available across many subsystems, constraining the power of the PSIM solution.

    4. Suffers from exponential false alerts when attempting to cross-analyze information from different subsystems.

    Some of the sexiest aspects of PSIMs are the ability to correlate, analyze and detect patterns across different subsystems. Doing this without generating false alerts is incredibly hard to do. Essentially, the PSIM system needs to guess the relationship between events its receiving amongst the subsystems it is monitoring. Vistascape was one of the more famous companies in recent years that attempted to do this and it fared incredibly poorly. Even with many hours of tuning the system still frequently generated many false alerts. I don't think Vistascape was a bad company, simply the task was technologically too difficult to automate.

    5. You are stuck with your PSIM system so be careful before you buy.

    The PSIM players are mostly small, young companies (Vidsys, Orsus, Proximex) trying to break into the market. This means they are probably hungry to solve new problems but it also means they can go out of business or get bought out and go nowhere (i.e., Vistascape). Given that there are so many of them and the shortcomings this approach has, I believe the risk is real. I have seen this happen when PSIM was called building automations earlier in the decade. You as the customer are stuck with your key monitoring system not being supported. After all the money you paid, it won't be easy to throw it out and buy a new one.

    What You Should Do

    If you are a government agency or a Fortune 500, PSIM could be right for you. Your security concerns will be so high and the size of systems you deal with so large, spending hundreds of thousands on a PSIM and dealing with the headaches might be the right move.

    If you are anyone else (and that means the other 90% of security managers), look to your access control or video management system. For years, companies like Lenel, AMAG, NICE, Genetec (just to name a few) have been adding in PSIM style functionalities. It won't be as sexy or feature rich but it will get you the big ones like mapping and video/access integration. Plus, it will be cheaper and you won't need to worry about them one day not supporting it.

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