Top 3 Problems with Choosing Open Systems

By: John Honovich, Published on Aug 20, 2008

While being 'open' is the trend, 'openness' is vague, claimed by all and underestimated in its difficulty to achieve. If you are buying or specifying video management systems, you need to carefully consider this.

Not too long ago, I was sitting with one of the most known and respected experts in CCTV. He expressed his frustration and dismay that a vendor who told him they were open were actually not. This was having a serious impact on systems he was designing.  Now, if he could get caught by this, this could happen to any of us.

Here are the top 3 problems I see:

  • "Openness" is vague - what does it actually mean?
  • Everyone claims to be open - even if they are not really
  • Being open is hard but it's routinely assumed as easy

Because of this, you may never know the truth and be stuck with a system that is locking you in.

Openness is Vague

At a basic level, being open means that a system can work with other systems from different manufacturers.  But how many other systems should a system work with to be called open? And how many other manufacturers do you need to work with to be called open?

Respected industry leaders often define openness as a vendor working with one or two other manufacturers in a single category.  Certainly this is somewhat open but is it open enough?  For most users, it is not and poses a big risk that when the day comes for you to integrate with a different system or product that it just will not work.

Everyone Claims to be Open

To me, this is the most dangerous element in the 'openness' discussion. Politicians have learned that racism is no longer acceptable. So is the result that no politician is racist anymore? Of course not. The result is that politicians know to avoid racist language and make claims to racial equality. This is analogous situation with video surveillance systems.

Regardless of how closed a system is, all sales and marketing people know that you must claim to be open regardless of how open you really are. To publicly state to a client that you are not open is very risky so to solve that problem vendors simply claim that they are open. And because the commonly accepted definition of openness is so vague, it's easy to do it without reservation.

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Openness is Hard

It seems as if vendors simply will openness into existence; As if the act of saying your open makes you open.  It's backed up by the absurd claim that "We have an API." Though you need an API, simply having an API is just the beginning. It's like saying your are a Chef because you can barbecue hamburgers.

The reality is that truly being open takes a huge commitment from the vendor.  It means optimizing your API to make it easier for other parties to use. It means doing custom integrations to support other people who use legacy technologies or are not as open. And perhaps most of all it means a huge development effort to actually support the hundreds of devices out there.

One of my favorite questions to ask is, "What products do you actually support today?" This smokes out a lot of spin and hype of 'open systems.' Most vendors take the approach that if it's theoretically possible for them to integrate with another product that they can claim to a customer that they support the product. Beware of this.  Push for the details and smoke out the truth.

Conclusion

As a first step, we all need to be careful about properly assessing openness. I also think we may need to start getting better definitions and assessments of how open systems are.

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