As the security industry evolves towards an IP mindset, manufacturers, integrators and even end users are starting to voice concerns over convergence and how to reconcile the specific needs of a particular installation with current interoperability limitations. As a response, two groups emerged back in 2008, ONVIF and the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA).

Though ONVIF and PSIA vary in approach and methodology, ultimately both organizations are working to create open standards that facilitate interoperability of physical security systems by developing and publishing specifications for manufacturers to implement on their products. These specifications establish a common “language” for products from different manufacturers to communicate and operate collectively across a network. Here’s a look at how both organizations are progressing towards their interoperability goals and creating opportunities for integrators to “get an edge.”

Last week, PSIA released its third specification for public review. The Video Analytics draft specification, version 0.9, started from an existing Object Video framework and was modified through input from analytics providers, processor providers, VMS providers, and even consumers, explains Bob Cutting, chair of the Video Analytics group and vice president, product management for ObjectVideo. The specification focuses on the connections between the transmitting side and receiving side of a video analytics system and establishes a common format for data exchange between the analytics device and the application that uses it to generate reports, events, alarms, etc., Cutting adds.

The draft specification is available at for public comment until August 13, 2010. The review process is a chance for both members and non-members of PSIA to provide input on the specification, after which PSIA will address these comments and release a 1.0 version of the specification. After that, plans are already in place for another video analytics project. “The next release will focus on configuration of analytics, setting up rules,” Cutting says. This specification would allow for a system that “can build its own configuration interfaces to draw lines and areas and push those rules to any compliant device.”

PSIA released its first set of conformance testing tools June of this year. Since PSIA, like ONVIF, does not test products for compliance with its specifications, these conformance tools allow a manufacturer to make certain the specification has been correctly implemented and that a product is fully compliant. The test documents are available for download and installation from PSIA’s web site for manufacturers to test their products and submit the automatically generated report to PSIA for review. Products that are established as compliant through this process can be marketed as PSIA-certified.
According to Dave Fowler, chair of PSIA’s Recording and Content Management working group and senior vice president of marketing and product development at VidSys, through the development of common event models PSIA has been working on a uniform way to represent events so that any system can find, recognize and use them. This creates “a bunch of building blocks that allow you to get interoperability across different areas: access control, video, intrusion.” Fowler comments. “A basis of interoperability for different technologies, that’s the vision we’re working towards.”

When ONVIF was first founded by Axis, Bosch and Sony, its mission centered on interoperability goals similar to PSIA’s, but the group chose to focus exclusively on network video. ONVIF released its first core specification by the end of 2008 and a conformance testing pathway in mid-2009. This core specification defines device discovery procedures, configuration and control functions and sets up formats for media and metadata streaming. ONVIF expects to release a Core Specification 2.0 between the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011.

In March 2010, ONVIF announced it would extend its scope to include access control systems, with the objective to create one comprehensive standard that would allow interoperation of devices within an access control and network video system as well as directly integrate those systems, creating more possibilities for increased functionality of the overall system, Tony Yang, chairman of ONVIF’s Communication Committee and international marketing director, Hikvision, explains. With this announcement and the subsequent introduction of new working groups to support the expansion, future versions of the core specification will be reorganized into various documents delineating entities such as NVT and NVC. Device discovery, device management and events will make up the core document. 

Up until now, PSIA and ONVIF were competing organizations that could be differentiated most simply by their different focal points: ONVIF concentrating on network video products and PSIA taking a broader approach that included IP video, video analytics, recording and content management, area control and systems. Now that ONVIF will also be looking to include access control in its global specification, the dissimilarities are shrinking; overlap will likely increase and manufacturers — especially those that are members of both groups — may either come to decide which specification becomes standard or build dually-compliant products.

Though it may be too early to tell, integrators who are actively involved in the development of standards, or simply follow developments, will be uniquely poised to prepare for and benefit from these imminent changes in convergence. “We’re finding integrators closest to what’s going on have a leg up on the ones who focus on single-vendor solutions and are winning more RFPs these days,” Fowler comments. “Customers are saying, ‘tell me how you’re going to make it easy for me and don’t tell me you have to hand-craft a solution.’” He predicts that the industry will reach a tipping point in 12 to 24 months and that end users will be demanding products that follow specifications as future-proofing and flexibility become significant concerns.

Fowler and Yang sum up the benefits of interoperability standards for integrators in two categories: flexibility and reduced costs. As the number of products compliant to a specification grow, integrators will have increasing freedom of choice in building security systems, using products from different vendors to best fit the installation’s needs, says Yang. At the same time, Fowler points out that reducing the time and resources dedicated to interoperability frees systems integrators to focus on implementation issues and makes their operations more cost-effective.

Both ONVIF and PSIA have stressed the need for continual education in interoperability efforts. As a means to that end, the organizations periodically hold information sessions across the United Steates and overseas in addition to presentations and “plugfests,” where manufacturers can bring their specification-compliant products and see how they operate with other manufacturers’ devices, at various security trade shows, including ISC West. Both organizations will host demonstrations at Security Essen 2010, October 5-8 in Germany, as well as at ASIS 2010, October 12-5 in Dallas, Texas.

For a complete list of specifications released by PSIA and ONVIF, visit and