Open standards or open protocols allow vendor equipment to interoperate without needing a proprietary interface or gateway.
The aviation industry gives us a great example; all commercial pilots must be able to speak fluent English.
This means that a German pilot and Spanish air traffic controller can both understand each other without an interpreter.
Why do we need open standards?
Traditionally, a security system would have been an isolated system with no interaction with anything else.
The needs of end users have become more complex over time, necessitating integration between different systems.
Manufacturers created a custom interface between systems for each product or project.
This model is difficult to scale due to the variety of different systems available today.
What makes open standards so important?
Freedom of choice
Standards give clients the freedom to choose standard devices from a range of manufactures.
The client can then choose the most appropriate device to meet their needs.
Freedom also reduces complacency – clients are no longer restricted to a particular product or manufacturer.
If only one manufacturer can sell and support a particular product, they can charge what they like.
Service and maintenance costs will also be higher and service levels may be less than optimal.
Contrast this to a readily available product available from a number of suppliers.
The client can obtain the product they need but can obtain the best value from a choice of suppliers.
Benefits to manufacturers
When manufacturers use closed or proprietary interfaces to integrate different products, this creates more work and therefore increases costs.
Software developers need to write an integration for each device or manufacturer.
Support staff need to understand multiple different interfaces to support their customers.
When one of the vendors update their software or interface, this could cause functions to break.
In comparison, if an open standard is developed, there is only one interface to create and support.
Where open standards are commonly implemented
If we look at the typical architecture of an access control system, the most common place to implement open standards is at the controller level.
Implementation at controller level is most common because early standards focus on the different devices connected to a controller.
For example, card readers and fingerprint scanners.
Some manufacturers have also implemented open standards for server and controller, although this is less common.
Open standards are not a silver bullet
The standard may not be implemented in full.
When specifying access control, it is not sufficient to specify that a system based on open standards is required.
Detailing exactly what features and functions are required is more important.
This is because a manufacturer may choose not to implement all aspects of a particular standard.
The manufacturer can still legitimately market the system as supporting open standards, but there is a risk that a particular feature may not be available.
There are no open standards for some device categories.
If we look at wireless online locking systems, for example, there are no open standards on how the locks communicate with the access control system.
In this case, we have two options:
- Be aware that we are pushing the end client down a particular path towards one manufacturer of locking system
- Select an access control system that can support multiple manufacturers to ensure freedom of choice.
Open standards may limit the level of functionality possible
While open standards make greater interoperability possible between devices and systems, it can limit them.
If open standards are implemented throughout the system, we are restricted to functions the open standard can provide.
This is why manufacturers will commonly support open standards at the device level, by allowing a wide range of devices to connect to control equipment.
However, many will still have a proprietary method to communicate with the server and controller.
In my opinion, this is only a matter of time until further standards are developed or the level of functionality available within existing standards increase.
The future of open standards?
As an industry, we have progressed significantly towards supporting open systems based on standards, which can only be a good thing for the end user.
Internet of Things developments may also change the conventional layout of access control, as we know it today.
We may end up with a mesh of interconnected devices and cloud-based software with nothing in between.
If this happens, standards will be vital in ensuring device interoperability and compatibility.