Electronic access control is one of the most proprietary technologies (beside fire alarms) with the largest installed base of legacy equipment in the physical security industry. As physical security continues to move to internet protocol (IP) network-connected devices, further driven by the internet of things (IoT) and the proliferation of smart sensors and buildings, access control is migrating to open interoperability. In addition, new standards and guiding documents are providing a comprehensive road map encouraging interoperability between systems and devices.


The industry consensus is that open protocols are optimal in all categories of physical security and particularly with integrated video surveillance and access control. Open standards provide numerous benefits to the installation community. They provide greater freedom of choice in product selection and allow for integration of older legacy equipment without costly rip and replace and massive upgrades—fostering planned migration by end-users. They simplify specifications by promoting network-based connectivity and encourage mixing of interoperable products. They represent intrinsic value to the end-user in the way of lower-cost, future-proofed systems.


New conformance document


Various organizations and standards-making bodies are orchestrating the move. In particular, the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) has been a driving force, working with security product manufacturers and other stakeholders to eliminate closed systems. The ONVIF is an open industry forum and global standardization initiative for IP-based physical security products created in 2008 by Axis Communications, Bosch Security Systems and Sony Corp. ONVIF standards, referred to as conformance documents, are voluntary and focus on service-oriented architecture to replace and update components as needed and interoperability between access control and video.


The ONVIF has released five profiles that enable manufacturers to develop and test products specifically for integration and interoperability. Profile A, published in July 2017, establishes a standardized interface for access control clients (software) and expands configuration options of ONVIF-conformant access control systems. The release enables the mixing and matching of access control devices and clients within a system, facilitating interoperability between participating manufacturer’s parts and components.


Profile A specifically encompasses daily access control functions for granting and revoking employee credentials, creating and updating schedules, and making changes to access control privileges within the system. It increases functionality and system management, enabling credentialing, scheduling and access privileges through the Profile A-conformant client interface.


Bob Dolan, director of technology, network cabling and security solutions, Anixter, Glenview, Ill., said Profile A will foster increased integration between products and provide security integrators with more product choices requiring less training because of standardization. Dolan is an ONVIF Technical Services Committee Member.


“The access control industry has been very manufacturer-specific when it comes to the control panel and a security integrator was limited to selecting devices and components from just one manufacturer,” Dolan said. “Profile A effectively moves products from proprietary to open APIs, allowing the integrator and end-user the freedom to choose any compliant device.”


Dolan said interoperability established by Profile A enables end-users and system integrators to make hardware and software choices based on functionality and performance and bridges the gap between legacy hardware and new software.


Manufacturers will develop products in conjunction with the profile specification and test it using ONVIF tools that collect data and verify compliance. Once criteria is met, participants receive a conformance certificate, with compliant manufacturers listed on the ONVIF website.


“As more devices move to the network, the goal is interoperable building automation, IoT, HVAC, video surveillance, access systems, lighting and more,” Dolan said. “This also allows the security integrator to partner with the end-user to create solutions applicable and specific to their environment.”


Stephanie Hensler, business development director for access control, Axis Communications, Lund, Sweden, said open standards lower the cost of integrated security systems and bring new flexibility to specifications.


“The access control industry is void of standards and highly proprietary,” she said. “When end-users selected an access control system, they were stuck with it as controllers can last up to 20 years, and they end up with systems that can no longer be supported or updated. With open standards, users get best-of-breed systems and what they need, when they need it. It also makes it easier for installers when they don’t have to customize installations, because conformant products are made for those specifications.”