Security system components can be integrated with various technologies including heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC); building automation; energy management; information technology (IT); and fire and life safety systems, providing enormous opportunities for electrical contractors.


With greater depth in integration, the standard definition of an integrated security system that simply links video, access and alarm points no longer applies, according to Andre Greco, director of sales, Security & Fire Solutions, Johnson Controls Inc.


“Stand-alone functions are no longer acceptable. The term ‘integration’ now refers to security systems that work seamlessly with other existing business applications, operating systems and databases,” he said. 


The result is more data moving between systems, which allows for entirely new ways for the end-user to problem-solve.


To achieve a fully integrated security system, four primary levels of access management and control need to be considered, according to a white paper by April Dalton-Noblitt, director, vertical marketing, for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies.


The first level is mechanical access and egress for exterior and interior doors and includes hardware, such as exit devices that allow quick, easy emergency egress, door closers that ensure doors are latched securely, mechanical locks, high security keying systems, and portable cable locks, padlocks or U-locks.


The second level is electronic access control and key management. Combining key management with a system that also includes programmable electronic locks enables the building owner to know exactly who is accessing the locks and when, while limiting who has keys to what doors, Dalton-Noblitt writes. And since electronic locks require credentials, they also help reduce the risk of lost or stolen keys, unauthorized key duplications, and the need to rekey if a key is lost.


The third level of integration is networked access control that manages the security system devices from a control source. This makes programming the system easier and streamlines credential management. Networked systems also can have real-time monitoring and more advanced technologies such as biometrics.


The fourth level, a totally integrated security system, ties together access control, time and attendance data, and even lighting and HVAC systems, for complete management of assets and people, and enables owners to customize the system to fit security, budget and building needs.


Benefits and challenges


It is common to integrate burglar alarm, card access, intercom and video systems. Data sharing with human resources systems also is used to automate employee enrollment, according to Jay Hauhn, CTO and vice president of industry relations for Tyco Integrated Security.


“The use of the building’s IP infrastructure to transport security system data means IT managers now have a holistic view of the communications infrastructure and enables security system integrators to provide the best solutions for the end-user,” he said.


The single point of control for multiple systems enabled by integration is certainly more convenient but can also reduce an organization’s manpower needs or allow personnel to be redirected to other vital areas.


“Integrated systems are less expensive to install, operate and maintain. End-users can experience considerable cost savings when infrastructures and resources—such as IP cabling, network operations center rack space, or virtual server architecture—can be shared,” Hauhn said.


Of course, there are challenges to security system integration. The biggest one, according to Hauhn, is the lack of standards.


“Given the number of manufacturers that exist, it is impossible for all of these disparate systems to interoperate,” he said. 


However, industry organizations and associations, such as the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance and the Security Industry Association, are developing tools and creating standards to facilitate future interaction.


Another challenge, which directly affects electrical contractors, is the difficulty project managers have in finding integrators, including ECs, and other team members who have experience and familiarity with the many distinct systems on the market.


“A larger end-user may have more than two dozen building systems to integrate. That falls outside the talent base of many integrators,” Greco said.


Then what is the role for contractors in security system integration? The answer varies, according to Hauhn.


“Electrical contractors that are also value-added resellers are already full-service suppliers of IP-based video systems and understand the complexity of integrated projects,” he said.


Electrical contractors can also be extremely valuable installation partners to mainstream security integrators, considering their inherent efficiencies at installing network cabling and power infrastructures.


But as the systems become increasingly complex and the expectations of the end-users grow, only the electrical contractors that stay ahead of the learning curve will succeed.


“That will require careful hiring and appropriate training of technicians,” Greco said. 


The contractors that demonstrate expertise, expand services, and deliver as promised will have a long-term future in the integration of building and security systems.