Simplifying Business with Open Standards

Axis Communications has been making network cameras using the Internet Protocol (IP) for nine years, and, according to Johan Lembre, Vice-President, Product Management, the development emerged from their core competence in network connectivity.

Axis Communications, which was founded in 1984 was best known for its network print servers, and, says Lembre, “Somebody thought: wouldn’t it be convenient to put a camera on the network as well?”  It took a couple of years to develop, but, by 1996, the AXIS 200 network camera was on the market.  Nobody was really thinking about security issues at the time, but it was the world’s first commercial IP camera and it won a Technical Innovation Award from PC magazine.

Jonas Andersson, Director, Video Solutions, says they are often asked what the difference is between a web-cam and an IP camera.  So here’s his answer: “You don’t need a PC for an IP camera.  It’s a unit on its own, including a camera, a web server, and a connectivity board.”

But just like a web cam, it simply slots into existing internet and intranet systems, and, for many users, that means considerable savings.  Many of Axis’s cameras go into schools, hospitals and government buildings, where IT networks are already built in.  “Installing cameras which use the same network saves money in installation costs,” says Andersson.  “A new analog camera network may well require the installation of new cabling.”

But Lembre goes further.  “Systems today often have many elements,” he says.  “A security system can have access control, alarms and video.  It simplifies compatibility if all these elements are using Open Standards.”

For example, someone trying to enter a building using an invalid card might trigger a signal to a camera to send pictures of the person to a central office. Without Open Standards, either you have to convince the manufacturer of one of the proprietary systems to develop all the applications, or you have to find a complex, one-off solution to get them to talk to each other.

Promoting Open Standards
Axis has published its API on its website, enabling application developers to expand the functionality of the company’s cameras. Axis has 250 partners developing Open Standards applications. And Axis is working strategically with ASSA ABLOY to create standards in the security industry. The two companies are currently cooperating in developing a common API to integrate access control and video.

Magnus Jonsson, Vice President, Business Development at ASSA ABLOY’s Shared Technologies division, says the company decided eighteen months ago to promote Open Standards, and are currently developing an Open Standard for door environments.

Jonsson finds that the reaction from customers is often that a door controlled by the internet must be less secure than something based on a closed proprietary system.  He disagrees.  “It’s actually more secure,” he says.  “We send encrypted signals via a CAN bus instead of just switching a relay.”

The same applies to Axis’s cameras.  “It’s easier to pick up signals anywhere along an analog line,” says Johan Lembre.  “IP is an end-to-end transfer.  Many critical things, like bank transfers, are now done by IP.  Encrypted HTTPS, for example, offers high security.”

Going Digital
Andersson admits that some companies may feel the need to build a second physical IT network dedicated to security systems, but in fact, he believes that existing networks can be made secure.  Andersson notes the case of a major retailer who did a turnkey study to work out whether analog or digital cameras would be better for a series of new stores.  The cost came out about the same, but they decided to go digital.  “Open Standards meant they could use different suppliers for different parts of the system.  And the system was future-proof.  There are lots of new applications coming in for retailing: the cameras can be used to measure people flow, for example—all that can simply be added, and there again, the best supplier can be used.”  For Andersson, that case is typical: “What’s really driving the move to digital,” he says, “is the chance to choose the best supplier for each element: the so-called ‘Best-of-Breed’.”

That makes the environment very challenging for a company like Axis, since customers are not tied in to one proprietary system.  If they don’t like your products, they can go to someone else the next time they buy.  Axis, of course, is confident enough about its products, but the real advantage is that Open Standards open up new businesses.  “We are growing the pie, rather than protecting our slice,” says Lembre.

A growing market
The market for Closed Circuit Television is currently running at $5bn and is growing at about 12% a year.  The market for Network Video is currently only $221m, but it’s growing at 40% a year.  Large customers are moving to IP networks, since it allows them to expand and adapt on a “plug-and-watch” basis.

Most of the new business, says Andersson, is in the areas which have traditionally been the major customers for security solutions, such as transportation, government facilities and schools.  But the flexibility offered by Open Standards can mean new functions can be developed which no one would have thought of before.

Lembre points to the Swedish Hospitals in the United States, a chain of private hospitals around the country.  Each doctor’s consulting room is equipped with a camera.  “If one doctor has a patient who has a bad knee,” says Lembre, “and he’s not an expert in knees, he can get advise from another doctor in one of the other hospitals.  That doctor can operate the camera, with zoom and pan, so that he or she can remotely examine the patient for him- or herself.”

The software for that application, of course, doesn’t come from Axis, and the people who wrote the software didn’t have to build the camera.  But neither of them would have got the business, and the patient wouldn’t have had his knee fixed, if Axis hadn’t settled on a standard other people could understand.

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