End-to-End or Multi-Vendor Solutions? For Campuses, There are Benefits to Each.

End-to-End or Multi-Vendor Solutions? For Campuses, There are Benefits to Each.

As campuses prioritize security upgrades, many are looking to replace standalone technologies with systems that work together as a cohesive solution. While investigating options, decision-makers will ultimately reach a fork in the road. Do they invest in an end-to-end system from a single vendor or pursue a multi-vendor, integrated approach?

Before making a purchase decision with long-lasting operational and financial implications, here’s what stakeholders should consider.

The Benefits of End-to-End

There are many good reasons for campuses to invest in an end-to-end, or single-vendor, solution. End-to-end systems from a single manufacturer are generally faster to install, configure, and learn to operate because everything is designed to work together seamlessly, out of the box. Such systems typically offer, at minimum, access control, video management, and basic video analytics. Some manufacturers also have intercom, audio, body worn, and visitor management capabilities.

Single-vendor solutions are also easier to maintain. Software and firmware updates are less likely to cause adverse effects within the system. Help with sales, warranties, maintenance, and tech support issues can go through the same point of contact. Plus, standardizing on one manufacturer can sometimes simplify cybersecurity challenges. IT departments can rely on one set of listings to create a cyber-hardened solution that spans from edge devices to the head end.

In short, end-to-end systems are perfect for campuses seeking technology that delivers reliable functionality and is easy to buy, operate, and maintain.

End-to-End Should Not Mean Trapped

For many campuses, end-to-end solutions are sufficient. So, what's their downside? There isn't one, when the platform is built on open standards like ONVIF and OSDP. In these instances, customers can easily add technology from other manufacturers if they need something beyond what the single vendor offers. The end-to-end solution becomes a starting point from which to expand.

To futureproof investment in an end-to-end system, stakeholders must investigate whether their core manufacturer has nurtured a robust partner ecosystem. Some manufacturers invest so heavily in partner relationships that they can offer deep integrations that perform as seamlessly as if everything were from the same vendor.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are proprietary end-to-end solutions. Some of today's most popular proprietary systems are cloud-based and built upon a software-as-a-service model. In some instances, the cameras are relatively inexpensive and onsite VMS servers unnecessary, so, as a result, two significant upfront hardware expenses for large campus installations are diminished. However, the customer is locked-in and devices can require recurring annual fees to remain operable, and nothing can be repurposed if the customer migrates to a new platform.

Furthermore, if a campus needs to expand its system with new capabilities, its options are slim. It must hope the vendor remains committed to introducing new technologies compatible with its platform. Few third-party integrations will exist, and those that do will certainly not be best-in-class. All that said, whether on-prem, SaaS, or cloud architectures, the customer should perform due diligence to determine how proprietary a manufacturer actually is. In conjunction with this research, it’s important to determine the long-term total cost of ownership (TCO) when making decisions.

The Benefits of Integrated Solutions

While end-to-end solutions offer the path of least resistance, many campuses opt to work with their system integrator to design a customized, multi-vendor solution instead. Reasons include:

  • The installation requires a high degree of customization because of mission-critical or business operation use cases.
  • The customer has a wide variety of needs, or changing needs, so a best-of-breed solution allows for the customizations necessary to solve exact problems, which might include integrating a variety of third-party devices and sensors that have specialized functionality.
  • The customer wishes to support a mix of camera brands or wants to preserve the use of some legacy technology.
  • There's a need for specialized, best-in-class solutions to address specific applications. These might include using third-party analytics like license plate recognition, radar, voice-over-IP, gunshot detection, body cameras, drone detection, and many others.
  • Security management must monitor and manage systems across multiple sites from a centralized platform.
  • The system has many stakeholders (security, operations, etc.), each with their own needs which could require more integrated solutions.
  • This is most often seen in larger deployments that span across multiple sites which also require many different people to have access to the system. These systems, and their various user privileges, could have a wide range of IT requirements that would also demand a more flexible deployment of the system.
  • Operators desire integrated and automated workflows.
  • Inconsistent IT infrastructure dictates flexible deployment.

When designing a multi-vendor, integrated solution, stakeholders should focus first on the security network’s primary software platform, which is typically the video management solution. From the VMS interface, security teams will manage daily operations, maintain situational awareness, investigate incidents, and coordinate response efforts. What’s more, the VMS can allow for convenient, remote access to the system. It’s imperative that they are satisfied with how the system will look and operate in the field. Once the VMS platform is determined, the performance and features of integrated software and hardware should be evaluated through this prism.

Defining Needs from Many Perspectives

Integrators usually work with a facility manager, security director or an IT administrator as their primary point of contact. These roles are most concerned with mitigating security risks and how well the technology performs. Different departments value other factors. IT may have concerns about how the system will impact its network and cybersecurity. It may also wonder about how involved it must be in maintaining the system’s operation. Finance may have requirements for procurement. Local law enforcement may desire specific solutions that help them respond more effectively during emergencies. Operations and marketing teams may want systems equipped with data analytics to streamline operations and increase profitability. Before considering any options, all stakeholders should compile a combined list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. That way, nobody wastes time researching dead-end possibilities.

Requirements should be defined for the present and beyond, keeping in mind that conditions do change. For example, the campus may plan to add a new site, automate processes, or add technology systems outside the current budget. The demands of tomorrow might exceed the demands of today, which makes it vital to consider future-proofing your solution with something that offers flexibility.

If the campus can ultimately migrate to a multi-vendor solution while preserving the use of the end-to-end system’s cameras and edge devices, investing in a single-vendor solution built on open standards may make sense for now. Or, the customer might prefer to put multi-vendor systems in place now that are ready to scale up with minimal disruption down the road, even if they're not needed quite yet.

Doing the Homework

Educated customers are more likely to be happy customers. Integrators will recommend solutions that they work with and trust, but ultimately, campus stakeholders must perform due diligence. Research should include checking on manufacturers under consideration. Are all of their solutions developed in house? Or are they packaging and bundling a variety of brands and OEMs to look like a complete solution? Also, if sales and support teams remain siloed, many of the conveniences of an end-to-end solution are diminished. What is the company's reputation within the marketplace? Do their products adhere to industry standards?

For multi-vendor systems, demand a live demonstration to see how well the integrations function. Test drive the software platform that will be the primary user interface. Also, investigate which companies are industry leaders within each technology category. Integrated solutions offer an opportunity to take advantage of the best-in-class, which may not be the manufacturers your integrator typically proposes.

Campus security needs are as diverse as campuses themselves. There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how to invest in technology. However, with a careful upfront needs analysis and a thorough understanding of options, customers can feel more confident about choosing a solution for their campus that delivers short- and long-term dividends.

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.

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