What is Open and Why is it Important?

There has been a lot of discussion occurring in the security industry lately around open versus proprietary technology. End users prefer to deploy systems they deem as open, versus systems that are viewed as proprietary.

The thought is that an open system provides more choices. End users can easily expand their security systems and integrate with complimentary technologies necessary to secure their people, property and assets. However, as I dug deeper and talked with others in the industry, I realized that everyone has their own definition about what “open” really means.

What is Open?

According to TechTarget: An open API, also known as a public API, is an application programming interface that allows the owner of a network-accessible service to give universal access to consumers of that service, such as developers.

My definition of open is when a manufacturer develops their software and hardware following industry standards and makes their API’s available to any company who wishes to integrate with their products.

A proprietary system is by design a closed system that only works with a manufacturer’s own hardware and software. Proprietary companies do not share their API and typically do not make it easy to integrate their products with other technologies.

Some manufacturers claim they are open as part of their business model, and they will stake their brand and reputation on being open. Other manufacturers are proprietary and sell based on the features and benefits within their own system.

Some manufacturers charge their technology partners for access to their API and then make them abandon their own hardware. How can a system be open if an organization must abandon its own products and solutions? Even if that hardware is commonly used by many companies, is that system truly open? Some would call that “pay to play,” which is another form of a proprietary system.

Ultimately, an open control panel can integrate and operate with any software once the API is provided. This new way of doing business means that even the biggest competitors could become technology partners if the end user chooses to install a system that way. Take a minute for that to sink in. Imagine partnering with your biggest competitor?

The Impact of PLAI

The Physical Security Interoperability Alliance introduced the Physical Logical Access Interoperability (PLAI) spec in 2013 which is an example of how the industry is committing to the idea of providing open interoperable solutions. PSIA supports license-free standards and specifications, which are vetted in an open and collaborative manner to the security industry as a whole under the direction of its Board of Directors. Companies committed to PLAI, like AMAG, have developed adapters that provide a bridge that allows different physical access control systems to communicate with each other and share data.

If you visit Physical Security Interoperability Alliance, you will notice several large and successful companies that are missing, some of which claim to be open. What limitations are these companies putting on their PLAI relationships? Are companies signing up for PLAI, but still choosing to hold back and not make their API available depending on the client? If having an open system is that important, why isn’t everyone a member and compliant with PLAI?

Progressive companies understand the importance of delivering an open platform to the market and will drive standards. It uncovers new ways to drive revenue and creates happy customers. Making your own hardware and software allows you to control what success looks like, however being open allows for others to inter-operate and provides for choices for end users.