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TRENDS Sep 13, 2022

Trends in security solutions: unification, phygital and the internet of things

Aurelie Favresse

Pieter Hermans of network and security company DNCS tells us about the trends and evolutions in the security sector. What are the new technologies? How do you manage the tension between privacy and security? What role does 5G play? And, how can you set up a futureproof security system as a manager?

Pieter Hermans of network and security company DNCS tells us about the trends and evolutions in the security sector. What are the new technologies? How do you manage the tension between privacy and security? What role does 5G play? And, how can you set up a futureproof security system as a manager?

Q: In your opinion, what is the most important trend in the security business?

Pieter Hermans: Unification, the bundling of different security solutions in one platform, is gaining ground. More and more security systems are evolving from electric to IT-based systems. This enables more data interaction, which in turn facilitates smart solutions. Take, for instance, your camera, fire detection, and alarm systems. In the first phase, you integrate them – but they continue to be separate entities that exchange data. With unification, you take this a step further and control all those systems from one environment.

Q: How much of a priority are new technologies for DNCS?

Pieter Hermans: We are a fan of technology, but we never lose sight of its actual value. We always start from the common-sense Kempen perspective: what can technology deliver for our customers? Does it solve a problem? Does it generate income? Technology for technology’s sake is pointless.

Compare the future vision fifty years ago with today's reality: few predictions have come true. Technology only breaks through when it has added value. The innovations in the film Minority Report were fascinating, but only those applications that are of use to us will make it. We sometimes have false expectations of technology and risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Q: What do you mean by that?

Pieter Hermans: Let me explain with an example from our sector. Years ago, when the smartphone became popular, there was suddenly a lot of hype around its use as an access badge. Forget about key fobs and plastic cards. But in reality, it didn’t quite work. The administration was complex: who had what mobile phone? What if someone lost their mobile phone? A physical token turned out to be simpler. Too much was expected from the mobile phone, and the ideas around its potential uses were discarded too quickly. Only now are we rediscovering the opportunities thanks to applications like itsme.

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Big companies employ data privacy officers who deal with these privacy issues. We help smaller organisations with best practices.
Q: What other trends do you see in the sector?

Pieter Hermans: Our security systems are part physical, part digital. An alarm system, for instance, is often a physical device plugged into a digital network. A meeting of two worlds. This is known as phygital. There is no longer a barrier between IT security and physical security. Both have to meet the strictest security standards.

In the past, we might have encountered a physical security system such as an access control system controlled by a server in some dusty corner. No one dared touch it to carry out updates for fear of the whole thing collapsing. That is inconceivable today: all systems have to be cyber-hardened or cyber-attack-proof.

At the same time, IT security is becoming increasingly physical, for instance, in biometric security. That means the software provides access based on behavioural characteristics or biological traits. Fingerprint recognition is a well-known example of this. We often work for data centres, and they generally opt for biometric security. Biometrics allows to set up user audit trails: every operation is recorded. This enables you to trace who has had access and what activities they carried out.

Q: How do you see the tension between security and privacy?

Pieter Hermans: Handling sensitive data is an integral part of our industry. Biometric information, in particular, is highly privacy-sensitive. We have to treat it with great care. The Belgian GDPR regulations are a strict interpretation of the European guideline on data protection.

The customer must consider the consequences of technology carefully beforehand, both in terms of impact and risks. We set up a facial recognition system at Zaventem airport a few years ago. The idea was to identify gangs of thieves, but it turned out to be legally unsustainable. The system had to be shut down.

Big companies employ data privacy officers who deal with these privacy issues. We help smaller organisations with best practices.

There are acceptable applications of biometric security, such as the access control system at the European Commission. The biometrical information is used for authentication and not identification. The difference? The system checks that you are who you say you are instead of who you are. In other words: whether the encrypted biometrical information on the card agrees with the person presenting. The information is stored on the card instead of centrally. No database can be hacked. That makes a big difference in terms of risk analysis.

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For us at DNCS, it is about finding the interesting, sensible applications of IoT technology for the business of our customers.
Q: How do you make a difference for customers?

Pieter Hermans: Considering the total cost of ownership, we only use premium systems. We never choose to use cheaper Chinese materials because you risk security leaks that way. Sacrificing quality can cost you dearly. Our installations continue to be our babies. Our customers know this. That is precisely why one of the most prominent Belgian real estate funds chooses to work with us. Yes, the cost pressure in the residential rental market is high, but if things were to go wrong, you would lose a lot more money.

Q: What do you think will be the breakthrough technologies?

Pieter Hermans: 5G is essential, but it is not about superspeed. 5G facilitates the internet of things (IoT) and the connectivity of our devices. Via intelligent detectors, you can measure CO2 in offices or hotels, or find out where cigarettes or weed are being smoked. Microphone detection systems allow for specific sounds to be identified, like gunshots. This helps locate a shooter immediately; particularly in the US, such applications are relevant.

In smart cities, 5G connects public CCTV cameras of the fire service or police, for instance, with private CCTV cameras at football stadiums and charging points. This gives you a lot more eyes on the road and increases security.

Q: How can companies start using these technologies today?

Pieter Hermans: For us at DNCS, it is about finding interesting, sensible applications of IoT technology for our customers' business. You should never lose sight of this value angle. We are already seeing that the hypes are being over-subsidised. Governments are persuaded by fancy PowerPoint presentations. They see all the bells and whistles and forget to look at the practical application. There are no winners from an infusion of subsidies for specific technologies.

Q: Can you give an example of how security is already adding value for your customers today?

Pieter Hermans: An effective camera system does not just protect your business premises. You can also use it to improve your processes, for instance. That way, it is no longer just an investment but will also make you money.

A concrete example? We installed one hundred cameras at a metallurgical company, among others, that film the process of the metalworkers. The operator in the metal industry is close to the furnace. They can now monitor everything from a control room via our camera system.

Initially, there was scepticism on the factory floor. Would the cameras be used to check the duration of lunch breaks or to see who was making mistakes? Now though, the operators are asking for more cameras to be installed. It helps them work more safely and efficiently. Engineers can detect problems faster. As a service provider, we are the odd ones out as a partner of Flanders Metals Valley, the federation of the metal industry. Still, our participation clearly shows how we can provide value to a sector.

Q: What are some of the myths in the security world?

Pieter Hermans: People sometimes think that as a customer, you are bound to a particular vendor forever. This locked-in myth is persistent. Historically, changing vendors was indeed problematic. Some of our customers had reached boiling point when they knocked on our door. Our message is: choose open systems. As a small operator, we go against the grain a bit with this philosophy. But open systems enable you to let your solutions communicate with each other down the line, and as the end customer, you continue to hold the keys to your kingdom. That is crucial.

Pieter Hermans is general manager at DNCS.

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