Real Words or Buzzwords?: Best of Breed

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This is the fourth article in the “Real Words or Buzzwords?” series about how real words become empty words and stifle technology progress, also published on SecurityInfoWatch.com.

By Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III


Originally adopted from the IT domain, the term “Best of Breed” has frequently been misapplied in the physical security industry.

Best of Breed originally, and still, refers to the winning animal of its breed at a dog show. For each breed category established for a show, there is one dog that is selected by the show’s judges as best representing its breed. For each breed, there are written standards of perfection on which the entered dogs are judged.

Stages of Software Advancement

Later, the IT world adopted the term to identify the best software product of its type. At the time the label came into use, it was a marketing term whose purpose was to position a single application from one vendor as being better than the corresponding application included in a competitor’s software suite. Here are the key stages software advancement has followed:

  1. Standalone applications from multiple vendors
  2. Interfaced applications from multiple vendors
  3. Integrated suites of applications from a single vendor (“enterprise solutions”)
  4. Integrated “Best of Breed” applications from multiple vendors

Standalone applications (#1 above) were problematic because they couldn’t share data and interact. There was a lot of duplicate manual data entry, which introduced data errors. There was also no coordination or automation of workflow.

Interfaced applications (#2) were an advance, but a too-troublesome advance. The middleware between the integrated systems would “break” when the individual software applications were updated. It was disruptive and costly to maintain the integrations.

Integrated suites of business (#3) applications from a single vendor eliminated the customers’ integration problems, because the vendor assured that the applications could talk to each other. However, it was also a step backwards, because typically one application in each suite was an advanced application related to the vendor’s specialty, but the other applications the vendor developed or acquired often were mediocre.

Best of Breed product and system utilization (#4) was made possible by standards created specifically to improve cross-vendor integration capabilities Thus it became possible to integrate leading applications from different vendors successfully. That’s when leading applications were labelled “Best of Breed”, and the term stepped into the limelight. The concept was for customers to create the best possible set of enterprise software solutions by integrating leading applications from a variety of vendors. The objective was to best fit the needs of the different parts of the business (sales, accounting, payroll, manufacturing, warehouse management, and so on).

Physical Security Industry Echoes IT

Because physical security systems are built using information technology (computer, network, database, and software technology), the same product stages occurred in our security industry. However, when the term Best of Breed caught on with our industry’s marketing and sales folks, its use began almost simultaneously with its use in the IT world. The problem was that the technology in the security industry had not caught up yet! That is why you could hear some sales people saying, “Our integrated suite of applications is Best of Breed!” No! That’s the same thing as saying, “Our integrated suite of proprietary applications is really a separate single application that integrates with other vendor’s separate applications.” It’s a nonsense statement. The term “Best of Breed” sounded good, but didn’t really mean what it was supposed to, and so became meaningless to the ears of customers. Or worse than meaningless to customer IT folks, because it said, “We’re clueless about the current state of software.”

A New Era is Dawning

However, thanks in large part to IT advances in web services and service oriented architectures, as well as their utilization in cloud-based applications, we are entering an era where integration capabilities are advancing by leaps and bounds, at the same time as emerging technology is bringing many new technological capabilities to the table.

When asked, at the 2014 Gartner Data Center Conference, about the effects of technology advances and the impacts of digital disruption on General Electric, Chris Drumgoole, then Chief Operating Officer of GE’s cloud division (now Chief Technology Officer of GE), said, “There is really not a single thing that we do in IT, today, that we’ll do the same way two years from now. I struggle to name a single process within our organization that isn’t going to change dramatically over the next two years or three years.”

Drumgoole also said, in a 2014 InfoWorld interview, “We really believe that the world is changing from engineered-systems to an integrated-systems world, where the component is no longer the most important piece. It’s around systemic behavior, where systems exist to serve apps.”

Focus on Application Value

We are already starting to see security apps emerge that will help us build a new generation of security systems. We’ll have many more sensors and 3rd party sources of data to integrate than we do cameras and credential readers, and none of these new devices will be “owned” by Security.

We’re approaching the ideal situation for Best of Breed applications: ubiquitous networking, widely adopted integration standards, and open systems to help bring it all together. These conditions make it possible to assemble a highly effective arsenal of advanced software tools, with powerful cloud-based analytics systems that do in minutes what used to take days. This “integration of top applications” approach is referred to in the IT world as the Best of Breed Strategy.

The Miami International Airport already has video analytics capabilities (from Qognify) that enable spotting individuals who left a package behind, and finding the paths that they walked before and after, right up to their current location if they are still in the airport. This now takes minutes, where it used to take hours or days of after-the-fact video review. While this is impressive, consider that this and other security technologies of today are not standing still. What will they be like next year?

We are now approaching the time when intelligent systems and devices can bring actionable information together in real time that simply wasn’t possible before, no matter how many staff a security department had.

So, at upcoming trade shows, be on the lookout for improved real-time system capabilities, and new technology integration scenarios. And if someone says “Best of Breed” to you, you can and should feel free to ask, “What breed of application?”, “Exactly how is it the best?”, and “What kinds of integrations are possible?”


Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities (www.go-rbcs.com). He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is a Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (SEC) and an active member of the ASIS International member councils for Physical Security and IT Security.