This is the 18th article in the award-winning “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
The word “robust” and other qualifying terms are intended to convey design intent, and must be followed with design specifics that relate to the experience of the people providing, using, and servicing the deployed technology.
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Real Words or Buzzwords?
The Award-Winning Article Series
#1 Proof of the buzzword that killed tech advances in the security industry—but not other industries.
#2 Next Generation (NextGen): A sure way to tell hype from reality.
#3 Customer Centric: Why all security industry companies aren't customer centric.
#4 Best of Breed: What it should mean to companies and their customers.
#5 Open: An openness scale to rate platforms and systems
#6 Network-friendly: It's much more than network connectivity.
#7 Mobile first: Not what it sounds like.
#8 Enterprise Class (Part One): To qualify as Enterprise Class system today is world's beyond what it was yesterday.
#9 Enterprise Class (Part Two): Enterprise Class must be more than just a top-level label.
#10 Enterprise Class (Part Three): Enterprise Class must be 21st century technology.
#11 Intuitive: It’s about time that we had a real-world testable definition for “intuitive”.
#12 State of the Art: A perspective for right-setting our own thinking about technologies.
#13 True Cloud (Part One): Fully evaluating cloud product offerings.
#14 True Cloud (Part Two): Examining the characteristics of 'native-cloud' applications.
#15 True Cloud (Part Three): Due diligence in testing cloud systems.
#16 IP-based, IP-enabled, IP-capable, or IP-connectable?: A perspective for right-setting our own thinking about technologies.
#17 Five Nines: Many people equate high availability with good user experience, yet many more factors are critically important.
#18 Robust: Words like “robust” must be followed by design specifics to be meaningful.
#19 Serverless Computing – Part 1: Why "serverless computing" is critical for some cloud offerings.
#20 Serverless Computing – Part 2: Why full virtualization is the future of cloud computing.
#21 Situational Awareness – Part 1: What products provide situational awareness?
#22 Situational Awareness – Part 2: Why system designs are incomplete without situational awareness?
#23 Situational Awareness – Part 3: How mobile devices change the situational awareness landscape?
#24 Situational Awareness – Part 4: Why situational awareness is a must for security system maintenance and acceptable uptime.
#25 Situational Awareness – Part 5: We are now entering the era of smart buildings and facilities. We must design integrated security systems that are much smarter than those we have designed in the past.
#26 Situational Awareness – Part 6: Developing modern day situational awareness solutions requires moving beyond 20th century thinking.
#27 Situational Awareness – Part 7: Modern day incident response deserves the help that modern technology can provide but doesn’t yet. Filling this void is one of the great security industry opportunities of our time.
#28 Unicity: Security solutions providers can spur innovation by envisioning how the Unicity concept can extend and strengthen physical access into real-time presence management.
#29 The API Economy: Why The API Economy will have a significant impact on the physical security industry moving forward.
#31 The Built Environment: In the 21st century, “the built environment” means so much more than it did just two decades ago.
#32 Hyper-Converged Infrastructure: Hyper-Converged Infrastructure has been a hot phrase in IT for several years, but do its promises hold true for the physical security industry?
#33 Software-Defined: Cloud-computing technology, with its many software-defined elements, is bringing self-scaling real-time performance capabilities to physical security system technology.
#34 High-Performance: How the right use of "high-performance" can accelerate the adoption of truly high-performing emerging technologies.
#35 Erasure Coding: Why RAID drive arrays don’t work anymore for video storage, and why Erasure Coding does.
#36 Presence Control: Anyone responsible for access control management or smart building experience must understand and apply presence control.
#37 Internet+: The Internet has evolved into much more than the information superhighway it was originally conceived to be.
#38 Digital Twin: Though few in physical security are familiar with the concept, it holds enormous potential for the industry.
#39 Fog Computing: Though commonly misunderstood, the concept of fog computing has become critically important to physical security systems.
#40 Scale - Part 1: Although many security-industry thought leaders have advocated that we should be “learning from IT,” there is still insufficient emphasis on learning about IT practices, especially for large-scale deployments.
#41 Scale - Part 2: Why the industry has yet to fully grasp what the ‘Internet of Things’ means for scaling physical security devices and systems.
#42 Cyberspace - Part 1: Thought to be an outdated term by some, understanding ‘Cyberspace’ and how it differs from ‘Cyber’ is paramount for security practitioners.
#43 Cyber-Physical Systems - Part 1: We must understand what it means that electronic physical security systems are cyber-physical systems.
#44 Cyberspace - Part 2: Thought to be an outdated term by some, understanding ‘Cyberspace’ and how it differs from ‘Cyber’ is paramount for security practitioners.
#45 Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning: Examining the differences in these technologies and their respective benefits for the security industry.
#46 VDI – Virtual Desktop Infrastructure: At first glance, VDI doesn’t seem to have much application to a SOC deployment. But a closer look reveals why it is actually of critical importance.
#47 Hybrid Cloud: The definition of hybrid cloud has evolved, and it’s important to understand the implications for physical security system deployments.
#48 LegacyHow you define ‘legacy technology’ may determine whether you get to update or replace critical systems.
#49 H.264 - Part 1Examining the terms involved in camera stream configuration settings and why they are important.
#50 H.264 - Part 2A look at the different H.264 video frame types and how they relate to intended uses of video.
More to come about every other week.
Google shows that use of the word “robust” over time has been relatively flat for the last 200 years, then its use started climbing after 2000 and is now more than twice any previous level. So, it is a popular word and maybe that’s why it’s showing up in product brochures and most recently in A&E specifications.
Robust is a multi-faceted word whose specific definition should easily be recognized from context. Dictionary.com provides these definitions:
- strong and healthy; hardy; vigorous
- strongly or stoutly built
- suited to or requiring bodily strength or endurance
- rough, rude, or boisterous
- rich and full-bodied
- strong and effective in all or most situations and conditions
In theory definitions two and six should most easily applicable to security products, although in practice the use of robust often reduces the clarity of the message as some examples below will show. In the many fields of product engineering, there are specific definitions for the term “robustness”. For example, the IEEE Standard Glossary of Software Engineering Terminology (IEEE Std 610.12-1990) defines robustness as: “The degree to which a system or component can function correctly in the presence of invalid inputs or stressful environmental conditions.” These conditions are then defined and tested, using standard practices that have evolved for robustness testing. Door lock hardware products, for example, are subject to rigorous testing.
What Are We Really Saying?
Here are some examples taken from security product A&E specification documents, edited just enough to remove company and product names and to assure that you can’t easily find then with an Internet search.
- The unit shall utilize robust
- Provide robust, industry-leading warranties.
- The software shall be robust and reliable.
- The design shall provide ease of installation, robustness, reliability, and expansion.
- The CPU provided for the Access Control System server shall be reliable and robust in construction.
These examples are typical of the several dozen appearances of “robust” across the 120 specification documents I sampled. In all these documents, “robust” comes very close to being meaningless.
Engineering students are always taught that specifications must be testable. An Internet search for “testable specification” (quotes included), shows that about 4,000 sources across many fields all agree. Maybe it’s because marketing folks don’t attend engineering school, that specifications get requirements that aren’t verifiable by observation or testing.
I agree with using words like “robust” and other descriptive language to convey design intent. But then design specifics must immediately follow. Think: specific + ation – the act of providing specifics. For example:
- Provide robust front-panel controls utilizing non-corroding metal buttons with wear-resistant labels above or below, designed to withstand continuous use.
- The software shall have robust communications capabilities so that loss of connectivity to external systems or devices (a) is immediately logged, (b) initiates user notification according to user-specific notification settings, and (c) causes no software malfunction.
Specification are used by design engineers, consultants, system integrators and end user customers to support product selection and assure that customer needs will be met. Specifications should convey both design intent and design specifics to facilitate the product evaluation process.
Sadly, the examples above of using the word “robust” are taken from actual specifications that refer to good products in popular use. The specification documents did not do them justice. A lot of hard work goes into designing and developing good products. Why waste everyone’s time, and defeat the purpose of the document, by using words that don’t convey actual product value?
Remember that “robust” and other qualifying terms are intended to convey design intent, and must be followed with design specifics that relate to the experience of the people providing, using, and servicing the deployed technology. Whether or not such terms are meaningless depends entirely on how you, yourself, use them.
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.