2007 InfoWorld CTO 25: James Chong

Founder and CTO, VidSys

Many still believe that physical and IT security are one and the same – and James Chong, CTO and co-founder of VidSys, is happy to correct them. In fact, Chong believes that his major contribution to security and surveillance is in helping educate the industry on the difference.

Yet Chong is also an active player in the two halves’ convergence. He observes that the first major disruption on the physical security side occurred when DVRs overtook VCRs as surveillance products.

"In 2003 and 2004, digital systems finally outsold analog," Chong says. And even as that first change was taking place, says Chong, the second era of integration was underway. "Once things were on a digital platform, we began looking at integration of multiple systems to create a single, large solution that can be managed from a single console."

Although the integration phase won’t be complete until 2009, Chong says it is already resulting in the rationalization of disparate security systems, bringing them together into a more "holistic" solution.

Convergence, the next era beyond integration, brings IT and physical security together at a higher level – primarily by adding automation. "It brings the 'if, then' clause into physical security."

Chong gives an example of what he means as he describes VidSys' PSIM (Physical Security Information Management) platform, which offers "collaborative situational awareness" for safety and security. If in a secure facility there is intrusion detection on the physical layer, the system escalates that to the nearest camera, which pans, tilts, and zooms in on the action. “Security personnel can rely on automation,” he says, “rather than doing everything manually."

VidSys is also bringing security to the next level by developing a video analytics module, which can take the same video stream and, using business rules, allow three separate algorithms to look at the stream's metadata for analysis. "If all three [algorithms] raise their hand, the system escalates it to appropriate personnel," explains Chong.

This is what Chong calls "situational awareness." VidSys technology is in fact being used by the military to collect sensor data combined with analytics to interpret what is happening in the field. Chong and his team are also bringing situational awareness to the streets of Chicago and to transportation management centers in New York City and Washington, D.C. 

In New York, a $212 million contract is bringing together dozens of disparate systems for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In Chicago, VidSys and partners are putting "gunshot" cameras on the street that have the ability to triangulate using acoustical sensors and GPS-based technology to determine where the gun was fired.

Crime has been reduced by as much as 77 percent in areas where the cameras and acoustic sensors are located, said Chong. But as the recent introduction by Google of video views at street level in selected cities has shown, privacy issues are a concern.

"Yes, that is true," says Chong, but he adds, "Security concerns are… starting to overtake privacy in many situations."

Visionary or smart businessman? James Chong is a little both of both. He foresaw the critical need for converged physical and IT security, then parlayed it into a company whose products now guide 20 of the largest city command centers and transportation management centers in North America.