Something is different. When I speak to security executives who use or oversee the use of security technologies, it is obvious that there is a disconnect between the manufacturers and the end-users. It is as if the wind has changed but many product makers haven’t trimmed their sails – or something to that effect. So I was pleased to find IBM showing remarkable agility, turning a very big ship and reorienting sales to work for the customer rather than against.

Doesn’t it often seem that vendors are pitched in battle with customers, trying merely to extract as much revenue as possible, delivering as little value in return? That approach is evident in side-stepped standards discussions, limited product functionality, and reduced support after the sale.

Thinking Outside the Box

IBM did something different in January. Its entire Systems Technology Group, known as STG, shifted from a technology focus to customer-orientation. Here’s what I mean. STG had been divided into several operating groups centered on the different product brands or technology types. Each brand, such System Z or Digital Video and Surveillance had its own sales reps in the field, who reported to sales managers and on up to VPs within that product brand group. Each product had its own sales people.

IBM structured itself that way in the 1990s because it seemed better to have account managers and support personnel experts in a specific technology. Back in those days, you see, an end-user was looking for best of breed technologies and wanted a vendor’s account team to meet a specific technical need.

The genius of IBM is recognizing that customers are no longer saying, “I need a faster blade server to do this,” or, “I gotta have cameras to watch the back door,” as much as they are saying, “Help me build a better surveillance system.” The customers’ interaction with account managers and product executives is more related to reducing complexity, reducing physical space and power consumption. That’s a lot different than head to head product comparisons with a best-of-breed mentality.

Take this story told to me by a security executive at a SecurityDreamer event in Chicago last fall. He said that when he was researching different approaches to solve a parking lot surveillance problem, he was dissatisfied with the response. His integrator just wanted to, “take the order and install the cameras.” The manufacturer’s rep just wanted to talk about pixels and lumens and to beat up his competitors. Even the consultant didn’t see that the parking lot security problem was related to event management in the entire facility, impacting everything from employee safety to loss prevention, access control and property protection. The cameras were just a small piece in the puzzle. For this security executive to achieve the business value he was looking for, everyone needed to work toward the same goal, but they all spoke different languages. A “solution” cannot be described merely in terms of pixels, labor hours, coverage area.

Younger is Better

In the security industry, the young companies get it. VidSys, Proximex, Quantum Secure and Steelbox seem to understand intuitively that the key to creating a security solution is to help the customer put together the puzzle – to build a total solution around the core technology of the vendor. After all, that is obviously what security executives want. Buyers and end-users of security technology get less turned on by power over Ethernet and more jazzed about cutting costs in loss prevention or improving emergency response times.

In the last few months, I’ve heard Lenel, Tyco and Bosch strenuously pitch their “best-of-breed” stories, with barely a nod to the problems of integrating with other companies’ products. Integrators are used to that sort of oblivion. At the Security 500 conference in December, one integrator quipped to me that manufacturers live in their own world and leave the problem solving to us.

It might take a while for the big vendors to change their approach. But IBM did it. Tyco, Honeywell, or even the presumably more lithe Lenel can, too. I think manufacturers should imitate IBM’s value-oriented approach. When manufacturers, integrators, consultants and end-users are all focused on solving the customer’s business problem, customers will be happier, business cases for spending money will be more easily made, and manufacturers will make more money.

An attitude of protectionism isn’t relevant anymore. IBM and the startups are setting the pace. Let’s watch to see how long it takes the established physical security vendors to catch on.