The Integrator Relationship
The combination of more encompassing risk management needs, especially in this year’s economic environment, and more complex security technologies have driven security executives and their integrators closer together for a longer period of time. While both, in past years, had their own and sometimes distinct ways to look at the application of technology, today they share the same vision/mission centering on security’s business and security goals, master plans and budgets.
It’s a shared world of return on investment and total cost of ownership.
But, at the same time, solid, honest communications between security executives and integrators is more important.
Scott Fixmer, CPP, senior security analyst at Exelon Corporation, believes in it. “Good communication, clear and measurable expectations and active participation of the integrator staff at all levels” are essentials.
COMMUNICATIONS IS ESSENTIAL
“These questions need mutual and open discussion. Additionally, from my point of view, avoiding telling a customer for a year that the system will not do something because you don’t want to tell bad news doesn’t help. On the other hand, if there is a concern about a field technician, don’t wait to be polite, tell the vendor,” said Buckner.
Many of the top systems integrators have built in communications from the start.
For example, integrator Adesta takes a collaborative approach. “We get the client’s various departments involved early. We conduct a partnering session with all the key end-user people. It’s a two day meeting hosted by a consultant versed in the business of the client. We discuss the dynamics of the project. And we all agree on a charter that we all sign that outlines how we do business together,” commented Misty Stine, senior director of business development, critical infrastructure, at the integration firm.
Tony Varco of Convergint Technologies agrees. “One of the most critical elements is trust, as this is the cornerstone of any long-term client relationship. Clients today are looking beyond a simple consultative relationship with the integrators they partner with. They are no longer interested in attaining information that they themselves can find on the Internet or elsewhere. What clients are looking for are ‘trusted advisors’ that can help identify physical security threats, navigate through technology options and recommend cost-effective solutions that eliminate or mitigate the risk. From the customer’s point of view, you have essentially become an extension of the customer’s organization. Developing a trusted advisor relationship does not happen overnight. This is a status that is earned over time by providing exceptional value to the clients you serve.
“A second critical element to a solid integrator/client relationship is having the expertise to get the job done. While it seems like a simple concept, it is amazing how many integrators continue to dispatch inexperienced personnel to customer sites. Customers have grown tired of integrators showing up thumbing through application manuals and paying for their on-the-job training. This is especially true when it comes to IP-based solutions and interfacing with a client’s network infrastructure. Clients today want to work with integrators that have been properly certified and have the expertise to get the job done right the first time.”
NO MAGIC TO IT
Brad Wilson, CPP, of RFI Com-
munications and Security Systems, emphasized the essential to understand the customer’s customer, the development on a strong circle of stakeholders within the client’s organization. “One key it the emergence of the CSO, elevated level of understanding and professionalism (client end) and the ability to establish credibility early in the relationship.”
Peter Michael, principal engineer for surveillance and security at SAIC, believes that in any typical project there are four major stakeholders: The owner (contractor office / entity paying the bills), the designer (A&E firm), the end-user and the contractor (which may or may not be a system integrator).
“The main problem occurs when the owner doesn’t keep the end-user’s requirements in mind. This happens way too often because the owner focuses on only interpreting the contract and paying the bills. The end-user in many cases is subservient to the owner and as a result the system doesn’t match requirements or needs. A good system integrator gets the end-user involved and empowers them to obtain their desired results.”
Kevin Engelhardt, vice president and general manager of enterprise security at Diebold, sees being a business partner as an essential element between security leaders and their integrator. “It’s multi-leveled. How do we support their integration and technology needs and financial challenges? Trust and credibility. And there are the value adds – solutions to future proof the operations. Now a day, end-users want solid information and solutions that are scalable. We both have to invest wisely and invest in more than the project. You have to invest in security’s strategies and business. Always take the approach that this is a very long term cycle.”
CHOOSING AN INTEGRATORA first step along a partnership path is an intelligent plan when choosing a systems integrator.
Shawn Flaugher, with security consulting and design at Duke University and Health System, pointed out that “there are situations where the capabilities and resources of the vendor are not nearly as important as the product used, but not many. Overall, you’ve got to have sound vendor selection methods in place for all projects than you’re covered - and you can always scale down your criteria if needed.”
Having set criteria also helps justify recommending an integrator that may cost more than others. It can also help cover those security leaders who must meet additional criteria because of public funding or other internal and external rules.
Security integrators and enterprise executives interviewed for this article observed that systems integrators hate the term “vendor.” It’s a subtle distinction to anyone not in the industry, but a major factor that, when changed, emphasizes the partnership model.
Vendors, the perception goes, carry a set list of systems, and are very good at basic “cookie cutter” installations. They can put systems in on time and under budget on a regular basis - just as long as there are no complicated variations of the system or integration with other systems.
On the other hand, integrators often specialize in high-end systems, but are either familiar with all others or can easily figure it out. They are at their best in complex projects that join together parts of separate systems to function with core usability.
For Fixmer, “Although I feel that I have always held high performance expectations for our integrators, I would say we have raised the bar significantly over the last three years. I would also add that the way an integrator responds to requests tells volumes” about the partnership’s ongoing interaction.
In a practical vein, Shawn Reilly, the top security executive at Greenville Hospital System, sees mutual respect as first and foremost. “Integrators are contractors, and if you treat them as second class citizens because they are not ‘employees,’ they will quit or not do as good a job as possible. Second, the integrator must never look at his or her watch when fixing one of my security problems. Third, the integrator must respect the facility. If you trash my place you won’t be here long.”
“I like that fact that our integrator is a member of our security team. They have often been able to look at the bigger picture and offer technical advice on several occasions without having their hand out expecting payment. We have been able to build a level of trust and they know that they will have our business because they have proven that they provide service beyond delivery,” commented Rick Bean, team member, Workforce of Tomorrow.
SPECIFIC CONSIDERATIONS IN A PARTNERSHIPA first consideration is what kind of project is it as well as how it can lead to a longer relationship. Is it a basic installation or does it require complex engineering? The problem here is that the security executive may not know right off the bat. You may be thinking that all you need is a typical system but as the project develops you learn that there’s a lot more integration needed going forward.
So what’s important: price or engineering and service? This is tricky, according to Flaugher, because it may be more challenging to convince top management or purchasing to overcome the lowest bid mentality.
If you’ve got a basic system and you need a low price, than you’re going to be looking at a vendor. If you’ve got a complex system that needs to function, and also need sustained support and a longer term relationship, look for an established integrator. If you don’t have a core system in place already, Flaugher suggests dealing with manufacturers first and see who they work best with in your area.
NEXT PARTNERSHIP STEPS
There are seven additional questions to ask before entering into a partnership with an integrator.
- In what systems does the integrator specialize? How many systems similar to the proposal have they put in and support? How long have they been using that specific system?
There’s no doubt that the top integrators are keeping up with technology. Said Jennifer Martin, manager of worldwide channel programs at Pixim, “The best-of-breed integrators are very hungry for information. On the IP side, the IP Users Group is a solid source.”
- How many project managers, installation technicians, service technicians and account mangers are based out of or near your location? What happens if they are in the middle of a major install project when you have a problem with yours? Where the next closest branch is and what kind of staffing do they have?
“Mutual interest is what moves the relationship from better to best. If we mutually agree that service is important on an enterprise level, and that we mutually must fulfill that need to the agency, then we can focus on the end customer and not on the technology,” observed Buckner.
- How many project managers and technicians are factory trained or certified on the system and its computer and communications elements?
Added Fixmer, “The level of commitment from the integrator is critical to success. The commitment from our integrator is driven from the top. Their president has implemented a program that requires a person from each job function who interacts with our systems and spends time in our security monitoring center. They observe first hand the way our operators interact with the systems. This program has created a true team approach and has led to system modifications that improved both the system and operator performance.”
- What kind of relationship does the integrator have with the manufacturer? And don’t forget to ask the proposed manufacturer, too.
“Meetings, action register, e-mail and cell phone or at least those are the tools. What I depend n is providing the master security plan (MSP). If everyone understands where we are going, they can understand where they can contribute. We depend on the MSP to guide the technologies as well as the procedures for managing the system,” said Buckner.
- Seek references from colleagues, especially in your type of enterprise or business. What are other clients saying about the integrator? But go beyond the integrator’s list.
Trust is the bottom line. Larry O’Brien of Security Forces and SFI Electronics, a member of Security-Net, observed, “It’s a matter of consistently responding to requests and meeting every commitment that is made to a client. Reliability leads to trust and trust leads to open communications and partnering at the highest level. Integrators must know the client and their business and understand their security objectives.”
- How long has the integrator’s lead project manager been there? Lead technician? Lead sales position?
“Three years ago our relationship was growing as we were in the middle of a huge new construction project. Now the project is completed and we were so impressed with their level of service that we have contracted with them to bring a member of their team on board at our location on a full-time basis to help with the day to day operation and optimization of the system,” said Bean.
- Does the company have a history (positive or negative) with the state licensing board?
EVERYONE IS A STAKEHOLDER
Pointed out Reilly, ”Our IS folks and facilities folks have dedicated a person each to make the security projects we do move very efficiently. It is a great team effort.”
Added Exelon’s Fixmer, “Corporate security serves as the central point of contact, identifying system standards, providing project oversight and acceptance testing. However project management, engineering and real estate and facilities also play active roles in new projects and maintaining existing systems. As such, it is critical that the integrator manage communication paths that keep all parties informed on project and system maintenance status, for example.”
TOP REASONS TO PARTNER WITH AN INTEGRATOR
- Desire to develop long-term partnerships.
“Consistency is important. We have found a monthly meeting has been one of the most successful tools to keep projects, repairs or payments on time. It gives stakeholders the ability to exchange information, on a scheduled basis, it reduces telephone tag and answers questions. We produce an action register and we can benchmark issues and see if there is progress or if the problems repeat themselves,” said Buckner.
- Specific knowledge. Security leaders want someone who knows their business and can speak in business terms.
- Certification. A top integrator should promote a culture of continuing education that focuses on bringing value back to the client. Certification – manufacturer products, computer and communications levels -- assures that the integrator’s staff has a deep knowledge of the industry and products/platforms.
- IT/IP knowledge. With the convergence of physical security and IT, and the abundance of IP products on the market, the best integrators know how to converge these two silos.
According to Adesta’s Stine, what is important is a secured and robust backbone. “Another important element is command and control. There is an obvious migration to IT and IS involved in the overall security design. It’s important that security and the integrator have a good relationship with IT/IS and engineering.”
Added Varco, “The buying influences involved with physical security projects have changed dramatically over the past couple of years. Today, IT personnel have become an integral part of the evaluation and decision making process of traditional physical security applications.
Organizationally, there is a definite trend towards folding physical security responsibilities and personnel into the IT department. As such, integrators are finding themselves in meetings with the director of IT or CIO instead of just the director of security. This change has forced traditional integrators to learn the language of IT and ensure that they have a knowledgeable IT resource available to accompany them to such meetings.”
- Exceptional customer service. It’s communications. It’s not enough to just design and install a security system.
And the situation can get complex. “I am the lead specialist and head up all of our projects. We are in a government-leased facility and we are required to run all modifications to the system through the building’s lessor to ensure that they are in agreement with the changes that I am suggesting. This is done to ensure that any changes that we are making to the physical structure or its systems are tracked and so that at the end of the lease the lessor knows exactly what systems exist in the facility. To date the lessor has been a big help in getting changes in design approved and installed,” added Bean.
- Broad organizational capabilities. It’s important to be able to go all ways. An integrator should deliver a solution on a global, national level and a local level.
- Best-in-breed portfolio. Security integrators need to have a robust portfolio of best-in-breed products that can accommodate different clients.
According to Diebold’s Engelhardt, “Take a step back and you can see how much the industry has changed. Today there are more IT complexities and solutions-based sales. We have moved from facilities to CTOs and CIOs. There are millions of widgets out there. Look for integrators with a strong IT portfolio.”
- Future proofing. An integrator should keep a watchful eye on how specific businesses and enterprises grow and evolve so that a solution can more easily adapt with it.
And these days, the enterprise budget is just as important. “Capital budgets are being approved on the basis of documented risk mitigation. Sometimes, when applicable, return-on-investment and payback analysis are required for cost justification,” said O’Brien.
Jacobs, the electronics systems manager, has responsibility for perimeter protection, the main terminal, parking facilities and interacts with a military base and a private airfield. “I had a fencing project where I had to extend the fence from eight to ten feet high which included running a buried fiber trench. We also needed to bring access control to the gate as well as lighting at the entrance and camera surveillance.”
He insists on open source, open architecture solutions which will allow him to go to analytics in the near future.
Jacobs’ recent project included replacing analog cameras with IP-based equipment. There is monitoring over four workstations and recording. Local law enforcement and an emergency operations center have the ability to tap into the video feeds. “I look for flexibility and economies of scale,” said Jacobs.
Mike Hurley, project specialist for Convergint, concentrates on the network, servers and storage setups. “My job was to make sure we had a good understanding of what was needed.”
What Jacobs was looking for in an integrator was professionalism. “I want to see the work and the ability to do a clean install. It’s also important to follow up on details. A lot of people have a can’t do attitude. Most can’t do. The best go beyond that with an attitude that they can do and find other ways to make things happen.”
For Hurley, the relationship is about comfort “with our technologies and our people. It’s a matter of competence – everyone is trained and up to speed on what we are providing. Communications is also essential – we are on top of things 110 percent of the time. We also see ourselves as a way to bridge the gap among people and departments.”
Speaking of a long term integrator relationship, the Louisiana Office of State Buildings (OSB) has been working with Johnson Controls for more than 15 years. The OSB mission is to provide for the operations and maintenance, safety and security at all facilities under the jurisdiction of the State of Louisiana Division of Administration. The partnership result is improved security and operational efficiency, reduced costs and greater tenant satisfaction from increased comfort and safety.
OSB is responsible for 45 buildings statewide, totaling more than 5 million square feet. These facilities include parking garages, science labs, warehouse facilities, a welcome center and many office buildings. In addition, the OSB provides input on the development and design associated with large construction projects and repairs.
The long history between the OSB and Johnson Controls is the result of the OSB seeking a solution for improving efficiency of its operations and systems by using its own forces in conjunction with private companies such as Johnson Controls.
Improved safety and security of state employees and visitors is of particular importance for the OSB. In fact, $1 million of the initial project was directed toward a statewide security system involving the installation of a security management system. To enhance this security initiative, the OSB wanted to implement superior video technology that would not only integrate with the system but also reside on their IP network, and allow them to view, analyze and archive video data from all buildings in one single location.
“We were dealing with antiquated analog video equipment that performed poorly or just didn’t work, and in the end couldn’t achieve what we were looking for,” says Ed Middleton, chief of security. Now “each building has a workstation from which we can point and click and easily navigate the cameras,” said Middleton. “And more importantly, because the system resides on our network, we can pull up any camera, statewide, at any time from our central monitoring station, download detailed information and forward it to security and police personnel.”
Billy Wilson, director of OSB, sees trust as the bottom line for a relationship with an integrator. “And there is a need for an energy management program beyond security and life safety.” Ronnie Firmin and Randy Summers of the OSB electrical division also agree and point to the transition from what they had to the new systems’ approach, which simplifies maintenance. Johnson Controls has an office on site.
“Johnson Controls provided us with the video solution we needed and the networking capabilities we were looking for. And, because they serve as a single point of contact for our security systems and HVAC controls, it simplifies our operations,” said Wilson. “In addition to the operational efficiencies that have come from working with Johnson Controls and their products, they have served well for our tenants,” added Middleton. “In the end, it’s all about providing safety and security for our tenants.”
SIDEBAR: Open Architecture for Integrators and End-users
Any list of the benefits of an open architecture approach to access control systems will be incomplete, as end-users are constantly finding new reasons to purchase systems based on open architecture.
However, according to a white paper from RS2, a basic list of benefits would include the following:
- Ease of installation
- Lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)
- Ease of scalability and multinational application
- Elimination of “vendor lock-in”
- Ease of integration
Ease of installation: Open architecture systems are easier for security systems integrators to install because, usually, they are being paired up with some existing system components such as card readers and electronic locks. And, generally, open systems do not require new cabling or, when required, it is minimal.
Lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership): Lower TCO is a combination of several factors, such as lower cost of integration and lower cost of upgrades. In terms of integration, true open architecture systems will integrate with the peripherals of almost any reputable security industry source. Generally, upgrades are easier and much less expensive with open architecture systems because it is not necessary for end-users to scrap their previous investment when attempting to “graft” new technology onto their systems.
Ease of scalability and multinational application: Scalability is a companion concept to upgrading, but does not necessarily involve the adoption of new technology. With open architecture access control systems, this concern is largely eliminated, although end-users still need to pay attention to whether their integrator offers software upgrade programs.
Open architecture also facilitates the multinational application of access control systems, which is increasingly important in today’s global business environment. Multinational companies have found that open architecture has allowed them to use existing hardware (such as card readers) when installing systems in their branches and offices.
SIDEBAR: Partnership Strategies the Work
- Know My Business
- Communicate Well with Me and My Colleagues
- Know Security, Computer and Communications Technologies
- Be Certified for Computer and Communications Technologies
- Provide a Pathway to Convergence
- Talk and Interact with My Other Colleagues – IT, HR, Facilities, Purchasing
- Appreciate My Budget Constraints
- Have Staffers that are Local to My Area
SIDEBAR: The Changing Product Cycle
Looking ahead, mass deployments are on the horizon. One new advancement with a lasting impact will be IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6), which brings the benefit of improved mobility with secure auto-configuration of addresses. This makes seamless communication between networks a reality.