The SI’s view on integration

Access & Identity Management Handbook 2022 Access Control & Identity Management

John Powell.

Johan van Heerde.

Frazer Matchett.

Integration is a key issue in the security industry, including in the access and identity management segment. The ability for a customer to choose a product that meets its specific requirements should not be hindered or prevented by the inability of the product and the other products used in the complete security solution to share information securely to deliver an holistic security operation.

When it comes to integration, system integrators (SIs) are generally the ones in the firing line because they are expected to work miracles and ensure everything works together seamlessly. When systems are designed to make integration easier, this is less of a hassle, but when manufacturers make it difficult because they want to force users to use their own range of products, it can be a bit tricky.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to a few SIs about their experience in integrating products into complete solutions. (We also have an article similar to this one in the handbook where we spoke to manufacturers on the same topics.) Starting with the obvious question, we asked whether, when it comes to access control installations, whether biometric or other products, how important it is to have the ability to integrate into other (access or non-access) functionality or operations? By non-access functions we include anything from visitor management, IoT to building management and anything else the customer may need.

John Powell, CEO of Powell Tronics, states that over time more access control devices have become commoditised, making it difficult for an installer to differentiate themselves purely by the product they sell. “Providing our clients with the ability to do more with these devices through integration is essential to increasing the value delivered, thereby increasing sales, margins and scope for growth in the future.

“When it comes to meeting specific end-user or operational requirements, often your base line standard access control products require seamless integration to numerous peripheral or production third-party products to enable full compatibility and usability of the solution. Utilisation of the credentials through the access control system is often the tip/start of a complex array of services that are able to be executed purely based on the person that is being identified.”

Johan van Heerde, GM at Skycom supports this, noting that it “is imperative that you, as a service provider, have the ability to integrate or interface into existing systems and/or hardware already onsite. It enables the changeover process to be phased and not a rip-and-replace scenario. At the same time, it makes change management so much easier if the hardware that employees/visitors and contractors are familiar with remains in use.”

From a costing perspective, he says it lessens the immediate required investment from the client if they do not have to purchase new hardware. “In the Skycom world as the manufacturer of the XTime Workforce Management Solution, interfacing and integrations are essential to be able to provide the customer with a complete end-to-end turnkey solution.”

Frazer Matchett, MD of Enkulu Technologies adds, “I think integration is going to be a fundamental and not a luxury, very soon. For us as Enkulu Technologies, we only supply solutions that have the ability and flexibility to cater for the many ‘what-if’ scenarios we find every day. Our solutions are often built with future-proofing in mind. You never know when a curve ball such as Covid can be lurking around the corner.”

Integration challenges faced

The above confirms the need for integration options in access and other security components, but are the manufacturers playing ball? There is still a lot to be said for getting customers to standardise on your product alone, especially when you can promise easy integration among your own brand’s various components.

“I think this has changed a great deal over the years and although there are some vendors that still try to lock clients in by not being willing to interface or integrate to another system, they are the minority,” says Van Heerde. “If you are not willing to integrate in today’s environment, you will be left behind as it has become part of the system requirements as a default.

“Skycom realised this a very long time ago and we have invested a great deal of time and resources in creating a generic platform which handles all our integrations and interfaces. We have also ensured that our system caters for a very strong level of third-party break-out validations to other systems on the edge in real-time.”

Matchett adds that Enkulu tries to keep things as open as possible with the brands it supplies. “Our Integr8 platform is key to pulling competing systems together. While we are brand loyal on the components we supply, there are often situations where an end user has spent a great deal of money on their system to find that it doesn’t do exactly what they need. We’ve used Integr8 to push and pull data between systems as a secure, reliable middleware solution.

“We’ve found that some systems are particularly open to integration using best practices and secure encrypted communication, which is the ideal situation. However, there are many entry level/low encryption systems out there that have not adapted/invested in keeping their information secure.”

Powell Tronics has found that some of the challenges facing SIs and installers relates to the finalisation and agreement on the integration specification with all the roll players involved in seeking the solution. “Once the specifications are fully defined and the end game is agreed upon, our development team proceeds with the project,” Powell states. “We have, for the most part, found that vendors do offer SDKs and/or APIs for their products and use industry standard inputs and outputs with varying degrees of support and assistance, but this does make it possible for us to integrate with almost anything you can dream of, even if we need to get creative in doing so.”

The skills question

No matter how open and accessible a product is, integration still includes a technical aspect that requires skilled people to make it work properly and that is when the process is based on open standards. And when vendors do major upgrades to product lines, it can cause problems because previously standard APIs or SDKs have changes that need to be accommodated (or re-developed) in the integration software.

The lack of basic technical skills within SA does provide its challenges to the supplier base, according to Matchett. “Acquiring SDKs has not been a major challenge for Enkulu; however, the challenge has always been trying to get everyone on the same level for a complex rollout. We find that key personnel that should understand the difference between HTTP and HTTPS, for example, presents a hurdle for us more often that we’d like.”

On a positive note, he says support on API and SDK maintenance on the brands Enkulu supplies has never been a major issue. “We try to associate ourselves with brands that truly understand our market needs.”

Powell says that the skills are available, but ‘not easily available’, especially in terms of industry knowledge. “It is one thing for someone to have the technical knowledge to be able to do an integration, but quite another for them to understand how to approach solving a problem if they do not know the intricacies of the industry.”

He also believes vendors are aware of not creating ‘breaking changes’ when providing upgrades, but this is sometimes inevitable. In some cases, communication to integrators tends to be lacking, which can be challenging and can put undue pressure on a situation that could easily be catered for with prior notice. “To this end we run various test lab environments to fully test compatibility of new versions from manufacturers prior to deployment onsite.”

All vendors realise the importance of having the ability to integrate and it is a core ability that is part of their product offering, adds Van Heerde. “When it comes to upgrades and maintaining integrations, the rule of thumb is that you add onto functionality or optimise it, but never remove or change functionality that could affect other systems. If that is unavoidable, we will work in conjunction with the other vendor to ensure we make the required changes on both systems as it is of utmost importance not to affect the operations of the end user.”

The question of brand loyalty

Given that SIs are responsible for the integration and maintenance of the solutions they install, as well as keeping people with the relevant skills onboard, it’s worth asking if they have a set of products they recommend and use repeatedly in their jobs or if they are open to whatever the end customer wants to use.

Powell says his company tries to stay with tried, tested and trusted products and not to diversify too much as far as brands go. “This greatly increases our ability to support and maintain our products effectively and to offer world-class solutions.”

Similarly, Van Heerde says Skycom likes to “stick to the brands we know and that we have tested in the field with good track records. There are a lot of manufacturers all pledging that their products are the best and better than others, but the true test is out in the field. It is very different to install equipment in a nice, air-conditioned office environment as opposed to installing it on a turnstile outside on a mine, as this is where the equipment gets tried and tested to the extreme.”

Skycom does not simply comply with clients’ demands for unknown products unless they have passed the company’s testing process. “If the unit is unstable or not reliable, then it will flow down through the whole system, destabilising the whole solution. Important factors are reliability, support, stock in-country, warranty, repair turn-around times, SDK quality and the functionality supported by the SDK.”

“Given our experiences with the brands we supply,” affirms Matchett, “we firmly believe in supporting the brands that truly value their integration partners; brands that just want to satisfy short-term sales targets are not who we are after. Global component shortages are affecting all manufacturers and we have to maximise the value on all products by pairing it with the best support.”

For more information contact:

• Enkulu Technology, +27 87 551 3005, [email protected],

• Powell Tronics, 0861 784 357, [email protected],

• Skycom, +27 10 001 4672, [email protected],


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