System integrators (SIs) are the cornerstone of the security industry. These companies do more than install products, they advise, integrate, install and maintain complex installations according to their customers’ requirements and budgets.
Unfortunately, many customers and potential customers, don’t understand the difference between an installer and an integrator, often opting for the service provider that delivers the cheapest quote, ignoring the higher costs they probably will face down the road. This is not altogether the customer’s fault, since they understand a need for security and have heard how useful CCTV surveillance or access control is, but they know precious little else. Furthermore, as with any technology, they are often at the mercy of installers/integrators that can spin a yarn and promise the world while delivering a dud.
So how do successful SIs operate in a market where cheap-and-nasty is always a competitor and users are often uneducated as to what real, integrated solutions can do and cost. Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to two SIs – Nick Grange, technical director of C3 Shared Services, and Leo Slootmans, CEO of FireSpec – to find out how they approach the market and succeed where others fail.
Integration makes the difference
SIs would prefer it if customers were better able to differentiate between installers and integrators because the value proposition of the two is very different. So how do customers recognise the different levels of value on offer and make decisions based on their real requirements?
Grange says that C3 offers a turnkey service, so its clients quickly realise that it offers far more than just an installation service. Customers with high-level security do recognise the value if it fits their requirement. “If you only offer a box or a product, you are seen as a product installer.”
Slootmans explains, “As the security and business intelligence requirements of our customers are becoming more involved and complicated, there is more of a need for systems integration and value-added solutions rather than off-the-shelf generic products. We are seeing more customers looking for a solution provider that can understand their business and add tangible business value to every cent invested in technology. We are also finding an increasing number of customers using our solutions outside the classical security domain.
“Having said that, many end-users do not understand the difference between installer and integrator and simply see a product installer. Only once the possibilities are explained and how this can improve their business do they fully comprehend the difference.”
To assist clients in understanding the value an integrator can add, Slootmans says FireSpec tries to form partnerships with them, starting with comprehensively understanding their pain points from a risk, security, compliance, safety and process optimisation standpoint. “We are then in a position to work on a long-term technology and implementation roadmap, rather than a one off product sale. We rely heavily on repeat business based on a positive experience on prior projects.”
Grange agrees, noting that C3 puts a lot of effort into understanding each customer’s unique business, to which the company’s after sales support and service offering caters. C3 also keeps customers up to date with new applications and new trends. “New customers are convinced by our proven solutions in similar industries and definitely by referrals from existing customers.”
A question often asked by end users, mostly those with solutions that don’t do what they initially required, is whether the products they use are the best for the job at hand, or at least suited to the task, or if their service provider always sells a specific brand.
“We select best of breed technology for the suitable application,” says Grange. “We are driven to provide the customer a solution they will benefit from in the long term and that will provide them with the highest return on their investment (ROI).”
He adds that C3 provides demonstrations of the selected technology to ensure that the required results are achieved. However, he notes, “a specific product is not what achieves the optimal results, but it is the optimisation of the solution that is most important. As environments, operations, site conditions and seasons change, we always ensure we optimise our solutions to meet the changes.”
FireSpec recommends products the company has deep technical experience with. “In our experience,” says Slootmans, “too many customers have burned their fingers by forcing or allowing system integrators to use products they don’t have the required deep level engineering skills in. Many times the client does not get complete view of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of a specific solution, and it is the responsibility of the sales person to get this across. Having a broad solution with a narrow focus greatly improves service delivery and is vital for effective maintenance post construction.”
The skills scenario
It’s a regular issue in the South African security industry that customer, integrator, installer and vendors alike have to deal with. The issue is that of skills. The more complex the job, the more expensive and rare the skilled people capable of doing it are. So what does the SI do? Do they retain the skills in-house or outsource to other companies when specific skills are required?
Slootmans says FireSpec keeps the project engineering, project management and system commissioning in-house. “We might outsource some of the software development and code to other companies, but our project engineers (verifying adherence to original scope) and commissioning engineers (verifying compatibility with systems on site) are always part of the testing and validation of any interfaces or integrations that external parties develop.
“We employ and develop top quality project engineers and project managers and have invested heavily in the development and implementation of project management methodologies. The project engineer is involved in the design phase and they are the technical lead for the project and fully responsible for commissioning and configuration results in a turnkey solution that works.”
C3 works under a similar scenario. Grange explains that projects are managed by accredited, qualified project managers employed by C3 who keep themselves up to date with information, project status reports and ongoing project progress meetings. “We always keep our clients well informed of all activities to ensure customer satisfaction. Not only does our project manager take care of the project, we also appoint highly skilled and dedicated key account managers to individual clients to ensure the highest level of service and quality.”
Services and differentiators
To differentiate between an installer (companies that certainly have a place in the market) and an integrator, Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked the interviewees what the services offered by a professional SI are, as well as what their individual market differentiators are.
Grange explains that a professional SI should offer a turnkey solution and specialise in bringing a variety of technologies and expertise together to create a functional, cohesive and working system. He adds that C3’s experience in access control and turnkey perimeter protection solutions in the enterprise market differentiates it from typical installers.
“Our partnerships with our international suppliers enable C3 to procure equipment direct from the supplier and thus avoiding the costs of having to deal with a middle man. This translates into direct savings for our clients. Additionally, C3 has some of the very best technical personnel in South Africa employed at the company. Our technical teams constantly undergo training and are always kept abreast with the latest technological updates.”
Slootmans sees an SI providing a complete end-to-end solution in an EPCM (Engineer, Procure, Construct & Manage) environment. This will include process definition, operational specification and technology design. The SI should also manage the development and deployment of custom software integrations that might be required with other sub-systems. Full commissioning, training and hand-over of the solution to the client is required.
In terms of a differentiator, he says FireSpec stands out by “understanding where we can deliver business value (more than just security systems) in the vertical markets we operate in. This coupled with in-depth engineering and project management skills and our selection of industry leading products means we deliver complex projects that add value to the bottom line within time and budget. We take a long-term view with maintenance a key focus throughout the project.”
The right stuff
When looking at the SI issue from the other side, from the customer perspective, how does the end user know whether he/she is hiring the right company for the job? We asked our interviewees for some tips on making sure the SI you select can deliver.
Slootmans advises end users to look for an SI with proven track record in delivering value to clients. “Look for the best testimonial case studies and references from leading product suppliers they work with. Use technology to research the company’s growth story – the market reflects and supports a company that works and delivers.”
Grange adds that it is beneficial to gain a good understanding of the SI’s competencies in a similar environment or market. References from customers and even visits to their customers’ sites are important to get an holistic idea of the service provider’s capabilities.
“When dealing with high security facilities, screening, audits and the required SHEQ checks are also very important for the customer. Due to the price of enterprise solutions, it is imperative to see the full solution working, as specification sheets only provide information and not the capabilities of a systems integrator. After sales support, repairs of products, warrantees, guarantees and product availability are also key elements to take in to consideration when opting for a selected systems integrator as continuous performance is required for high security facilities.”
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