Defining integration

August 2012 Integrated Solutions

These days everyone calls themselves a systems integrator, claiming to have all the skills and experience necessary to integrate all types of products and technologies into a solution that adds value to the client. The users out there tell a different story.

These days everyone calls themselves a systems integrator, claiming to have all the skills and experience necessary to integrate all types of products and technologies into a solution that adds value to the client. The users out there tell a different story.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked a few of the system integrators (SIs) out there for their view of what a real SI is and does. The answers clearly distinguish between installers that install and run, box droppers who hardly set foot in the door except to drop off an invoice and integrators that deliver working solutions.

The following article is a sample of the answers we received.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What is an SI? How do they differentiate themselves?

Kobus le Roux, Jasco: An SI is more than just an installer. SIs should really differentiate themselves by going over and above the installation of systems. The value-add lies in the fact that the real SI will, for a start, understand the customer’s challenges and be able to address these changes by making technology work for the customer in integrating various systems and technologies.

Rob Spinetti, Honeywell Building Solutions: The term SI in its simplest meaning is a person or organisation who takes on the responsibility to manage and integrate many seemingly disparate technologies into a single useable solution that meets an organisational need or requirement. There is no value in integrating systems or technologies if, at the end of the day, there is no measureable benefit to the organisation which is going to use it.

Kelly McLintock, UTM: There are many different explanations of what a security integrator is, however, we believe that by going to the root of the word integrate, it gives us a better understanding of what a security integrator is. Wikipedia quotes the word integration, as meaning to make whole, and this is the crux of what a security integrator does

Francois Malan, Camsecure: There seems to be no clear definition at the moment. There are few true system integrators. Most who call themselves SIs are merely buying boxed solutions and installing them. Some ingenuity is required in order to be truly classified as a SI.

Jayson Gouws, TVMS: System integrators integrate several different surveillance and non-surveillance systems together into one easy to use dashboard. The system integrator designs, supplies and manages the customers complete security needs. Installers simply replace existing technologies or rely on distributors for design and collaboration.

Freddy Niehaus, EOH Intelligent Infrastructure: System integrators are first and foremost skilled professionals with a track record spanning many years backing their claims. They have a keen interest in the sustainability of not only the technology, but also the end-user. System integrators are solution driven and not only product.

Steven Barry, Chubb Fire & Security SA: An organisation that is able to offer various solutions and services such as life safety, intrusion, access control, CCTV as well as the infrastructure to support such an installation. A competent SI is able to understand a client’s needs and offer a solution that brings all these systems together, adding value to a client, its operation and reducing its overall risk.

HSS: What do SIs do? What should they do?

Le Roux: SIs should, for a start, understand the real challenges and needs of the customer. Secondly, they should have the required skills to make security technology systems work together to fulfil the customer’s needs. The real SI will also be around after the integration to add further value with maintenance and upgrade programmes.

Spinetti: An experienced SI should start with the end goal in mind. Using the right framework, it is able to design a solution that fits the organisational intent. Using best of breed technologies and fusing them together risk free, with long-term maintainability in mind, so that the customer is at no stage disadvantaged with the selected technologies. As new technologies come to market, integration into the existing system or swapping out older technologies should be straightforward.

McLintock: A security integrator takes the stand-alone bespoke systems like digital surveillance, access control, alarms, building management and makes either all of them or specific silos run as a single system from start to finish, including planning , installation commissioning, and cut over of a fully integrated single platform solution.

Quinton Govender, Trinity Technologies: An SI should ensure that customers, both existing and prospective receive honest, ethical and calculated consulting when choosing an ESS.

Malan: In today’s industry the SI sells pre-developed boxed solutions – they are resellers/installers. They should be using initiative and innovation to produce customised solutions. They should be programming systems and finding integratable solutions. The correct description should be that an SI should be a solutions provider that needs to be aware of the different technologies and how they can work together to provide solutions.

Gouws: The system integrator designs, supplies and manages the customer’s complete security needs, from initial consultation with the end user to maintenance and system health monitoring, and supplying of system operators to maximise the solution.

Charles Coetzee, EOH Intelligent Infrastructure: SIs should be responsible for:

* Understanding the scope of works and requirements,

* Putting all of that information together and engineering the system on a paper, and

* Conducting a full FAT (Factory Acceptance Testing) method towards the project to ensure that the project will work once the rollout takes place.

Barry: Offer the best solution for the client’s needs. A good SI is able to design and offer customers a turnkey solution, taking all aspects of safety, security and a client’s building automation into account. A key deliverable is that the SI is able to offer full systems support and maintenance for an acceptable duration, ensuring the client receives a return on their investment.

HSS: What skills and services should they be able to provide customers?

Le Roux: Integration skills. Problem-solving skills and real technical skills. Installation and maintenance skills as well as, very importantly, listening and innovative thinking skills.

Spinetti: In essence, a good SI should be seen as a partner to the end user or the organisation for which it has supplied the service or solution. There should be a blurred line between vendors and the SI. The ability to deal with a single point of contact for all subsystems, disparate technologies or separate subsystems is critical to a good relationship; that single point of contact is also the single point of responsibility for the relationship going forward.

McLintock: UTM believes the skills required in order to offer a security integrator’s service include looking at the customer’s needs, not from an individual silo perspective, but rather from a global view; looking at what is installed and what the customer is looking for and proposing how to generate intelligence from the old and new systems as opposed to the old school way of looking at security on a silo basis.

Govender: Continued end user training programme for systems administrators, control room operators etc. is vital, along with ongoing products and systems education.

Malan: The ability to apply the knowledge and experience they have gained in multiple disciplines. They should be able to focus on events driven management.

Gouws: SIs need to have expert technical, design and sales staff. However, these are hard to retain as they are often trained up and then poached by bigger organisations. SIs also require experienced project managers in order to bring various disciplines, technologies and contractors together to ensure a successful deployment of the solution.

Niehaus: a system integrator should not only have theory of product and solution integration, but also practical experience. A wide knowledge of security solutions and products is essential to ensure an optimum solution reaches the end user.

Barry: Professional advice and tailor-made solutions within budget that add value to the safety and security of an organisation. This is over and above knowledge, after sales service and product expertise.

HSS: How does a SI remain on top of the latest trends and technologies in a fast growing industry? Can you be a master of all?

Le Roux: I do not believe that SIs should be a master of all. To stay on top of latest trends SIs should know their chosen products well and be close to the manufacturers and the suppliers to lead the process of getting the user’s requirement over to the manufacturers and suppliers.

Spinetti: Staying on the forefront of technologies and trends is dependent upon the people behind the SI, people are the most important asset. Employing not only good people, but passionate people who have not only the ability to keep up to date but the passion and the desire to keep updated is how SIs gain a competitive edge.

McLintock: Security technology is advancing at a pace even faster than the evolution of the desk top PC. An SI needs to spend a lot of time tracking the trends and selecting specific areas or products in which to specialise. The word convergence comes up more now than ever and the space between the network and security solution is becoming blurry. However, the ability to master all the disciplines is very difficult and as a SI business it is especially important to have a specialist in each silo in order to provide individually running silos at 100% and then a network and software engineer to lay the platform for the bespoke systems to run on.

Govender: An SI cannot be a master of all the weird and wonderful products out there, but should involve itself with other SIs for support and form alliances with various other role players in the industry to trade services. Research and development of new products/services/methods should form part of a good SI’s portfolio.

Malan: You cannot be master of all. What is typically happening is the boxed proprietary solutions are falling away to open solutions. Therefore it is unwise to simply stick with one brand, rather look at how various, suitable technology can converge on an IT infrastructure.

Gouws: No, I do not believe so. However, this can present opportunities for alliances between specialist companies.

Niehaus: A reputable system integrator will always align itself with product names backed with a sound and reliable track record. Depending on each system integrator’s business strategy, it is advised that a product range for different business sizes are selected to ensure effective and affordable solutions.

Barry: Research, research and research, and sound relationships with their partners. This can be achieved with the correct team, however qualified SIs traditionally have their own product specialists.

HSS: Can one company really deliver an integrated security solution? If you need to bring in additional skills, who manages them, who takes responsibility for their work, who gets the phone call at 2am in the morning?

Le Roux: Delivering an integrated solution does not mean that the SI would have to do it all, but should take the responsibility for the process to satisfy the customer’s needs and therefore be the one to take the 2am call. This leaves the customer with one point of contact and this builds a long-term partnership with the client.

Spinetti: Of course, a single company, the right company, should be able to help you from cradle to grave.

McLintock: Yes, as stated above, each silo has to initially be looked at independently and should a third party be needed to lay down the platform for integration, they would fall into the project team and report to the project team leader. The SI company is responsible for the project from start to finish.

Govender: I think so. And my belief is that the owner of the business should be able to scale to deliver to his customers, and be prepared to receive that call at 2am.

Malan: The real issue with integration is that it should not become one huge system as this opens it up to complete failure. Systems should operate independently, yet communicate between themselves on a common and intuitive platform to handle events.

Gouws: That is easy, you take the call. As the SI you are the face to the customer and have proposed the solution, therefore you are to manage the relationship and the work to be done. This is again where experienced and capable project managers are a necessity. The value of the manufacturers/distributors can also play a valuable role here to ensure their products meet the required application and integration.

Niehaus: Yes. There is, however, a big caution in this equation as this is a specialised field. A reputable system integrator should be in a position to provide turnkey solutions that offer all aspects, including: analysis, design, implementation and support. This will include a 24/7/365 helpdesk with standby teams ready to assist the end-user.

Barry: Yes. Any competent SI should employ the services of a qualified and professional project manager/managers depending on the quantity of work they plan to manage. With system integration, project management is key.

HSS: How does the end user select a reliable SI? What should the user be on the lookout for?

Le Roux: A reliable SI would have a strong belief in building partnerships, have a strong knowledge base and need to have a reputation with references of quality workmanship and project management.

Spinetti: At the end of the day anyone can say anything, so the ability for due diligence is critical for selecting the right SI to partner with. Experience counts. Past track record, past references and the market credibility of the organisation all play an equally important factor in choosing the right organisation.

McLintock: The end user needs to make a decision based on what they require and after doing that, engage with security integrators who have a client base with referrals where the specific type of integration the customer is looking for is live and running.

Govender: A company with a proven track record, dedicated to helping its customers enhance the business by maximising the return of their investment.

Malan: The biggest issue is experience and track record. Talk to suppliers and brand distributors – is the SI certified on the brand as well as on all levels, for example, multi-camera installations. End user needs to be specific and look at actual case studies.

Gouws: Reference sites are a must, where the potential customer is able to see a working, happy site. Certifications are also a must as well as history, track record and experience.

Niehaus: One would generally think that cost of ownership plays the most important role when selecting a system integrator. Although we have seen a lot of this in the past, end-users are now realising that although cost of ownership is important, building trusted partnerships with your system integrator is of utmost importance.

Barry: Track record, recommendations, referrals, skills, reliability, pricing and service levels. The end user will also want to know what type of customers that SI works with.

HSS: Does your SI engage in overt skills transfer processes to ensure you are able to manage your own installation or is it a state secret to ensure the SI has to come back often?

Le Roux: Your SI should handle you as a partner and therefore share all the necessary information and skills. By entering into a service level agreement (SLA), both parties should and will benefit as this will give the customer the peace of mind and it allows for the system to be maintained and optimised.

McLintock: Bluntly, the question is a double-sided sword, the SI main revenue comes out of the project commissioning and annuity it bills for support and maintenance. However, we believe a skills transfer is very important on an integrated site as the basic day-to-day running of a system is done by the end user, which in turn gives the customer confidence in the solution. No matter how much skills transfer takes place, the SI will always be needed in the long term and the more confident the end user becomes in the commissioned solution, the more of an advocate the end user will become for furthering the solution and service from the SI.

Malan: Many SIs try to keep it a secret. They need to be more open and transparent about the systems. There should be skills transfer from the SI to the end user. Do not just stick with proprietary brands because then you are not able to access changes in technology.


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