Systems integrators (SI) are people customers love to hate. They are either too expensive, do a shoddy job, offer terrible support or do not know what they are talking about. Well, that is what one perceives when talking to people about installation problems and support issues.
The reality is that these companies have a tough job that goes beyond simply installing security products. Ideally they need to ensure the solutions they sell integrate effectively with the client’s existing infrastructure while also dealing with constantly changing requirements and an ever-expanding scope of operations. There are plenty of war stories about bad work and disappointed customers the world over, but simply look at the number of case studies in a magazine such as Hi-Tech Security Solutions and you will see there are even more stories of jobs well done that meet clients’ needs.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked three local SIs about what pressures they face in the market today, apart from changing specifications and unrealistic demands from clients. We want to know what issues they are facing behind the scenes in their drive to keep up with changing technologies and customers who want the impossible by tomorrow. There are monsters out there, but there are also opportunities.
We started by asking what the most pressing issues facing SIs are in the security market today. Tim Timmins, BMS manager at Stanley Building Management says SIs are finding the lack of skills troublesome. “With the ever-changing technology field, new products with specific features are born into the security market every day,” he explains. “With the wide range of products readily available, the system integrators are required to train and skill their technical divisions to the best of their ability just to stay abreast with current competition and market trends. However, due to the lack of skills, once trained, their technicians are often poached by competitors.”
Timmins also notes that SIs are faced with competitors that are not really qualified to be called integrators, as “the true meaning of system integrator means your technical divisions should have the capability of performing direct protocol interfacing between third-party applications or products; this makes one ask who truly is a system integrator and who is a security installer?”
Francois Malan, technical director of Camsecure believes the cameras available today are all of very good quality, such as the latest HD cameras using H.264 compression. “The biggest problem in the industry is the slow adoption of open platform systems, which actually assure you that you can use the latest hardware and integrate into many more systems than before. I also believe a big problem is that clients let product or suppliers sell them a whole lot of features instead of sitting with an experienced integrator or consultant and actually discussing their needs before looking at product. It is like the tail wagging the dog.”
Jayson Gouws, MD of TVMS adds that there is always the issue of the ‘Bakkie brigade’ who continuously flood the market with inferior products and skills, as well as a cut-throat pricing strategy. Sadly, some customers often look at the bottom line only, and then complain when their cheap system is a lemon.
He adds another growing threat is competing with “well-established multinational ICT companies that have realised the convergence of IP-based security technology is now complementary to their bouquet of services, as well as an additional revenue generator”.
Timmins agrees, adding that the increasing penetration of the IT sector in the security market is also creating some concerns for the security sector, as well as opportunities. “With their competitors’ knowledge base predominantly consisting of IT engineers, network administrators etc, a sound understanding of the true dynamics around security objectives is sometimes lacking.”
A broader scope
Along with the intrusion of IT and the expansion of technology, users today are also looking at reducing the complexity of their systems and support structures. The idea of convergence plays into this requirement as it promises to standardise everything on an open IP platform.
Timmins says that as the user’s IT knowledge and awareness grows, “we are finding they expect a plug-and-play security system, where disparate systems all interoperate. This inevitably comes at a cost to all integrators and manufacturers, which in turn increases the overall initial cost of these integrated security solutions.”
Stanley has moved to support this market with the formation of Stanley BMS, focused on providing a one-stop shop approach.
Malan says Camsecure is dealing with this issue by also offering a complete service. “We find that most clients prefer a single point of contact were their interests and quality are protected. We are essentially becoming project managers and consultants, bringing together the best service providers in our industry to give our client the ultimate solution. So we do not only need to offer a more complete spectrum of services and products, but also better project management skills.”
Gouws also agrees, noting that TVMS is focused on offering holistic solutions to clients that it manages from start to finish.
Competition from all sides
Integrating the need for complete solutions, the influx of previously IT-focused companies and a rapid expansion of technology and products, where does the integrator of today see its competition coming from?
Gouws says it varies depending on the vertical markets targeted. “For instance we find that IT integrators are making up ground in the retail markets, however, we have found that they are not very involved in the commercial space, although that may change. Due to the economic climate over the last two years, the landscape of competition in our industry has obviously changed.
“Traditional large BMS and security integrators that may have been our strongest competition have fallen victim to the climate and are no longer as strong as they used to be, or in some cases been have closed down complete, only to be divided into various new start-ups. This again allows new competition to flourish.”
Malan has seen more IT integrators trying to enter the market, not all successfully. “We find that IT integrators cannot provide big clients with a proper solution as their speciality and knowledge is based on data transmission. This means they often miss critical physical requirement that the client may require when it comes to security surveillance, for example.”
However, the same can be said for security integrators who are hamstrung with insufficient IT or network knowledge. He believes there is a niche market developing for specialist IP surveillance experts. “There are not many companies in our industry with in-depth experience in doing large-scale installations.”
Threat or opportunity
Some would say the challenges faced by today’s integrators are not new, but simply updated challenges from the past; after all, every generation has competitors and someone new looking to capitalise on your market. However, the increasing requirement for IT skills that coincides with the convergence onto open, IP platforms should be cause for concern for the security SIs, some of whom believe laying a network is all you need to know to use IP solutions.
As the IT industry itself found as it matured, infrastructure is expected and it is expected to work no matter what. Managers, and especially those responsible for security, do not want to have to spend time and effort becoming network experts. And as simple as that sounds, when you are streaming video over your network, it is anything but simple. The more devices and solutions you add to the network, the more complex the problem becomes, the more insight you need, but there is not always the financial reward when it comes to ‘the plumbing’. Tell the CTO (chief technology officer) responsible for ensuring the accounting department’s SAP systems have almost instant response times that you will be putting 100 cameras onto his network: That is when the fun begins.
The security SI has the advantage of being able to deliver a security installation that does the job required, something the IT integrator will need to learn – or poach the staff that can do it from the security world. However, security SIs will need to incorporate ‘IT-think’ into their strategic plans to ensure they are able to meet the efficiency and low costs of the IT players for whom infrastructure work is bread and butter.
And to do this needs the right skills, not only technical skills, but project management, planning and information management skills that many in the security industry have not seen as a priority in the past.
It is natural to look at the threats faced by the SI community, but it would be remiss not to also acknowledge that there are also opportunities out there for companies prepared to grab them. Convergence also means security SIs can step into new markets and add value to companies’ infrastructures with solutions designed for open platforms. For example, taking a traditionally security-only solution and extending it to also offer operational, occupational health and safety or HR (human resources) benefits that improve productivity, reduce costs or boost profits is a sure way to get your foot in the door in a time when businesses are more cost conscious than ever.
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