Convergence has had more than its share of media coverage over the past few years.
On the one hand, the IT industry is coming to terms with voice/data/video convergence, and on the other, the security industry is dealing with the growing intersection between traditional security systems and newer IT technologies.
Unfortunately, while the theory behind convergence in the security market is sound and the few vendors that have reorganised their companies to take advantage of the expected growth are eager to go, not everyone is on the same playing field. Like most industry-shaking changes, the move to providing converged solutions is occurring somewhat slower than some would like, and much too fast for others.
Most of South Africa's large corporations are well aware of the potential of convergent technologies, for example. From the mining industry to the financial sector, many enterprises have their future adoption of these technologies mapped out. And at the very least, even those that have not made concrete plans are able to envisage the business benefits convergence can deliver.
In the financial market, convergent technologies will not only improve security processes, but will also assist in meeting corporate governance objectives. And, says Richard Creighton, product manager at Honeywell, let us not forget the cost benefits. Efficiently designed security systems making full use of the latest converged solutions will, at the very least, reduce the number of physical guards required while increasing the scope of monitoring systems and the reaction time of officials.
Converged security will also affect companies' internal IT security and identity management processes. By linking users' identities to building management, the overall security of the enterprise can be substantially improved. A user will not be able to log onto the system if they have not already entered the building, for example.
According to Creighton, the biggest corporate constraint to the migration to converged security solutions is the 'purse factor'. The benefits are understood, but the costs of moving to the new solutions are frightening to some.
Once the decision to embark on a migration has been made, however, Creighton warns that change management and not cost is likely to be the most important aspect of the project. Even with all the benefits convergence brings, there will still be changes in traditional processes that need to be transferred to staff, which will also need training in the new tools. Moreover, ensuring staff are kept in the loop and motivated to adopt the new system is also a critical task.
As mentioned above, many companies have already made the move to offering clients converged security solutions, unfortunately these are in the minority. Creighton warns that too many of today's security companies are technically inclined and take the approach of wiring up systems and considering their jobs done. Making the move to understanding and incorporating the advantages of IT security solutions into their offerings is generally not on the cards.
This is unfortunate because both camps (the physical and IT security worlds) will increasingly rely on each other as the march to security convergence advances. Customers will soon realise that the lack of IT connectivity and communications skills (for example) needed to integrate security systems into the corporate networking backbone will result in inferior performance and will be forced to look for other partners with the requisite skills to assist them.
The move to converged security systems is still in its infancy. A few companies are leading the field, supported by a few vendors that have made the necessary internal changes to support them. The mass market is still some way away from adopting converged technologies as the migration will be costly and require substantial integration skills, especially for companies relying on legacy systems.
Those companies able to start fresh, however, without older systems and resellers they need to drag into the 21st century are at an advantage. Converged products do have a higher purchase price, but the financial and productivity returns in the medium and long term easily cover the higher initial costs.
The move to converged security solutions is a winning deal on all sides. Customers can be sure of a return on investment, improved services and greater control, while service providers can expand their range of offerings and hence their businesses. There will, of course, be a lot more talk about convergence in the future, but this is merely a reflection of the uncertainty at the beginning of a tremendous change in the security industry that will affect everyone sooner rather than later.
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