Going into a project bid can sometimes be fierce. Based on the requirements and the project scope, integrators come in with their best foot forward, proposing competitive solutions, offering aggressive price points and throwing in other creative incentives to win the deal. But occasionally the sale becomes more than putting together a package that fulfills the must-haves. Some integrators take the time to understand the end customer’s challenges as well as learn about their unique security and business applications, all in hopes of identifying opportunity for customization.
“There is real value in customization, in terms of adding features and functionality at a reduced cost over other alternatives,” says Edward Heisler, president of the consulting firm Facility Control Systems. “The hardware and software are already there, so working with what you have to develop effective solutions is just a matter of time and manpower. This beats having to invest another $30,000 in a completely separate solution to achieve the same result.”
So whether this means integrating other security systems into the new solution, or creating custom applications that fulfill a business need or streamline operations, these ideas can help integrators stand out from the pack. Even well after installations have been completed, integrators can also offer these services to expand their offering with existing deployments, suggesting creative applications or specific integrations that will benefit the end user.
For end users, the benefits of customization are numerous. Sometimes it is as simple as having existing devices integrated within their new security solution, and thus avoiding the need to buy newer technology if budgets are tight. In other instances, it is a matter of having custom applications developed to better suit their processes of handling alarms or dealing with strict regulatory procedures. Other custom work can help automate daily tasks, and boost operational efficiencies across many departments, not just security.
5 Questions to Identify Opportunities
Not all security platforms are built the same, nor are the development tools available to integrators. So here are five key criteria to consider before delving into a customization job:
Is the solution open or closed? — Choosing the right platform that meets the outlined requirements of the end user is always step one. Selecting and getting familiar with an open platform security solution is recommended. Traditionally, an open-architecture security platform will offer the innate flexibility required to receive other system data or to support third-party devices through integration. An open architecture will also make it easier for an integrator to take on more complex integrations or applications, as there will be less proprietary restraints.
What’s in your development toolbox? — Integrators wanting to undertake custom development services need to also consider what development tools are available to them. Software development kits (SDKs) are available alongside most security solutions on the market. But each one comes with its own level of capabilities, toolsets and openness. The full toolkit will provide multiple options for integrators to build their customizations, such as standalone applications, macros and plugins. Even in certain cases, like the Genetec Security Center unified security platform, integrators are given the ability to build custom tasks right within the interface. Since the platform blends video surveillance, access control and license plate recognition in one, custom functionality and tasks can be spread across all built-in systems or just one in particular.
Do you have the right skillsets? — Having the internal resources to develop a device integration or consult on the requirements for an application will go a long way. And with a robust SDK at their disposal, any fairly experienced .NET developer should be able to use tutorials and help files to proactively manage their way around an SDK. However, certain manufacturers also offer training classes specifically dedicated to their SDKs that help developers get up to speed with the application faster. On the other hand, if an integrator does not have the resource of a software developer available, they may consider hiring a subcontractor to help out with the occasional custom job.
Is the manufacturer onboard to help? — An integrator considering taking on complex custom efforts like personalizing applications or commoditizing new functionality needs to investigate even further. Asking questions like, “What are the processes involved with the manufacturer?” and “How will our efforts be supported?” are equally important. The fact is that even if an integrator seemingly has all the development tools at their disposal, having manufacturer support and involvement are critical to a successful custom job. In larger custom development initiatives, the integrator can directly involve the manufacturer to ensure the proper testing has been done before actual implementation. Some manufacturers even offer SDK maintenance agreements, so one-on-one technical support during the development phase is available at a moment’s notice.
“The support from the owner of the software or manufacturer is critical in developing a custom application using an SDK,” says Heisler. “We have experienced instances where a custom application was working well until a new software version came out, and the response from the vendor was simply: ‘We’re not doing it like that anymore, and won’t support it.’ So commitment and partnership for long-term support is something we found is very important.”
Will it stand the test of time? — Is the software forward and backward compatible with the past or upcoming versions? It would be terrible to invest time and resources in creating a custom feature or integration, only to learn that by the time you are finished, the version of software you were working on is no longer current. Another important factor to consider is scalability. Often in a test environment, an integrator is using a small number of devices or replicating a scenario on a small scale. But what happens when it is deployed across a massive campus with hundreds of devices and a team of operators? The developer should build the custom application in such a way that it not only blends well with core system functionalities but also factors the size or future growth of the organization.
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