Whenever I attend giant trade shows like the recent ISC West in Las Vegas, people invariably ask me, “What have you seen on the floor that is hot?” This is an especially common question for those folks chained to an exhibition booth or stuck in meetings and seminars most of the event. Like a cocooned victim in the “Alien” movies who, doomed to serve as a spawning host, begs, “Please, kill me,” their eyes plead for liberation.
What these poor souls don’t realize is — just as Sigourney Weaver’s character (Ripley) is overwhelmed by all those pesky, needle-toothed, acid-blooded space critters (you know, the sales reps you don’t do business with) — during these mega-events I am typically tied up with appointments and other commitments myself. Plus more things are stuffed into ISC’s few days than winter-fortified girth into attendees’ trousers, and the crowds were so thick I kept waiting for the Times Square Ball to drop.
Of course, it is great news ISC was so well attended. It signifies the healthy state of the industry in the face of an ailing economy. Exhibitors (and, naturally, show organizer Reed Exhibitions) were generally ecstatic about the turnout and attendees were mostly enthusiastic about the wares they saw on display.
The leading trend was the ongoing transformation from electronics/hardware to IP/IT and software, and with it greater flexibility, scalability and integration. In the past there have been some fringe companies and a smattering of network-centric products and systems, but this year it predominated. Megapixel cameras, massive digital storage, intuitive graphical user interfaces so sophisticated they’re simple, and refinements/advances in analytics algorithms were among the noteworthy technologies.
In a nod to the social networking phenomenon, the biggest buzzword was connected. Connected to networks, connected to workstations, connected to the Internet, connected to cell phones, connected to PDAs, connected to other security systems, connected to management systems, connected to databases, connected to account information, connected to analytical tools and connected to responding agencies. Without a doubt, “connected” has become the connective tissue of manufacturers’ new offerings.
This represents an exciting development for us techno-geeks and futurists, but it could be somewhat misleading for those new to the industry. While the possibilities and opportunities are enormous and thrilling, the fact is that outside the digital nirvana of the convention hall, 80 percent or more of the industry remains analog — in most cases happily so.
This industry has often been criticized, particularly by the IT community, of being late adopters and slow to change. There’s a good reason for that. Providing products and services depended on by people for their safety, security and — in some cases lives — instills the provider not only with a duty of commerce but a moral obligation to be exceedingly cautious and hyper-vigilant about the viability and reliability of those solutions.
Combine that with the fact that — although in a post-9/11 environment where people are more attuned to vulnerabilities and technologically sophisticated, and where systems are being exploited as management tools like never before — to a large extent, security-related expenditures remain a grudge buy. That’s why it is going to take the natural obsolescence of existing systems, further product/technology enhancements, significant price drops, and extensive, consistent in-the-field performance before those who toil in the real security world can sport glasses as rose-colored as those adorned by the IP-focused evangelists so prevalent on today’s tradeshow circuit.
During ISC, I asked those thought leaders to identify the hottest IP security market. They replied, “New construction” — you know, the sector zapped by the subprime lender crisis. I then asked when the threshold of more than 50 percent of our industry’s new product/system sales would be IP-based. They all paused, cautiously looked around, asked not to be quoted and whispered, “Probably not before 2015.”