November’s issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION includes an exclusive case study of an advanced integrated video surveillance, access control and other systems solution being deployed at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C. My conversation with the integrator, Security 101, was very extensive and so this is the first of two blogs offering additional insights. In this installment, Aaron Alexander, owner of the Security 101 branch in Charlotte, talks about recent developments in the marketplace and the changing nature of security integration.
You have talked about how campus incidents are spurring security-related actions now. What are some of the specific challenges to working with campuses?
Aaron Alexander: Every campus is going to be different but in general the campuses fall into two different realms. You’ve got the public sector and the private sector. We work with both. Two of our largest customers are on both sides of the realm. They both have the same issue: budgets. They both want more security and you always have a CFO or the state saying you can’t have it. What I do find is security usually gets the majority of what they’re asking for. It’s just a necessity nowadays. As soon as they cut back, when it comes back to the parents again, they notice when that call station isn’t there or that dorm isn’t secured.
How up to speed are college and university clientele on what today’s advanced security systems can do for them today, and how much do you run into “I didn’t know they could do that!”?
Alexander: We run into “I didn’t know they could do that!” almost all the time. When you’re dealing with a chief of police, they usually have a background in law enforcement because they’re coming from a police department, they’re coming from FBI, or wherever they’re coming from. They’re being brought in from the university because of that background, the policing background, not the investigation background. Not necessarily “How do I secure my location?” but “How do I keep my students in line, how do I handle issues, how do I find out what really happened?” We have to do a lot of educating with the chief of police and their staff of what the capabilities of these systems are.
Are you finding it to be a trend that the IT guys are making more decisions associated with physical security?
Alexander: Without a doubt they’re more involved. It depends on if there’s a security department or not. If there’s a security department, normally the security department is driving it. We’re finding more and more IT making the decisions when there is no security staff involved. Mostly in industrial and commercial high-rise is a great example where they may have a couple floors of a building, there’s no security director, kind of falls on IT.
Coming from an IT background, do you experience some challenges or frustrations in building a staff that has that expertise but also security sensibility?
Alexander: Absolutely, I try to train my staff, teach them what I know. Because the guy who’s been doing security for 20 years, who has that experience, who knows how to trim out a door correctly, who knows how to troubleshoot a camera, who knows when they go to the door that they have to service it; with the experience they have on the actual hardware side, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the IP world. They don’t understand networks. They don’t understand the word VLAN. They may have heard it before but they don’t truly know what it means. They’ll toss it around and use it in the wrong way.
You have mentioned, as a security integrator, appreciating when you have those IT guys on your side to help you out. I would think probably sometimes now it goes the other way too, where the end user might be very glad you have the IT expertise, especially because maybe they’ve dealt with another security provider who did not?
Alexander: Absolutely, I honestly think that’s one of the advantages that Security 101 presents. Being a newer company, we’re about 10 years old, we’re bringing what we like to think is best-of-breed technicians, sales reps. We’re not your typical sales company. We’re IT savvy; we’re probably one of the industry leaders in IP video. I can tell you out of our office here in Charlotte, we’re probably 99% IP video. We don’t do coax, only if it’s necessary. That’s just my IT background. I can walk in, and if I have a conference room full of people, I’m going to talk IT to IT people. When they’re the key decision makers, I think it really makes a difference. I understand everything they’re saying to me.