The August issue of SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION features an exclusive integrator roundtable in which four of the industry’s sharpest CEOs discuss a variety of important operational and industry topics. I was fortunate enough to have some additional time with two participants, Safeguard Security President Mike Bradley and Contava President Curtis Nikel. Following is what transpired when we talked about the state of physical-logical security convergence.
Your two businesses contrast rather nicely, Contava coming from the IT side and Safeguard more from the traditional monitoring security side. What has been your experience in terms of the physical security mentality, or sort of the old-school mentality in dealing with that part of the business, and conversely with the IT side coming into the physical security side of the business? What have been some of the frustrations? How seamless has it been, or not seamless at all?
Curtis Nikel: I think the word “convergence” is thrown out a lot and put on the table. I think the practice of convergence doesn’t occur as often as the word gets spoken. The manufacturers all talk about convergence, standing on their own islands, but the islands haven’t been pushed together where its true seamless convergence. We’ve experienced within businesses, within manufacturers the ability to converge different products such as video and access and staff credentials that works well because they’d be able to control the outcome. But mixing manufacturers together to have convergence hasn’t been successful to the point where we’ve probably backed away from it, and don’t lead with that offering as much as we used to. Converging security into your business process, we’ve had some success with where we take the lead and make it part of your hiring process, your enrollment into your payroll, your enrollment into your credential, your enrollment into your access for your Internet and Web, and then the ability, if you’re terminated, to leave your business. So we can create business processes with it, but convergence hasn’t entirely happened yet, and I don’t think convergence is entirely clear on how it’s going to work for everybody. Convergence to the point of using it as traffic over the Internet, using different media to move the information, that’s being successful. But I think true convergence isn’t here yet.
What about in terms of how it manifests on the end-user level in terms of the IT specialist and working with the physical security side?
Nikel: I think convergence from the perspective of the end user delivered by IT, they’re dissatisfied. It isn’t working for them. It isn’t complete. They’re not benefiting from what we believe convergence will do.
Mike Bradley: This is a really long, big topic. I can look at it from a couple of different perspectives. First of all, there seem to be a lot of pounding of the drum within the industry at large to wake up the typical contractor and the typical integrator to realize that IT is not an option, and embracing IT-type technologies, you need to do it. I don’t know why it took so much effort to get so many onboard and moving along the line. It was a no-brainer for us because my perspective, and it’s been a little while in the industry, and I only knew analog and now it’s only moving to the IT side of it and the IP, it solves so many problems, despite its challenges. It solves so many problems that why wouldn’t you want to go in that direction? It also presents probably the best news for us integrators because convergence is such a slippery slope and so hard to achieve in such a nonreality today, we’re needed more than ever. Our level of expertise and our understanding and our depth of understanding true security solutions, not just transport and delivery, true solutions is what makes us so strong in our industry. This is what we have to hold over the IT world and the so-called CIOs. They are living in a little bit different world. I remember having this discussion 20 years ago. How is it that when we sell a phone system, when they pick up the phone, they expect a dial tone, and it better work? But if you sell a computer, nobody expected it to work? They expected it to crash. What a weird contrast. Well, are we better today? Sure. Is reliability up there? Sure. But people still expect it to quit. My people in my business expect that there are going to be problems with IT. When you’re in the security world, we expect it to work, just like the phone. That camera better work. That access card reader better work. So we’re in a deliverable world where there is no expectation or leniency in the outcome. We have to produce; we have to do it right; we have to do it well. That creates great opportunity for us because we deliver, and we perform and we make things happen, so I think the good news is with this whole movement towards IP and all is we have an opportunity to come in and dominate with our expectations of excellence and our expectations of uptime and so forth. Since we already believe in that, we’re natural deliverers of high quality in a world that does not have a lot of high quality control and standards seem to be lacking.
Nikel: The IT industry meeting security has brought on standards and it’s brought with it organization, systems and administration and put security into an environment that can actually write a business plan and create budget and improve ROI. Historically security sort of was the last budget funded and the first one having money taken away from. Having it in the IT environment, having the CIO being responsible for the technology for security has given it some longevity; it’s given them a place within business. I think most CEOs had a hard time knowing what to do with the security budget. They knew they had to have security, but where do they put it. They put it in the hands of the retired guard who really doesn’t understand it, and probably can investigate an incident much better than he can make a recommendation on technology. It’s better to put it with the technology folks.
When you’re trying to get some of that expertise from the IT side to make some of that transition, do you find that their thinking is different, and you have to sort of work with them? How does that sort of mindset that they’re coming into security give you some of that expertise, how does it contrast with what you had before?
Bradley: Speaking for our company because we don’t come from an IT background, we had to adjust our language. We had to learn to talk the language. We’ve had to reach out to this younger generation that speaks the language better, that has never known life without a game box or a XBOX, cell phone or those sorts of things. They naturally gravitate towards us and us older guys; we just have to kind of back off and let them lead the way. The relationship between IT is only adversarial when it comes to the paranoia of security within the network itself. Those are probably the things we spend more time overcoming are those fears about what your stuff is going to do to my network? What the corporate environment of getting in and out of those networks, the offsite storage sometimes, the remote access, all these things. We probably struggle more with that than the actual transport itself and so we think probably the biggest challenge for us is sitting down with the chief information officer or the IT directors and giving them a comfort level and letting them ask the hard questions and we prepare to answer those questions very well because they deserve answers of how might we compromise their network or how can we make sure that we don’t compromise their network and provide safe and secure access and transport and communication between multiple nodes and multiple facilities, etc. That’s probably the single biggest challenge we face. But the transport itself and the getting the stuff on the network and the working harmoniously is not as big a challenge as we thought it was going to be.
Nikel: It’s sitting with the individual groups and having a conversation of where you’re putting this traffic in your network. How are you going to design and configure space for this to exist within your network? How does it behave once it’s in your network and what are your experiences when we’re using this kind of network or that kind of network or that kind of storage, and perhaps we don’t use our storage, we use your storage, but it’s going to be on our network. What improvements can we make to our network? In many cases, we’ve become the opportunity to improve the existing clients network for other purposes because the budget that exists within security now will put new network switches in, and we can move to gigabit from 10/100-type environments, and they see it as an overall enhancement to what they are going to have to work with in the future.
Bradley: In our industry, we have a tendency to drive the upgrades that they want anyhow. We have a tendency to force to make those networks better if they embrace it properly and if we communicate it well. It can be a symbiotic relationship. I will say though, early on, 10 years or so, there was a struggle. We did a lot of work with school districts. In school districts, the guys put in these networks for pretty much one purpose and that was to get network connectivity to the classroom and connect the office, and they were tightly controlling that and they considered themselves the experts and they looked down on all the rest of us as those schleps that didn’t know what we were talking about and we didn’t understand their world. There was a high level of arrogance, at least from my perspective. Those barriers seem to be breaking down pretty rapidly now because these are the same guys that now everybody a CFO, CEO, superintendent of a school district, board of directors are saying, “OK, we invested that money and now we want you to do all these things.” Now, they’ve gone from this really cool thing to where they’ve got a tremendous amount of pressure on them to leverage all that investment to all these other technologies and they need partners and they need to reach out to organizations like ours to help them do it right. I think I’ve seen that relationship get better. There are fewer of those arrogant barriers that we used to see and more of an understanding that we’re equals, just in different ways. We bring to the table different expertise and if we plan together and work well together, we actually can do pretty miraculous things together.