With the current economic climate, it is becoming crucial for systems integrators to place greater emphasis on providing value to their customers, and not just a technological solution. The technology is part of that value, for sure, but equipment is becoming more of a commodity while that necessary value proposition remains more elusive.
With the continuing advancement of IP convergence, new sources of revenue and value can be found by those willing to do the extra homework. Let's take a look at some ways to improve the bottom line by leveraging the benefits of the IP network.
New Integration Opportunities
One of the easiest places to find new possibilities for revenue is in systems integration. A lot of companies out there call themselves integrators, but a good number of them tend to leave a lot of dollars on the table by not providing a "true" level of integration. In other words, making disparate systems talk to each other.
Customers these days are looking for any possible way to get the most for their money. If you have a customer that has or wants a video system, and also has other internal processes like point of sale (POS), access control or intercom, investigating whether or not these various systems can communicate with each other can lead to new projects you or your customer may not have even thought about.
In the past, combining systems like this was a much more difficult proposition. You had to rely on raw data and whether or not each system could speak the language of the other, or even if the data was in a compatible format. With IP, however, the languages these systems are using to communicate are beginning to standardize, making it a much simpler task.
Instead of a dedicated serial data connection between system devices, now the communication can happen at a software level, using the IP network as the connection instead of a proprietary cable/protocol.
One of the technologies being used to standardize communication between different networked systems is called XML, or extensible markup language. We've gone into detail about XML before in this column, but basically it is a programming language that provides standardized ways to catalog and describe information that needs to be passed between systems.
The extent of the integration is also improving rapidly. It was very common in years past to see things like data overlay from receipt printers and POS systems, or access control sending a contact closure to a matrix switch, but things are very different now.
In POS systems, for example, instead of just overlaying transaction data over a video stream, you can now store all the transactions to a database, possibly built into the video system, that allow searching of those transactions by number, keyword, etc. This information can be used to generate rules utilized by the video system to make things happen.
This is a concept you are going to start hearing about a lot, by the way: rules-based integration. Basically, as we get more data and intelligence from these systems, complex rules can be set up to make all kinds of things happen. The current trend now is to build as much intelligence as possible into the hardware to alleviate the load placed on the operators.
Any system or set of devices that generates informational data of some kind can be looked at as an integration possibility. Also don't overlook nonsecurity applications like process or manufacturing lines, or hazardous environment monitoring.
Being able to meet with a customer and present an integrated solution, however, is not the final goal. You need to be able to show the customer how it will save them money over the long term. This is a great motivator for them to free up money for the project.