SSI’s 2023 Commercial Security End Users Forum: Customers Come Clean
All the technology in the world matters little without clear communication between an integrator and the client.
The saying, “It takes a village” applies to a lot of different situations.
The security industry, for example, is a community of many. It’s propelled and sustained by several different factions — from technology developers to engineers, system designers, systems integrators, manufacturers, distributors and more.
And, while a lot of messaging and news feeds are generated by manufacturers and their distribution partners, voices that also sorely need to be heard are those of end users.
They are the ones that the industry ultimately functions to serve, and their needs, pain points, challenges and success stories help move the industry forward in so many important and innovative ways.
Here in Security Sales & Integration’s fourth Commercial Security End User Forum, security decision-makers tasked with protecting their organizations share their perspectives and shed light on the issues that impact them and help shape their purchasing decisions.
Special thanks to Snap Integrations of Charleston, S.C.; Tech Systems in Buford, Ga.; and Unlimited Technology of Chester Springs, Pa. for assisting SSI in lining up this year’s participants.
Taking part in this End User Forum are Tyler Brown, IT director at Stokes Automotive Group of Charleston, S.C.; Carey Waltz, CSP, head of corporate security, North America at Linde; and Michelle P. Westbrook, manager, physical security at Black Knight of Jacksonville, Fla. Together, they represent a varied cross section of security integrator clientele.
Their viewpoints provide installing systems integrators with important insights on how to better assist their commercial customers in meeting their security challenges and specifying the systems and solutions they need.
What they share also conveys the skills and attributes they look for when selecting a trusted integration partner.
Top Security Challenges
For Westbrook, planning for a return to the office after three years has posed some unexpected and interesting challenges to solve related to the facilities, safety and physical security.
“From the physical security side, we are ensuring that new employees who have never come to a physical workspace as our employee understands our access requirements or to remind tenured employees how to operate in our workspaces — how to use their badges and how to request access to meet their specific business need, etc.,” she says.
In terms of safety, Linde is working to rebuild her organization’s safety officer teams and ensure they are properly trained and ready to facilitate evacuations.
“Additionally, with the increase in active shooter events since the pandemic, preparation for employee training on early warning behaviors of concern, empowering them to report, and active shooter response is gearing back up,” she says. “It reminds me of the hum of preparing to return to school after a long summer holiday — feeling the nerves of learning a new routine and getting comfortable with the changes from then to now.”
As an IT director, Brown, not surprisingly, finds that network users themselves, as well as network security and adequate training rank among his most pressing challenges.
Coming from the corporate security side, Waltz cites three challenges as her most significant: implementing cost-effective and sustainable security system technology; safeguarding company assets while ensuring the convergence of cyber and physical security; and proactively identifying the evolving threat environment and implementing safeguards prior to incidents.
Security Technology Interests
The extent of familiarity with the latest security technologies varies by end-user interest, exposure and organizational characteristics.
For Brown, it’s the centralized management of access control that they now have using Alarm.com. From Waltz’ perspective, continuous improvement and implementation of AI technology in security systems ranks as the most relevant advancement and one that she’d consider deploying. Westbrook echoes Waltz’s enthusiasm over new AI innovations.
“I am thoroughly enamored with the AI solutions on the market that work with our access control system to help speed up mundane, but critical manual tasks like vetting badge photos for appropriateness or updating access profiles with the correct object type or updating a partition,” she says. “These small field changes have a big impact on neatness of reporting and are fields that a person sometimes forgets to update — making system clean-up later tedious.”
Waltz says, “Additionally, I am excited about AI learning access control and camera systems to make recommendations around reducing nuisance alarms. Bringing down nuisance alarm noise in our operations center is so important in allowing operators to focus on real events.
“Lastly, the ability for AI to proactively identify early warning signs that a piece of equipment is failing so it can be addressed before deteriorating into a major system issue or equipment failure is very appealing. I am not without concerns for the use of AI in certain applications, of course, but this technology in the physical security system space appears to only provide benefits.”
Embracing the Cloud?
Cloud technologies and platforms have had a profound impact on businesses and increasingly on security solutions as well.
“Yes [we have migrated to Cloud solutions], in some respects, but I am also hesitant about Cloud-based, and moving back to having things more ‘in-house,’ particularly when it comes to data,” Brown says. “It’s disturbing that some of the Big Tech companies are willing to cancel or suspend customer/client accounts, and so therefore do not trust their agendas.”
Waltz reports that some of Linde’s systems have been migrated to Cloud-based solutions, but cost is sometimes a determining factor. And Westbrook says that Black Knight is exploring Cloud-based options and has been able to move to SaaS for their peripheral programs but has not yet reached a level of comfort to move to a cloud-based access control system.
“Last year, with the partnership of internal teams as well as our integrator, we completed app resiliency for our access control system, so the resiliency benefit of a Cloud-based system isn’t necessary,” she says. “It is a business preference and currently we are self-hosted.”
Hurdles to Clear
While budget constraints are almost always a leading roadblock to new or upgraded security solutions, many other factors can also be in play. Stakeholder buy-in is key, and integrators can help in that regard.
“For me, I am given full control so it’s just dollars,” Brown says. “However, I am sure for others, it’s being able to help the decision makers understand how upgrades benefit the organization overall.”
Westbrook concurs that budget is always a concern; however, communication and understanding the end user’s organizational risks plays a key role in helping to obtain leadership buy-in for any proposed solution.
Integrators can help end users with stakeholder buy-in, she adds, by providing data on ROI for specific solutions or help frame how the proposed solution can reduce an organizational risk.
Integrators, Listen Up!
It is incumbent upon security systems integrators to best identify and provide the specific security solutions that are best suited to each individual customer’s needs.
Waltz advises integrators to understand their customer’s sites, processes and vulnerability, adding that it’s important to make the effort to visit the jobsite.
Brown notes that it’s important to develop long-term relationships.
“It’s not rocket science — be professional, be personable and provide good customer support, and the rest falls into place,” he says. “The other obvious element here is know your industry. Be informed about trends and new technologies. We can tell if you know what you’re talking about.”
Westbrook weighs in that her company works closely with its integrator to ensure that contracted provider has enough visibility into internal processes and requirements. Doing so helps the integrator best understand how to operate effectively within its client’s organization.
“With that visibility comes an understanding of what products could be proposed to enhance our program internally,” she contends. “I believe that staying engaged with your end user and understanding context in the why and what they are trying to accomplish is key to being able to give your end user the best guidance.”
Advisable to Be Advisory
It is also critical for integrators to proactively communicate new technologies and capabilities while continuing to educate their end-user clients on emerging solutions. It is all about being a consultative partner and trusted advisor.
Waltz responds with a resounding, “Yes! It’s important to work closely with your integrator and attend security trade shows together to discuss your business challenges and solutions.”
Westbrook points out that she doesn’t care for the unsolicited communications for product sales but does like the educational sessions about products being offered regularly or through a recorded session so that she’s able to fit them into her schedule.
“I find the industry conferences where the technologies are on display and in test environments to be very helpful when searching for new solutions or technologies,” she says.
“The products my integrator — who understands my organization, the specific problems I am trying to solve and what products are compatible with my systems — recommends is one of the most helpful methods for identifying solutions,” says Westbrook. “My integrator provides insights into other clients’ experiences with various products, as well.”
Listen and Respond
For a commercial end user, one bad or unsatisfactory experience with an integrator can affect how they view and interact with subsequent providers. That can either ultimately improve or sabotage those relationships, security viability and customer satisfaction.
Brown reports that, in the past, his company has had troubles with response times from vendors.
“I look for the ability to develop a long-term relationship with a security provider — that is where trust can be fostered. Long-term relationships allow a vendor to not only understand the business needs more effectively, but it also puts them in a position to be proactive with changing needs and technology.”
Waltz adds that the integrator must have good communication skills, including with their subcontractors. They should partner on cost-effective solutions with leading technology, and steer away from soon-to-be obsolete systems, she advises.
They should also present new technologies to enhance safety and security. Systems should assist with security, safety and operations to make the most use of business funds.
“As with any relationship, communication has played and continues to play a key role in the success of my relationship with our security integrator, leading to many successful projects and new equipment deployments,” Westbrook notes. “Clearly communicating what is important to you as the security leader or risk manager helps your integrator understand the urgency around certain system issues.
“Providing clear context also helps your integrator know how to properly operate with other key internal stakeholders to accomplish equipment deployments or upgrades timely.
“It is also important to remember that your security integrator succeeds when you succeed, so ultimately you are both after the same result. I try to approach any issues that might arise with my integrator as an opportunity to solve a problem together by leveraging everyone’s strengths. In our business, it feels like everything is an emergency sometimes and I have found that by approaching issues with a level head and partnering with your integrator, solutions are not hard to find.”
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