PSA ADAPT State of the Integrator: Our Solutions Can Help Pandemic Recovery
Four integration company leaders shared 2020 lessons learned and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.
DENVER — The PSA Network, the industry’s largest organization supporting commercial security systems and A/V integrators, successfully pulled off its first virtual conference and first-ever ADAPT event Oct. 6-8. The gathering, which was announced following the cancellation of PSA’s long-established marquee event (PSA TEC) last spring due to the pandemic, represented a rebranding, refocusing and expanding of the group’s annual owners meeting.
It was originally intended to be an in-person conference held in Hilton Head, S.C., but pivoted to virtual a couple of months prior due to the ongoing COVID-19 constraints. To help retain some of that flavor, all the presenters appeared with a virtual backdrop of the beloved coastal vacation destination.
The event consisted of a few main presentations, several targeted sessions and a virtual exhibit section populated by about 40 PSA partner vendors. The virtual platform worked with few hitches with most sessions having been prerecorded but speakers online to engage in text chat and field questions. The content maintained the organization’s longstanding tradition of high value and relevance.
The proceedings also functioned as a kind of swansong for longtime PSA figurehead Bill Bozeman. Although a succession plan was announced in 2019 with him first turning over his president role to Ric McCullough and later relinquishing CEO duties, the latter transition was delayed by the pandemic. But PSA leadership disclosed an active search is in motion to name a new CEO.
Bozeman, an SSI Industry Hall of Famer, said he will continue to act as advisor to the co-op. Or as he put it, “I will be moving from the field to the broadcast booth.”
Bozeman presided over one of the most compelling themed sessions that was carried over from PSA TEC ― “The State of the Integrator.” Also taking part was Brent Berger of Bridges System Integration, Louis Boulgarides of Olliver Corp., Mike Bradley from ECD Systems and Tech Systems’ Wayne Smith.
Bozeman opened by saying that PSA and the vast majority of its 170 integrator company owners/members have weathered the pandemic extraordinarily well, especially since the initial shutdowns. He added that those firms that have been hit hardest are those that were too niche or narrowly focused. Some of the other challenges, experiences and opportunities were noted as follows …
“Early on, we underestimated managing staff relative the COVID crisis. Especially as a smaller company, it was challenging to have people offsite with their lives in turmoil. This will continue to be a challenge,” said Berger.
“I see plenty of opportunity in verticals where technology can be used rather than people, especially moving forward. However, what is challenging, also as a smaller company, is that the office space occupancy in California right now is still only 22%,” said Boulgarides.
“Healthcare is a nice vertical opportunity, but it is complicated to navigate because their need far exceeds their money right now. Because of that we are offering more systems as a service to help them out. As an integrator, people have always been the top challenge and COVID has added a whole new level to that. We didn’t have any layoffs but the impact of educators not teaching has added to the strain of our personnel,” said Bradley.
“Data-centric and Cloud-based solutions have accelerated in this environment. And so smart applications demand is taking off and offering a strong opportunity for integrators. I do agree that managing and recruiting people is the biggest challenge. This is the time to diversify your verticals if you are too narrowly focused,” said Smith.
“We are trying to do more remotely by leveraging technology to troubleshoot and service. We are also lessening the breadth of our products because it is too difficult to keep in touch and work with too many of them. We look for products that are Swiss Army knives from vendors we have come to rely on and that accommodate remote support,” added Berger.
“We have to understand what customers are going through, our personnel has to be sensitive to that. Right now everyone is taking a little bit of a breath to assess how technology can be deployed to manage COVID’s impact. We have strategized to have the right conversations with customers as they move from reaction to proactive mode,” added Boulgarides.
“When we talk diversification it is not only about the vertical markets you serve. I believe having different disciplines within a company, such as products and services in technologies for fire, luxury homes, etc. is also critical,” added Bradley.
“We had made moves to using a lot of virtual tools and practices before COVID that have now served us well during this crisis,” said Smith.
The group agreed that having staff work remotely has for the most part proved effective but lamented the loss of emotional connections and the benefits of in-person collaboration. Bradley shared that his firm brought a new spacious building in January and was going to be “damned if they didn’t use it.”
So they have returned to working within the Tempe, Ariz., headquarters but are practicing appropriate distancing and other protocols. He said people want to come in, collaborate, have lunch together, etc. Others noted that their field people still don’t come into the office much and have been well equipped with high-tech tools like iPads and software to remain able and efficient. It was suggested just having a manager(s) come into the office and keeping field personnel offsite.
There was also agreement that the need and opportunity for managed services (e.g. access control and video surveillance) was being accelerated by the pandemic, although everyone on the panel pegged their current revenue from that part of their business at just 5%-10% (the exception was Tech Systems’ 35%).
The imperative for customers to do more with fewer people and estimate that 25% of the workforce is not returning to commercial spaces is strengthening the argument in favor of managed services. And from the integrator perspective, the need for recurring revenue during times of crisis like a pandemic has been made vividly clear.
“We find managed services really helps us maintain our cash flow. But you have to establish the strategy from the top down to be committed to it and support it. We have as a service for almost anything you could want today and so we keep building on that. It is part of our DNA and something we sell every day,” said Smith.
“There is an internal fear not if you can do managed services, but if you can do it well. You have to do your due diligence and partner with the right vendors to deliver these services. Some of my people were resistant, but when I told them that had to have a plan in place by a given deadline, they conceded and will have to embrace it,” said Bradley.
The final topic on the table was cybersecurity, with most saying they are more focused on it internally for their own business than with offering it as a product or service to customers. When they do it is typically through a partnership with a cybersecurity specialist.
In fact, during the meeting PSA disclosed that its year-old Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP) program now has the involvement of 43 of its 170 member companies. “That is a big part of our plan moving forward and we will include an opt in/out element in all customer contracts,” stated Boulgarides.
“Right now we are putting our time and energy into making sure everything we do is cyber-secure. Once that is accomplished, it will be a natural progression to offer it to customers. This is a more of a walk before you run area,” said Bradley. Smith noted that his firm encounters many customers nowadays that require cybersecurity certifications to “be invited to the table” for installations or service. “So we understand all aspects of it.”
In short, the state of the integrator is solid with looming uncertainties but promising for those willing to, as the event name so aptly reflected, adapt. PSA said it remains committed to resuming its in-person TEC event in 2021, scheduled for May 3-6 in Denver. However, it was referred to as a hybrid conference that will feature virtual elements as well.
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