School Is In Session

The federal stimulus package has allocated $53.6 billion to the U.S. Department of Education that will provide funding for the installation of fire/life-safety systems in schools and universities. This and other legislated earmarks are providing new opportunities for security dealers/integrators. Mike Kobelin, vice president of sales and marketing at Selectron, a Wilsonville, Ore.-based systems integrator with extensive experience in the campus market, discusses some of the particulars of this vertical.

Who is typically involved in purchase decision-making on the college and university level?

As with most of our markets, 10 or 15 years ago, it was all about security and facilities. Today, we are dealing with a multitude of user groups within the school, including student services, ID management, campus safety, facilities, finance and IT. And as you might expect from general industry trends, IT is definitely evolving to be the strongest influencer. 

What convergence technology developments do you foresee becoming commonly installed at campus environments?

We are now routinely doing the obvious with alarm systems, emergency call, video and access control. Steps are being made to more of a one-card solution to include student debit and credit cards, food service, vending and library functions. In the near future, as IT’s influence grows, we expect initiatives toward logical access and enhanced procedures for protection of intellectual property and sensitive data through enhanced network access controls. There is still a huge need to protect logical resources after a student has withdrawn from active student status.

What do security integrators need to understand foremost to effectively approach the campus setting?

In a recent meeting that included a local college president, the message was clearly delivered to us that her No. 1 priority was student and employee safety. Our top challenge is to design unique solutions within budget and IT infrastructure constraints to meet the specific college requirements. I believe integrators need to balance meeting immediate needs today with a system design scalable to meet the needs of tomorrow. I think we all know the initial installation is only the very first step in a multiyear deployment process.

For a campus environment that strives to maintain openness, both physically and intellectually, what are the unique challenges an integrator faces in system design/installation?

We spend a lot of our time working with the user group that actually supports and maintains our various security systems. Vandalism, aesthetics in historic buildings and usability are the main issues we resolve together. Everything looks good on paper, right?  Our challenge is to understand the fundamentals of what the students and staff will really use and appreciate, then we can weave our understanding of security best practices into the design and installation. 

Are administrators aware of funding available to them or can integrators play a role in schooling them?

Administrators are aware that explaining security and safety to the parents of prospective new students is an always growing component of their new student marketing program, and they must find the funding sources to allow investment and deployment of security solutions without impact on the general budget. With some minimal direction from us, these administrators are aware of various sources, such as the recent Higher Education Act, which has a grant program specifically for mass notification. The federal stimulus program is another funding source all schools seem to be acutely aware of already and finance personnel are researching the grant process.

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