Securing New Ground Conference: Nov. 7-8, New York

The repercussions of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America weighed heavily on the minds of some 170 of the world’s top security company CEOs, presidents and executives who gathered for the 6th Annual Securing New Ground (SNG) Conference at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel. Although the event, which was subtitled “The New World of Security,” took place just two miles from Ground Zero (where the World Trade Centers used to stand), the atmosphere was one of optimism and purpose during two days of presentations and networking. Without exception, every single speaker, whether discussing business or technology issues, alluded to the impact of Sept. 11 on the electronic security industry.

In addition to the massive effects of the attacks and ongoing war on terrorism, information technology (IT), biometrics and unscrupulous dealer tactics were among the hottest topics addressed by presenters. Some of the many distinguished speakers and/or panelists included Brian McCarthy of Interlogix; Ademco‘s Dennis R. Raefield; Per-Olof Loof of Sensormatic; Richard Ginsburg of Protection One; Thomas Berglund of Securitas Services Ltd.; James Covert (formerly of SecurityLink); the Security Industry Association’s (SIA) Richard Chace; Security Sales and Integration‘s Scott Goldfine; and New York Police Department Captain Stephen McAllister.

On the supplier side, in his keynote speech, McCarthy identified consolidation, integration, global market expansion, emerging technologies and multinational entrants as the new and future industry trends. In regards to Sept. 11, he says, “It accelerated the concern for security; it was a defining moment. The change is sustainable; it is the new ‘normal.’ Also, the response will be far more electronic- than manpower-oriented.” McCarthy also spoke about how the electronic security industry has fundamentally changed. “It used to be about boxes, wires and gizmos,” he adds. “Now, it’s about software, services, networks and databases—it’s about information.”

With biometrics, particularly facial recognition, being recently thrown into the spotlight, SNG offered a pair of sessions on the high-technology subject. “Sept. 11 created a paradigm shift,” Dr. Joseph Atick of Visionics Corp. told the audience. “We are seeing increased spending, overwhelming public support, and the accelerated adoption of federal regulations and standards.” The experts predicted that, eventually, there will be three layers of security—something you have (key), something you know (PIN) and something you are (biometrics). “One big thing that has changed since the attacks is people’s willingness to allow security to intrude into their lives,” adds Graphco TechnologiesBarry Hodge. A major concern about facial recognition is its reliability. “Facial-recognition technology is not 100-percent accurate,” admits Visionics’ Frances Zelazny, “but neither are metal detectors or luggage scanners. The point is deterrence. And with facial recognition, no terrorist would risk getting caught at an airport.”

Another hot technology topic was integration, where talk continues to rage about the necessity for manufacturers to deliver open-platform equipment and nonproprietary software. In addition, speakers warned of the blurring line between security and IT systems within buildings, and the urgency of the security industry to be more proactive or lose control to the IT industry. “We, as an industry, really need to embrace the concept of IT security,” contends Loof, who announced that it would be his last speech as CEO of Sensormatic, which is being purchased by Tyco. “We can’t sit on our behinds and wait for this to happen!” Paul Talley of Vigilos summed up the scenario thusly, “If the security industry does not move to modern IT, IT will move it for us.”

On the alarm dealer side, Covert, who recently began fulfilling a three-year no-compete agreement after selling his company to Tyco for $1 billion, says opportunity abounds today in the electronic security industry. “There’s a ton of money to be made in this industry right now,” he says. “I wish I didn’t have a no-compete agreement right now! You don’t have to sell your business to make money in this industry. We should not feel guilty about making a dollar.” Covert, who has realized a remarkable 49-percent return on his business ventures since 1986, sees the glass as half full rather than half empty when talking about the fact that some 80 percent of the population is still without security systems. “Everyone needs security and yet 80 percent of the public does not have it. People want what we have.”

Meanwhile, Ginsburg shed light on an ugly side of the industry: double-selling accounts. He offered some tips and explained that the damage caused by ruthless and underhanded sales tactics cuts deeper than just the spurned party. “Warn your customers about possible scams,” Ginsburg advises. “Watch out for poaching dealers. Protection One has taken legal action, not only against companies, but also against individuals within those companies. Dealers fighting each other creates negative feelings among customers, good business people and investors.”

Speaking of investors, one of the primary goals of SNG is bringing together security businesses and financial entities. As part of that, several speakers examined the security market from a monetary perspective. “We have a number of opportunities for growth in this industry,” states Paul Sargenti of SAFE. “We are seeing a shift away from RMR [recurring monthly revenue] contract generation toward concentrating on customer service, low attrition and core competencies.”  Gregory Spurr of MCG Capital Corp. says, “Companies that are strong in IT, installation and engineering capabilities will be best positioned to excel in the wake of 9/11.” And, according to Henry Edmonds of SLP Capital, “The weak [security] players have been weeded out and the remaining companies are survivors and should prosper.”

SNG organizers Lehman Brothers, ProFinance Associates Inc., MS&K and Sandra Jones & Co. were ecstatic about the success of the conference, as many people called it the best one ever held. For information about the 2002 edition, call (440) 286-4900.

Traveling to New York is typically equal parts hectic and stimulating. However, it was even more so the week of SNG, and not just because the location was so close to the most horrific attack ever waged against Americans on U.S. soil. The city’s mayoral election was held the day preceding the conference, while the event’s final day coincided with the arrival of Pakistan’s president and his advisors at the host hotel. They were in town in preparation of a meeting with President George W. Bush. Consequently, the hotel was filled with Secret Service agents, barricades were set up around the block and guests had to have their bags checked for explosives. Fortunately, the mild weather did not add to the chaos. All in all, it was quite an eventful week!

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