Execs From Leading Integrators Talk Cyber, Workforce Shortage & More in Annual Roundtable
SSI’s annual roundtable spotlights integrators taking bold yet measured steps when it comes to escalating competition and accelerating technology.
Some of the best accomplishments most of us will ever make came or will come when our backs against the wall — the necessity is the mother of invention proverb comes to mind. Following that logic, we ought to see some of the most sensational achievements ever emerge from the security integrator community.
Like never before, new technology, changing business models, a talent shortfall and intensified competition have these companies between a rock and a hard place. But while this jagged landscape may have some feeling like square pegs in round holes, being pushed outside a comfort zone is often a positive, productive predicament.
“I’m always concerned that we don’t get tunnel vision and every day is Day One. We look at the business and consider if we started it today what it would look like in terms of processes, people, technology, services and culture,” says Paul Schmick, vice president of New York’s Alliance Security. “The greatest answers to our challenges will most likely not come from our industry; they’ll come from risk management, IT or other perspectives. We’ve got to consistently look outside and consider what our market is not thinking about and how can we use that knowledge to better transition operations and offerings that typically weren’t in our footprint — now making them security-centric — and try to lead and build our business around that.”
Schmick was among the leading security executives who participated in SSI’s Annual Integrator Roundtable, as always held during the PSA TEC event in Denver. This year, the session was held in the immediate aftermath of the region’s historic blizzard that led to nearly 1,500 canceled flights and more than 100,000 homes without power.
While Brian Schmidt, president of Mansfield, Ohio-based Schmidt Security Pro and Sean MacCarthy, vice president of Springfield, Va.-based Versar Security Systems were also able to brave the elements, the storm waylaid RFI (San Jose, Calif.) President Brad Wilson’s travel plans (you can read his responses here).
The trio discusses what’s working and what’s not, how they are ensuring their businesses remain adaptable enough to compete in a fast and fierce environment, and their top challenges, solutions and opportunities.
The conversation underscores the daunting choices today’s security integration managers must make, but at the same time the thrill of the chase.
What has got you pumped up in the morning? What’s bringing a smile to your face? What are you excited about in terms of the business as we sit here today?
PAUL SCHMICK: Alliance Building Services is a very large, 4,000-employee company that started as a cleaning business. What Alliance quickly saw in the 1990s was that cleaning and maintenance brought us these other great businesses, and we have a 600-person guard business as well, and then the technology business, which I run. We’re seeing this synergy of services that are helping to promote and differentiate us in the market. So we’re simply seizing the opportunity that’s in front of us because of the footprint of the business.
What I’m excited about every day is the opportunity in the market. The market’s transitioning and becoming more IT- than physical-centric. I’m excited about the opportunity but with almost zero unemployment rate in our industry we simply can’t get enough skilled talent to move forward. So we are bringing in promising individuals to cultivate based on our culture and our vision of the business, and hopefully fulfill that great opportunity. There’s nothing better to get you out of bed in the morning than being able to create a great environment that people can call their professional home.
SEAN MacCARTHY: For me it’s more about the technology, and in particular the Cloud, that’s really starting to excite us. Being primarily a federal government integrator means working with customers that, for many reasons, are not always on the leading edge of technology. But we’re getting to point now where the federal government is more excited about moving to the Cloud.
They’re starting to introduce new technologies, figuring out how they can integrate them, but still maintain compliance with all the regulations they need to worry about, such as cybersecurity. It’s exciting for us to figure out how to take these cutting-edge technologies from the commercial side and bring them over into a compliant federal solution.
BRIAN SCHMIDT: We also are doing more where we’re converging technologies, and the Cloud is helping us to do that faster and more efficiently and more secure than we ever could in the past. We’re looking at it with our own metrics in how it’s helped us service customers more efficiently, service them faster, make it easier for them to use the systems they have in place because of the Cloud, and the ability to touch those systems very easily from a mobile device or multiple desktop stations.
It really helps us provide better customer service as well from our remote help desk. Another big thing is the coming of 5G and communication pathways, with the speed at which things will happen. The broadband technology and the faster speeds combined with the Cloud will transform our industry very quickly. It’s exciting to think about where we’ll be in three or five years.
Having been in it as long as you have been, would you ever have envisioned it would go in this kind of direction?
SCHMIDT: When he started the business one thing my father always embraced was change. We first did investigations and then we provided guard service, and progressed from there. At the end of the day, we’re a provider of security and life safety services. We’ve done it many different ways along the way, and I think we’ll continue to in the future. So no, I didn’t envision this 22 years ago, but I also know that I can’t imagine what we’ll see in five or 10 years. I know it’ll be different. It’s exciting to look forward and see how we can bring those tools together to help solve customer challenges or them to better manage their business, or better protect them and their workforce or their facilities.
The other side of that coin, of course, is what is keeping you up at night, giving you a few more gray hairs? What’s really nagging at you?
MacCARTHY: For me and my perspective, it’s cybersecurity. Working for federal customers, some of the classified things in their systems are of high interest to adversaries, so protecting them means being very concerned about cybersecurity threats and potentially an issue with one of our systems. Thus far, we’ve had no issues. We’ve got a clean bill of health, and I think that’s because we’ve been staying on the cutting edge of technology, investing in our workforce, doing good risk management to try and mitigate those issues. But it’s really the cybersecurity threat, because in our market you have to worry about a nation state potentially going after a customer.
It’s a constant threat. It’s not going to go away. That’s one of the things that gives me more gray hairs. It’s not like we’re going to come up with a technical solution, and two years down the road this is going to be something we’re not going to worry about. This is an issue we’re going to be worrying about the rest of our lifetimes.
SCHMIDT: I’ll echo Sean’s statements as cyber is a concern we all have to be paying attention to, and the vendors are doing a better job. There are also beginning to be more standards that we are working toward to better help protect our customers’ information and minimize vulnerabilities. We are seeing more consistency, which is good for the industry and for protecting the customer. Another concern is workforce and workforce development. We’ve been very fortunate that we have, in general, a stable workforce, but I know we also have to be thinking down the road.
We need to do our part to help to promote the industry as something that is exciting and attractive to younger people. Just last week, we invited some representatives from a local vocational school to our office to teach them more about our business, what we do and some of the opportunities for younger people. There will be a follow-up meeting in the next couple of weeks where some of those young people will come through and we can help educate them more. I think it’s important for all of us in the industry to pay attention to and be proactive with rather than reactive and wait for somebody to bring it to us.
SCHMICK: There’s a couple of things that keep me up at night. The first is we’re starting to grow concern that there are so many technologies to offer in our market. What is the market right for to help us sustain our business? When you look three and five years out at the amount of software platforms that have come online, at the amount of different technologies that have come online, and dealing with the education and the training pool of our staff, I’m very concerned. We want to be able to deploy the products that are timed right for market, but there’s so many out there that you cannot be great at everything.
We’re going to have to surgically pick which ones we see a future with, and then scale back on the ones we feel there is a shelf life on that we’re going to start to move backwards from. We have started to move to single dashboard management platforms to try to narrow the technologies clients have to deal with. My concern is are we doing a good job building that ecosystem and then staying with the few technologies we believe will lead in the years to come?
The second point relates to cyber. I lived through a ransomware attack and it was incredibly painful. About three years ago, I was brand new to Alliance Security and lived through that on a new site that was taken over. The tens of thousands of dollars and the potential liability of that really had us fast track how we’re going to protect and fortify our systems — and what that layered defense looks like because it’s not one solution. It’s actually defense in-depth, a layered solution approach. And then, how do I bring that to market and do well from it in terms of gross profitability and return on capital?
SCHMIDT: Picking up on what you’re saying, there’s a real opportunity for us to lead in this industry with offering those solutions. So while that’s keeping me up at night, one of the things I’m excited about is that it’s really helping us diversify a market. There’s a true opportunity for those of us on this side of the table to become just not security-centric, but actually start to sell into the IT space. That’s where we’re seeing great opportunity, to sell cyber services into the IT space, to that director or those executives who want to push it out. We expect to grow and really see great returns in that market.
SCHMICK: It’s incumbent upon us to go to our customers and make sure they’re aware of some of the firmware updates, software updates and patches that are available for their systems. Customers are listening and they appreciate and accept it. That gets me excited that we can bring something that really is cyber-related to our customers, at least on the systems that we’re putting in today, even if they’re not protecting their entire network from cyberattacks. We’re protecting our pieces of it from being portals for attacks.
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