Northland Controls Leaders: Services-Savvy Integrators Most Likely to Succeed

Northland Controls CEO Pierre Trapanese and President Paul Thomas take a look at the electronic security industry’s chief challenges, and see integrators embracing IT and managed services faring best.

The April issue of Security Sales & Integration includes my in-depth profile of Northland Controls and interview of the high-technology specialist’s executive management. Although I have gotten to know both Northland Controls CEO Pierre Trapanese and President Paul Thomas through the years, this opportunity allowed me to probe much deeper than ever before. I encourage you to read the full story in either print or online (which includes a sizeable extension of the interview). But for now, here is the second of two blogs reflecting a couple of the especially juicy topics we got into, in this case some of the overall challenges facing systems integrators today. Enjoy.

You are both so involved in the PSA Security Network and have a nice high-level vantage point. So looking at the bigger systems integration picture beyond just your own business, what do you see as some of the top challenges, and do you see solutions for them?

Pierre Trapanese: I’ll talk domestically; we see that good integrators are doing really well. You can talk about challenges and competition coming from outside, or from a different angle, but we see the good integrators doing well at the moment, the ones who are good at tying together the different aspects of what we do as integrators: the end-of-line devices, the technology foundations like servers and networking, and then the software. They’re much better at it than technology suppliers who are trying to go direct. They’re much better at it than the IT folks. They’re much better at it than the people who do intrusion alarms or alarm monitoring. I don’t see huge threats to the good integrators. I think the integrators who are not great at the IT platforms, foundations, or who are not great at the software part of it are suffering. That’s the question of education, capabilities, and maybe management foresight. There are threats to those folks who can’t do all three: installation, IT and software.

RELATED: How Northland Controls Decides When to Fish or Cut Bait

Paul Thomas: To that point, I think we are a very progressive company. I don’t think we see a lot of things that maybe others see. We’re always reinventing ourselves, always evolving, and we see it as a very natural part of our business, where others may resist it. We have shifted in the past seven years to a much more professional service-based company than a traditional integration field installation company. I think that’s going to be a challenge for the industry in its entirety. Like Pierre said, the good companies, the companies that are out there in our space that we would compete with, I think are evolving. If they look back over the last seven years, they would say, “Yes, my professional service business ratio is much higher now.” I think as we move forward in time our companies will be heavily professional services-based. Who knows, maybe someday not much installation at all?

Beyond that, it’s people, it’s training, it’s finding all the right people. I suppose that’s a challenge every single day and always has been for my whole career. We are moving into a space where the people that we are competing for to bring onto our team, other industries are competing for the same people now. Where before, everybody used to be in the same industry. Now, we’re looking into a lot of the computer science areas, looking into computer engineering areas, looking into IT spaces, looking into project management that may come out of the real estate field. I think that whole landscape of our future is changing a bit as well. It’s difficult, I think, to talk about our industry to some of these people who are coming out of those spaces. They don’t know about security. They’re looking for a job in IT. It takes more education to be able to paint the story for those people.

Trapanese: There are also challenges on a macroeconomic level. Over the last four years we’re seeing a race to the bottom. It’s just the people trying to maintain their top line of growth, their top line taking what they could. Essentially breaking the trust with the client is a challenge to the industry overall. But now the economy is actually going quite well, I haven’t seen that as much. Ninety-percent of our work is negotiated, so that doesn’t affect us, but I do think it affects the industry. It’s that taking on of business that doesn’t fit, either core abilities or the ability to deliver. And then not being able to deliver just because you were looking for the business hurts. I think that’s always a challenge. That’s a challenge in any industry, not doing what one professes it can do.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int'l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.

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