Staying Afloat in These Changing Tides

Rip•tide (rip’tid’), n — A tide that opposes another or other tides, causing a violent disturbance in the sea. (Webster’s College Dictionary)

In nature, the collision of two opposing currents can cause turbulence: the riptide. As the Convergence Wave moves closer and closer toward the shore, we are starting to see more evidence of our own riptide being generated as the turbulence becomes more pronounced. 

There is a wide variety of opinion on just how much of an effect The Wave is going to have over the long term. There is the “IP is inevitable, analog is dead” crew (a.k.a. “resistance is futile”). We also have the “my customers don’t have a need for network stuff; I don’t have a need for it,” line of thought. Which is right? Does either one have to be right? Is the truth somewhere in between? 

This is now and will continue being a controversial subject. Change is always difficult. The question is how are we (those of us on both sides of The Wave) going to deal with it? 

Who Needs to Change?
This is probably the first, most fundamental question we need to answer. We all resist change. Some resist all change, some just bad change, but we all resist to some extent. It is an obvious question, but not a simple one. Who needs to do the changing here?

Is it the traditional security integrator? Sure, they know the security side of the equation. They know what the customer is looking for, what they need for security, right? They also know the basics of cameras, transmission, storage, etc. They know about physical risk assessment. They know what “their” customers need. 

Is it the IT integrator? They know networks. They know about SLAs. They know about data infrastructure. They know about routing and switching of multicast video. They know about razor-thin margins. They know everything is heading into “their” territory, the IP world. 

Or is it the security equipment manufacturer? They know cameras. They know power supplies. They know DVRs, storage and encoding. They know what “their” customers want. They know what “their” market needs. 

The answer is they all need to change. 

Security Integrators Have to Adapt
In this person’s mind, he or she has the most to lose. This person has the fear that his or her environment is threatened. This person is dealing with a new technology scope, a new skill set. This person may feel like his or her back is against the wall.

There is no doubt this industry is changing rapidly. Large enterprise systems that just a few years ago would have been the latest in analog cameras, fiber optics, linked matrix switchers and DVRs are now being specified as hundreds of IP cameras, NVRs and PoE switches. 

All of a sudden, new people are showing up at prebid meetings in suits, from companies we’ve never run into before. Large, global telephone corporations are pushing their way into bids, bringing integrators from all over the country in an apparent attempt to squeeze out the little guy. Yep, the times, they are a changin’. What’s a traditional security company to do? 

We’ve looked at options for dealing with this change in previous articles, as have others in this magazine. Things like training, subcontracting, etc. are all good ways to move forward in navigating The Wave. There are lots of sources of information on the Internet.

It is not the point of our conversation here to offer specific suggestions. As just mentioned, others and myself have provided these things before. My point here is to offer encouragement that you can change with the times. You can continue to succeed in this industry. You just have to be willing and open to change. And be willing to understand what the other players surfing The Wave have to deal with.

Security Challenges IT Integrators
I’m sure in some folks’ minds, there is a thought that security integrators are being pulled into The Wave against their will; that this change is happening to them, not with them. They believe the IT industry is forcing its way into their world. 

Having some recent experience as an IT integrator, I can tell you this is not the case. I will go out on a limb and say that The Wave is as much of a surprise and struggle for the average IT integrator as it is for you. 

Think about it. Do you believe a consortium of IT integrators started petitioning video security manufacturers to start making network-based products, or else? Their traditional network customers observed The Wave starting in the technology, and approached them. “You’re already here doing my network stuff. Any reason you couldn’t put up a few cameras for me, too?” 

They have to adjust to new technologies and skill sets just as much as anyone on the security side. There are security concepts the average IT integrator is way behind the curve on. Things like analyzing video signals and focal lengths are just as strange to them as the OSI layers are to us. And by the way, these things are still extremely important. Whether from an IP or analog camera, a lousy image is still a lousy image. The basics still need to be observed. 

IT integrators have just as much an uphill climb as we do. Yes, the new technology is more tailored to what they do, but I see it as a huge opportunity for collaboration. There are lots of blanks on both sides that need to be filled in.

Security Manufacturers Hold Key
OK, now we can start laying blame, right? Sure, they could have left IP video in the realm of harmless little Webcams and not adapted the technology for commercial use. And they could not have used hard drives for storage, and … whatever. We’re way past all that now. The Wave is rolling in. Blame isn’t important anymore. 

IP and digital video technology have created efficiencies and profitability long dreamed of by manufacturers. It was the next inevitable step. Tubes to CCDs, videotape to hard drives, coax to CAT-5 — technology keeps marching on.

But like the rest of us, there are changes outside of the technology that need to be addressed by the manufacturers. Our business is different than the network business. Our market is different than the market for network equipment. That these areas are different is not debatable. The differences may be subtle, but they are real. 

As an example, and this by no means applies to all security manufacturers, I have been hearing a lot of feedback lately about project protection. A major network equipment manufacturer located in Northern California’s Bay Area offers this protection. If an integrator establishes itself as having specified or otherwise steered the project toward this manufacturer, it goes on record as “owning” that project. This means other integrators, in a bid situation, will not receive better pricing than the registered integrator, and in some cases not even equal pricing. This is extremely valuable to an integrator. 

When I inquired with a large security manufacturer about a program such as this, a representative said the company was resistant to do so. He said it is not the way they do things and they see it differently. Is one way right and the other wrong? That is a question far above this column. But it is an indicator that everyone, on both sides of The Wave, needs to consider change.

I believe manufacturers hold the key to change in this industry. They need to level the playing field and make integrators on both sides comfortable. Their world is in just as much danger of upheaval as ours.

Riptides Can Be Dangerou

Growing up as a kid in Southern California, I remember being at the beach and seeing a red flag on top of the lifeguard towers. This indicated some kind of dangerous condition, usually a strong riptide. The indicators are all around us now, as The Wave rolls in. Now is the time to act.

By the way, according to several lifeguard Web sites, the proper way to deal with a riptide: Stay calm, don’t panic, and swim with the current, not against it. You will find safety and release on the other side.

If you have anything to add to this discussion, or disagree with any of my observations, please E-mail me. This is a topic that affects all of us and will continue to for a long time. I would be interested to see what you think. The most interesting and relevant feedback may spark ideas or content for future columns.



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