The Perfect Match

How do you evaluate a security systems integrator?

Walsdorf agreed. “When customers specify a design with broad-based performance specifications, they're going to get all kinds of numbers and thoughts on the project,” he said. Comprehensive designs that are tightly written with numbers and drawings are much more likely to deliver what is expected in terms of price and performance. Taking shortcuts by copying information from books or using a proposal that worked last year on another project will set you up for disaster.

System Design. Often design and/or engineering is contracted separately from the systems integration. Ligouri feels that the emergence of the security consultant has played a significant role in this arena. “As the size of the projects escalates, the separation becomes more pronounced,” he said.

“It gives the customer more peace of mind and is always highly desirable to split up the elements,” added Channell. He said there are times, however, when the integrator incumbent has special inherent knowledge of an organization's existing systems and infrastructure. “In these cases, it is imperative that a systems integrator be part of the design/engineering, especially when talking about system retrofits and add-ons.” In addition, Channel mentioned that setbacks happen when an organization doesn't want to pay the money needed to hire a consultant or engineer to put out a quality RFP. “Too many times a customer thinks they can save money by doing it themselves. There is always an ROI when having professionals develop an RFP, though often times it's not quantifiable up front.”

Ensuring that there are good, solid design and specifications also helps to protect both parties from cost overruns and time delays. According to Walsdorf, “The better the design, the easier it is on everybody.”

Bidding. You can begin to narrow your field of qualified integrators all the way back in the bidding process, to ensure you are choosing between the most appropriate providers. “Make sure the highest-quality integrators are invited to propose and the invitation is sent to the appropriate person with a return receipt requested. You'd be surprised how many times specifications and drawings land in the wrong people's hands, resulting in no proposal submitted,” said Channell.

Cultivate Trust

After you've found a partner, you must continue working to keep the relationship at a profitable level. One of the key elements of an ideal integrator-customer pairing is a long-term partnering relationship based on trust. According to Walsdorf, this should be a common goal for both sides.

Channell cited three key requirements for creating trust .

1) An open, honest dialogue that compares customer expectations to the integrator's actual capabilities,

2) Face-to-face meetings to handle any disagreements or misunderstandings that may arise, and

3) A continuous two-way education process in which the integrator informs the security professional about new trends and technology and the security professional keeps the integrator abreast of future projects.

Remember that issues will still come up. Sometimes delays and cost overruns are a function of a number of obstacles that aren't within the control of the integrator. When this happens, “The main ingredient is communication. Staying engaged with one another is the best way to keep abreast of what is happening and keep problems to a minimum,” stated Ligouri.

Determining the perfect SI partner is demanding, but it can be done. Security professionals who thoroughly investigate prospective companies and fully and professionally plan the design and engineering of the project come out on top. Taking the time and avoiding shortcuts helps to avoid delays and cost overruns. Perhaps most important, it lays the groundwork for a strong relationship for years to come.

Clarissa Jacobson is director of research for Peter A. Sokoloff & Co. (