With the security industry abuzz about IT convergence, Internet Protocol cameras and network video recorders, it is easy to see why even the most experienced corporate security director would turn to a professional systems integrator for help with a new installation or system upgrade.
But open up the Yellow Pages in any major metropolitan area and there will be dozens of security companies advertising for business. Selecting a quality, experienced integrator is crucial to getting the job done correctly the first time and saving money in the long run.
Here are a few suggestions on picking the right systems integrator for your job and advice on what you can reasonably expect from the owner and his or her staff.
Before you make the first call, ask around for recommendations from other security, facility and IT directors to help narrow the search. Then call two or three integrators and ask for an opportunity to meet. It is important that you are ultimately introduced to the people who will be involved in the design, installation and service of your system. Most integrators are eager to showcase their team. Be leery of those who aren’t. In some cases there may not be a team to back up the promises made by a salesperson.
Money Isn’t Everything
Price is important, but it is often not the most important criterion for selecting the right integrator. Pay a fair price, but remember that low is typically not better. Don’t cut project management hours to lower your price. You are better off phasing your project, doing less initially and adding in a second or third phase.
Ask your integrator to present a proposal to you and the decision maker. Companies that are too busy to come out and take the time to explain the detail of their proposal typically aren’t interested in a long-term partnership. Make a site visit to other locations at which the integrator has performed similar work. Speak to the security director or owner about the job that was completed.
The First Visit
Visit the integrator’s facilities and meet the people that work there. The manner in which an integrator operates his or her business can give you a good idea of what to expect on your job. Does the integrator have training facilities? Does the integrator have loaner equipment to reduce your down time when a piece of equipment fails? Are their trucks stocked to take care of your needs?
After you’ve decided on an integrator, you can’t just sit back and wait for the system to be installed or upgraded. Active involvement throughout the project is vital.
Meet the Family
Ask for a meeting with the owner or project manager before the job begins. Have all representatives that will be involved in the job present, including subcontractors and involved staff from your facility. Walk through the job and make sure those who have responsibility for the end product understand exactly what is expected. Get everyone in agreement on the total scope of the job, including any revised completion schedules. Your integrator should take notes during each meeting and disseminate those notes to all parties present.
If everyone is starting on the same page, the job will likely go smoothly without costly change orders or other problems.
Set the Date
Can your integrator deliver a finished job within a reasonable timeframe? Agree on the completion date, document that date, and make plans accordingly. Be reasonable if the integrator experiences unavoidable delays. On the other hand, hold the integrator accountable for unexplainable delays. Ensure that you have provided the necessary resources to complete your part of the project. Has IT provided the IP addresses? Are network drops operational when promised?
Do They Really Care?
Customer service, project management and attention to detail are the major differentiators between integrators. Did your integrator ask for your input? Did the project manager meet with you weekly to keep you abreast of the progress? He should regularly update you not only on the milestones being met, but also on problems or potential snags that may affect the ultimate timing or cost of the project.
Communication Is Key
Once the job is underway, the high level of communication begun during the selection period should continue. Try to avoid multiple contacts. Rather than dealing with several people on the integrator’s staff, ask to have one representative—ideally the project manager—to contact. Requirements, expectations, communications and scheduling become next to impossible when several layers of intermediaries are added in between the end user and the integrator. The more levels of intervention, the more difficult communication becomes and the harder it becomes to meet everyone’s expectations for the project.
What to Expect
It is not only reasonable, but should be expected, that the integrator’s staff will conduct itself in a professional manner and work only during agreed-upon hours to cause as little disruption to your business as possible.
The job may require the use of subcontractors, and you should expect that the integrator will handle all interactions with those workers. The project manager should demand of subcontractors the same level of work, professionalism and conduct that he would expect of his own crew.
In the Long Haul
The relationship with and the expectations for the integrator do not end here. Count on the integrator to provide training on the new equipment. Make sure the integrator’s staff is available to quickly respond to calls for service—even after hours and on weekends and holidays. Be open to preventative maintenance (PM) agreements. This is an investment in your system that extends the life of the product and provides budgeted costs, software upgrades and continued involvement from your integrator. The more you see your integrator, the more you will benefit from the system. This is particularly true as your staff changes and you need ongoing training.
By following the above recommendations, you should be able to locate a competent, experienced and qualified systems integrator that will provide a quality security system or system upgrade.
John Krumme, CPP is president and chief executive officer of Cam-Dex Security Corporation, with offices in Kansas City and St. Louis. He is also secretary of SecurityNet, an international network of 21 top independently owned security system integrators.