Step it up, one project at a time

Integrators share their tips, tricks and tools in a how-to guide to effective project management

Think about the process of integration. It's not a simple one. In fact, some integrators jokingly say that integration doesn't exist, that it takes engineering expertise to make it all work.

Although projects in the security industry can be categorized in three groups-the small 'mom and pop' installations (yes, they do still exist), the mid-sized projects and the enterprise/national level installations-any integrator will tell you that different projects have various starting points and end-users' needs are exclusive to their protected premises. And with the way the recession has been on the business, integrators need to be on their toes more than ever.

The lines are not just crossing-they already have. Integrators are distributing product and some are making their own. Many have hopped on the bandwagon in offering value-added services and follow-up training to their end-users after a project's completion. While Centers of Excellence (CE) are not necessarily a new concept, more integrators are developing their teams internally to include specification engineers in a particular vertical segment, or have their own project managers and design/consultant teams in-house. The market for integrators has changed since even a few years ago and software tools and other internal resources to better manage projects are being adopted by integrators. Yet, while such applications as Microsoft Project(tm) or Primavera(tm) and other scheduling tools are great to make the process more structured and on track, integrators agree that it comes down to the right methodologies and truly understanding the end-users expectations that's most important.

"The market for integrators became more competitive and a good piece of it comes from the post-2008 economic meltdown, to the general contractors having less construction work and getting much hungrier to make more money for the fewer projects that are out there," explained Jim Henry, president and chief executive officer, Henry Brothers Inc. , Fair Lawn, N.J. "You have a lot of wannabes that come into this industry naively and some will price jobs low just to brag about a project as a reference. You really need a good bidding process, a smarter sales process, intelligent sales people and an assessment process of betting what to chase and identifying which project opportunities to go after aggressively because you can't afford to chase everything and the jobs that you win generally are not going to carry the kind of margins to cover chasing nine or 10 jobs that you don't win."

Others would agree that there has not been a decrease in projects for integrators but rather more complex opportunities available. "In the past we would see maybe five to eight of the usual systems integrators in a geographical market," explained Tom Giannini, director of Security & Emergency Communications Marketing, SimplexGrinnell, Westminster, Mass. "Now, depending on the project you may see upwards of 30 to 40 integrators trying to get the work because the smaller market they used to thrive on, that is where the money has dried up and now they are trying to move up into these larger complex opportunities."

And with a more competitive environment comes the added pressure of learning the technologies and product solutions available on the market today. The bid process can be a very intimidating one, especially for those integrators who come unprepared and have not come with a plan to show the customer how they can apply those products into an integrated solution.

"When you look at the different ways of approaching a project, obviously you're going to be driven by the customers' requirements," explained Sam Docknevich, national business development manager of Security Solutions, Siemens Industry Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill. "But you always need to understand the limits of the technology and the way it can be applied to drive additional value. Products are not important to the customer-the solution is. But products are very important when you are putting that solution together."

Approaching the project

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