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
In the installation community today, it is not uncommon to find an integrator who has a team of design consultants or a project manager on board to help aid in the process even before the job gets under way. And while having such members on board for these larger integrators may be beneficial to their value-added service offering in providing the customer with more return on investment (ROI) others may argue that the design and specification skill sets of an integrator may not be as thorough as necessary for a complex project, as compared to a design consultant who works directly with the end-user.
"There are integrators who have that design and specification capability but they are not in the majority," said Benjamin Butchko, president and chief executive officer, Butchko Security Solutions, Cypress, Texas. "There are a number of low-voltage cabling firms or audiovisual design firms that are looking for new business on the consulting side and so they are offering security design services where they don't have as much experience in doing so."
For Butchko, the differentiator that he provides, as a security consultant offering design services to the end-user directly, is not selling any equipment or product, eliminating some of the business pressure that integrators may be more accustomed to.
"In your ethical, honorable integrators, they are going to provide the best product and solution they can for the owner but they have some extra constraints that they have to deal with internally that a consultant like myself doesn't have," Butchko continued. "I can recommend a product that these folks would not be able to offer."
Tracking the progress
For Stanley Convergint Security Solutions (SCSS), their Convergence Center of Excellence (CCE) only enhanced their approach to the integration space and provides an added benefit for those customers looking for an integrator to guide them through every step of the installation process.
"We offer our turnkey solution from the design and consultation piece of it to the installation, commissioning and testing so it really is ensuring that we are meeting our customers' requirements and delivering to them," said Damon Kanzler, vice president of National Account Operations, Naperville, Ill. Being able to track their progress has allowed Stanley CSS to ensure that their mid- to large-sized projects are being designed correctly. "Teaming with our CCE, we're minimizing types of change orders to our customers and capturing all the customer requirements upfront during the design phase," Kanzler continued.
As project timelines can extend from as short as 12 months up to 36 months, integrators are using other software tools and resources as well, specifically for those who do not have CE's in place, to guide them in effectively managing a project from start to finish.
Microsoft Project, (MSP) a software tool common to the integrator community, is designed to track project progress, assist project managers in developing plans and managing budgets and workloads.
"We use Microsoft Project for our timelines and our management and then we have a whole myriad of internal processes and procedures and toolsets that our project management staff and project development people are given and trained on," explained Richard Seferian, regional major project sales manager, Johnson Controls, Glendale, Wis.
The AIM Toolbox from Johnson Controls has an estimating tool in it and features Visio engineering tools that allow us to do control drawings; stencils for all the different types of points, on everything from RFPs to RFI documents, Seferian continued.
SimplexGrinnell continues to update their customers on new technologies in the industry through their "Learn from the Leader" program, a webinar series they have been conducting for the past one and a half years, which pulls all SimplexGrinnell customers together to talk about key topics of interest.
"The other benefit of this program is we do issue a certificate of participation to all who attend and a lot of folks use that as leverage to get CEU credit," added Chris Woodcock, director of Communications, SimplexGrinnell.
The Primavera Enterprise Project Portfolio Management from Oracle is another software tool focused exclusively on helping project-intensive businesses manage their entire project portfolio lifecycle, including projects of all sizes.
Many integrators continue to offer their own internal tools and resources to an end-user during the installation phase, from standard pricing to comprehensive tools for designing and distributing electronic drawings to in-house guides for developing proposals, yet for others it is as simple as using everyday communications available.
"All that said I would imagine the three most important communication tools we have are your phone, e-mail and face-to-face meetings," said Bill Robertson, manager of Project Controls, Emerson Process Management, Austin, Texas. "That's where your most important work is done- the rest is just a way to track it and manage it."
UTILIZING SOFTWARE TOOLS
Integrators share their secrets on what tools and resources they implement for more effective project management.
- Converged Centers of Excellence (CCE)
- Primavera SureTrak(tm)
- Microsoft Project(tm)
- Standard tools for designing and distributing electronic drawings
- Tools for project proposal development
- Scheduling tools
- Open Workbench(tm) (OWB)
- Clarity Systems(tm) software solutions
- E-Services platform
- Online inventory tools
- AutoCAD(tm) (drawing tools)
- Microsoft Visio(tm) (for early concept design and process flow illustration)
- Design Narrative
- Chemical Security Assessment Tool (CSAT)
- API/CCPS methodology for petrochemical industry
- Excel (custom template design)