Access control used to be about hardware and security. But many integrators today find Information Technology (IT) people more involved in the buying and installation decisions. SD&I asked several key industry players their experiences.
Q. Are you increasingly working with the IT department or IT manager at an access control job?
Tom Clancy, president, Acree Daily Integrated Systems Columbus, Ohio: We are absolutely working with the IT department for access control and many other technologies that we install, including CCTV, asset tracking, paging, emergency notification and others. Most of our current systems are designed as IP deployments and coexist on clients' data networks. Those networks are typically owned and managed by IT.
Steven Citron, product line manager, IEI/Linear LLC, Carlsbad, Calif.: This product category is definitely moving out of the facility maintenance department and into IT. As an access systems manufacturer, we've noted a significant increase in the overall involvement of IT personnel in the system specification and selection process. This is a natural migration since more and more access systems are being tied into computer networks.
Joseph Staehly, chief technology officer, MicroTech, Vienna, Va.: Yes, we see more integration and contact due to the convergence of networks to IP. Security is no longer running the cameras on a closed system. Convergence to IP is driving communications to the IT department. Add to that the trend to cloud computing and unified networking.
Mike Bradley, president, Safeguard Security and Communications, Scottsdale, Ariz.: IT is not necessarily the sole contact but we increasingly see the IT managers involved in system design and deployment-not just for access control but also IP camera solutions. The bottom line is, if our equipment is going to reside on the network, the IT department needs and expects to be involved.
Sam Rogers, owner and president, Silent Partner Security Systems Inc., Marshall, Va.: Originally, our point of contact for access control was a facilities or security person responsible for securing the perimeter of the building. Access control systems were somewhat basic and did not require integration with the IT infrastructure. In a post-911 environment the onus has shifted to a network centric system that incorporates many systems that require both physical and logical access. In order to be compliant with all the new federal regulations, the IT manager has become a vital member of the team.
Q. How can a systems integrator be prepared to work with IT?
Clancy: We must be conversant in the network issues that we will need to prepare the client's IT department to support. We must be a trusted partner to the IT department and assist them through engineering, training, support and maintenance just as they receive on any IT product. Prior to a few years ago, the systems we deployed were typically closed and isolated. Not so today. Our knowledge and skill sets have had to change. Our engineers, project managers and technicians are trained on Microsoft, Cisco, etc, as well as being trained on application products.
Bradley: Most security products are now IT-centric, so as an integrator we must be IT-centric as well. We have a responsibility to fully understand the impact of our technology on the network, things like bandwidth, quality of service, storage, retrieval, data processing power, IP address allocation and firewalls have become part of our everyday language. To perform a successful application, we must have the trust and coordination of the IT department. To build trust we must speak their language and understand and have answers for their concerns.
Preston Quick, chief information officer, MicroTech: Those integrators who were heavily involved with just security have to learn the IP space: firewalls, servers, storage for images. Things are far different than the analog ways of the past.
Rogers: Most of the access control systems are touted as a turnkey solution when in fact 98 percent are not. The knowledge base of the integrator has really changed over the past few years. Integrators are now required to have extensive knowledge of IT systems and architecture and must be able to hold an intelligent conversation with the IT manager. End-users have become more IT-focused and require a higher level of access and control via VLAN or Web-based applications. They want smarter and greener systems as well.
Q. Does your budget often come from the IT department? Does that help or hinder the specification or the bidding of a job?
Clancy: Yes, we see more budgeting for our technologies owned and managed by IT; they own the networks. There are pros and cons-benefits include often smoother installations with network trained IT professionals. IT departments are accustomed to larger budgets than facilities managers or security teams, therefore we spend less time on the issue of price. The detractors include increased education for the IT folks who have never designed or supported an access control or CCTV application. There are product vendors and integrators coming from IT who have great relationships with the IT folks but have never designed or installed a complex access control or CCTV system. In those situations we must prove our value by having expertise in both domains.
Citron: The budget is definitely moving into IT departments because of the close association between access control and the actual network. IT managers are gravitating to access solutions like self-contained network appliances that do not rely on a Windows operating system to be operational. This includes our Linux-based eMerge products. Since these products are browser-based, you can connect to the system through the Internet. The products where we typically see IT department activity are primarily with our software-based access control systems. We've responded by increasing our technical support capabilities, as it relates to IP addressing and networking.
Staehly: It depends. We do a lot of federal, state and local government work. There definitely is a move to a big roll-out of budgets under IT. Security and AV used to be under telecom or security. Now they are IT services. From our perspective as an IT company, it helps us.
Bradley: It's rare for us to see the security budget under the IT department but I have no doubt we will experience this more as time goes on. When it does happen, integrators are in a unique position to be the experts on the issues that IT has no clue about, including camera placement, lighting, lenses, transmission and storage. For access issues like codes, locking devices, cards and badges we have the answers.
Rogers: No, unfortunately most organizations have not connected the dots when it comes to budgeting for access control. Most budgets are still locked up somewhere in facilities or administration. We are constantly trying to get customers to focus on an IT budget solution. Access control systems within IT budgets usually get the best results.
How are you preparing your company by taking on a more IT-centric role at the jobs you bid?
Clancy: We typically seek out the involvement of IT early on. We have trained our sales and project management team to do so, and through all of our Strategic Planning Iterations with our large clients, we preach joint ownership and multiple stakeholders to the executive teams. We invest heavily in training for our employees so that we can advise our clients appropriately and deliver very high quality. We have been preparing for this transition for several years now and feel well prepared, but always vigilant and always listening to our clients.
Bradley: For some time now we have been hiring and training our staff to be IT-conversant. We have decided to emphasize our vendor certifications rather than go after IT certifications and so far that strategy is working. We now lead with IP solutions for access control and cameras, with the assumption that progressive customers expect nothing less.
Curt Harler is a freelance writer specializing in technology, security and telecommunications. He can be reached at email@example.com.