Jack of all trades-MASTER OF NONE

"Integrators need to invest and focus on one core product line, become a master of that line and sell it with gusto."

When I ask systems integrators what access control or IP video systems they sell, almost without exception they answer with one of the top three brands in each category. When I further ask if they sell X, Y or Z products also, the answer is inevitably yes. An informal survey we conducted found most integrators sell and/or support over five access control products and more than double that number in video systems! How can that be possible?

Many integrators feel they need several product options to present to their customers to fit any need, and they support legacy systems because they are loyal to their older customers. While this is providing excellent customer service, it's inefficient and usually very costly. Systems are becoming more complex, not less. The move to IT-centric systems and the additional feature sets required in today's products make them much more sophisticated. How can a field technician become an expert on a system when they have to support so many? The answer is they can't and that has many consequences including lost productivity, low employee morale and most importantly, shrinking profits. These techs do not have the education on each of the systems to be considered experts, therefore they are inefficient at designing, installing and maintaining these systems. This inefficiency costs the company AND the customers time and money.

Integrators need to invest and focus on one core product line, become a master of that line and sell it with gusto. They will save time in all phases of a project - sales, design, installation and maintenance - because they fully understand the product and its capabilities. Specializing on one security management system will significantly increase their bottom line.

"Most of the problems that have arisen during projects have been due to an integrator's lack of knowledge of a specific product," said Security Concepts & Planning, President Charlie Howell. "Sometimes integrators are not familiar with the manufacturer's part numbering system, don't know the correct wires to run, or they couldn't do the custom programming to fit an end user's design criteria."

"The most frustrating is when a service technician arrives to work on the system and has no specific knowledge. It takes more down time and coordination to get the RIGHT tech on site that knows the product, and the technician's lack of product knowledge is financed by the end user," said Howell.

Most businesses follow the 80/20 rule, which is 80 percent of revenue comes from 20 percent of its customers. I recommend you pick a product that meets the 80/20 rule, that is a product that meets 80 percent of the market requirements to provide the widest coverage. This system should be cost-effective at the low end of the market, as well as, cost-effective and capable of scaling to the enterprise class. But most importantly, the product must be backed by a company that is first and foremost a great business partner. They must believe in providing exceptional customer service and they are truly capable of providing a world-class product with services that those products require (training, technical services, professional services, etc.). Pick a product that you can make money selling and supporting and focus all of your energy on it. Yes, there may be some initial fallout, but in the end, you will be better off.
When an integrator masters a product line, they'll be able to design a better system because they are educated on all product features and how they function.

"Customers can see the technician's knowledge of the product which not only results in a faster installation, it gives them a higher comfort and satisfaction factor," said systems integrator AVS Technology's Michael Riotto.

Systems integrators will save time in many ways when they specialize on one product line. Knowing the intricate details of the product will speed up the installation process. The faster projects are installed, the more projects can fit into the schedule, therefore increasing profits. If a customer can't afford everything now, they can design the system to easily accommodate future upgrades when the customer's budget allows. When the time comes, upgrades will be fast and easy.

"When you get an integrator that isn't focused on one particular product, they don't understand how to install the system which makes for a troubled install and problem ridden system," said Howell. "To the end user it looks like an unrealistic design and a system that is nothing but headaches. The end result is that the consultant, the integrator and the manufacturer look bad in the eye's of the end user. It's a lose-lose-lose scenario."

To avoid this situation, Howell now pre-qualifies integrators and limits the bidding process to those who are capable of quoting, installing, and servicing the equipment being specified. Just because an integrator has access to a product line does not mean they are qualified to install it.

"With companies that are focused on one product, it's almost a guarantee that the person showing up on site to work on the equipment is knowledgeable of that equipment," said Howell.

Integrators will spend less time on technical support calls and maintenance issues because they'll know the answers. They will eliminate lost productivity because they will have the knowledge to quickly troubleshoot and solve problems.

Acme Security Systems out of San Leandro, Calif., specializes on AMAG Technology's Symmetry Security Management System.

"We save money if our project managers can understand any issues before a problem occurs," said Acme Security Systems Executive Vice President, Steven E. Corey. "If a problem does come up in the field, there is a good chance that we have the answer without the need to call customer support and waste time with phone calls. Time is money, and the bottom line is always important."

They will save money on travel expenses as well. First, they will only send their technicians to one manufacturer for training, versus several manufacturers. Second, less maintenance time will be spent on a job site because there will be minimal maintenance needed due to their product expertise.

Integrators lose money by investing and stocking too many different products. They also experience lower customer satisfaction ratings because they cannot solve problems rapidly, and as a result, they lose business to companies that are better prepared. Stocking fewer products will provide lower inventory costs and a higher likelihood the products needed for an add-on or for maintenance are readily available, decreasing downtime by not waiting for a shipment and increasing customer satisfaction.

As a supplier of fewer product lines, purchasing power will grow and therefore qualify the company for a larger product discount. Larger margins will positively impact the welfare and longevity of the company.
"If you focus on one access control product, your pricing discounts will be very favorable," said Corey. "The manufacturer will also 'listen' to your needs much more if you're a major user of his equipment."

Systems integrators who specialize in few products experience a higher level of customer satisfaction. They will install systems with greater efficiency, the first time, thus keeping projects on time and on budget. Any technical questions can be answered on the spot by the installing technician. This builds credibility and your company looks like a true partner and expert in the market.

Confucius wrote, "To know what you know and to know what you don't know, that is real wisdom."

I prefer to say: "It is better to know a million things about one thing than one thing about a million things." Integrators have become jacks of all trades and masters of none - a business practice that affects their bottom line!

Matt Barnette is the vice president of Sales and Marketing, AMAG Technology.