Why Haven’t IT Integrators Taken Over Physical Security?

Security integrators have traditionally relied on their knowledge of security and analog technologies to win deals, garner customer loyalty and generate sustainable margins. As IP-based security technology proliferate, some IT vendors have predicted the demise of the security integrator and concentrated solely on IT integrators in the hopes that IT integration skills will dominate the space going forward. To fully understand why security integrators will continue to play an important part in this market requires a deeper look at the similarities and differences between traditional security and IT integrators.

Starting point

Quality integrators in both camps start off with lofty goals for their customers: maximum uptime, excellent customer support, lowest total cost of ownership and investment protection. Both integrator groups develop strong personal relationships with customers and vendors so needs are clearly identified and problems are quickly resolved. Winning integrators in either discipline work hard to help customers integrate legacy equipment, minimize support costs and nurture customer references that lead to new business. So why don’t IT integrators smother security integrators as some IT vendors have predicted for years?

The integrator’s focus placed on these high-level goals separates security and IT success because 1.) legacy systems are different in the two markets; 2.) upgrade cycles for IT and security customers are largely disconnected; and 3.) support skills needed from key vendors incorporate expertise across a different partner ecosystem.

Security integrators have detailed knowledge of installed legacy analog infrastructure and are tasked with creatively integrating new digital technologies. IT integrators similarly have legacy expertise but their knowledge incorporates an adjacent knowledge base of heterogeneous operating systems, mixed desktop hardware and new and old network technology. The knowledge is useful but less relevant to the security space where installations happen at fixed times and both hardware and software environments can be more controlled.

Upgrade cycles and vendor relationships

Upgrade cycles for security users are often wholesale upgrades based largely on internal needs for more cameras, higher resolution cameras or longer retention times. It is critical for security integrators to understand the availability and cost of new digital camera technologies such as H.264 and how this is supported by video management systems and video server/storage infrastructure. Upgrade cycles for IT users are often more incremental and follow the availability of new hardware platforms, operating systems and applications.

An IT company may consider a Cisco or Dell relationship strategic because these companies help solve integration issues that involve legacy IT systems. Security companies consider switches and servers as merely tactical deal elements and look to build strategic relationships with vendors who can integrate new technologies into existing security infrastructures.

The value of a vendor’s partner ecosystem will also vary based on market focus. In the storage space, an IT integrator might look for a supplier with relationships with IBM or Cisco since integration with these players is key to winning deals and minimizing support risks. The security integrator would more likely value relationships with such players as Axis or Genetec since the likely support path would require matching storage with cameras, video management software and analytics.

There is no doubt that IT skills are becoming critical for security integrators. Security integrators that partner with IT technology providers can link the worlds of IT and security so that both parties increase their knowledge and customers are the ultimate winners.

Lee Caswell is the founder and chief marketing officer of Pivot3, based in Palo Alto, Calif.