Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending a network video vendor-sponsored mini-conference called the VSI Summit. There was a lot of discussion about how networked video opens doors to new product integrations. Speaking with one Southeastern integrator, he asked me, "Is this where you see it all going?"
"Yes, it's inevitable for the large commercial projects," I replied. "It may take longer for the small, standalone commercial projects, but even those, I guess, will at some point go to an Ethernet backbone." He said that his crew was really studying how they could do more for their clients once they get video into a pure data format.
While everyone checked their voicemails or grabbed a drink of water during a short break, we started talking about the problems facing commercial security systems integrators. He said the main challenge facing his business was that it was becoming tougher to bid on projects. He said that since Department of Homeland Security grants had become involved in so many large commercial security projects, the nature of who was bidding was changing. Even the projects worth less than $1 million were being bid on and landed by the traditional government contractors like Northrop Grumman and their competitors.
"It's not that they're small projects," he said. "But projects worth $1 million or less were formerly left to the privately-owned systems integration community."
The problem is that his company has every bit of the knowledge and expertise to competently handle small- to mid-sized commercial and government security integration projects. But without a GSA schedule (often not needed in these smaller, "grant funded" projects) and a proven track record servicing the federal government, they're getting squeezed.
They've found that even municipal and private companies' security projects -- such as a security project at a local powerplant or a city busy system -- are acceding their contracts to companies that have been able to work directly with the Feds and DHS. It's as if these organizations believe that because a touch of their funding comes from the DHS, they have to use the same contractors that the military always taps. And for mid-sized integrators who had made their living doing these kind of projects and doing them well, that's just an unfortunate part of life.
But the "unfortunate" organization in this mix isn't just the mid-size integrator who didn't have enough clout to land the project. Often the organization which contracted out for the security system lands in the "unfortunate" area of this equation. While these national government contractors have plenty of staff in areas where government and military have a large presence, they don't have those staffs spread evenly across America. And by the time these security systems begin to require maintenance or updates, the contractor is sometimes hundreds of miles away in a D.C. suburb, creating frustration for local end-users who see service of these security systems delayed by days, maybe even weeks at a time.
Thus the small- or mid-size systems integrator comes back into the equation. As my acquaintance at the conference noted, they typically become simple contractors to these large government contractors. That at least brings the integrator the local work his business needs and gives the user the local knowledge they need. Yet there is another worry, a worry that many integration firms may become soleley relegated to duties of "system maintenance subcontractors." And unless they were a contractor for design and installation, they often face the uphill challenge of trying to debug a system they never designed or wrote the documentation on.
Some might say this is just a "whine" from the industry, but this kind of complaint is not new or unique to this particular integrator. In fact, when I start to hear universal complaints and gripes, it's often when an industry starts looking at new ways to come to business.