Revamping channel strategy at Agent Vi

Video analytics firm Agent Vi is looking to refresh its take on channel marketing strategy. Announced earlier this week, the company has hired Mark Kolar, former director of worldwide channels for Cisco's physical security business unit. At Agent Vi, he'll be in a rather similar position as vice president of channel programs for the Americas.

According to Kolar, Agent Vi - and all other video analytics companies - are in a unique position as the applications for video analytics expand quickly beyond security-only projects. The force in the industry is that business managers have become intrigued by video-based analytics for management and marketing purposes. Agent Vi CEO Buddy Flerl says there has been a recent surge in "out-of-the-box" applications for analytics -- allowing the algorithms to be used as much more than simple virtual trip wires along high-security perimeters.

He cites the example of quick service restaurant Wendy's, which is using video analytics to put quantifiable numbers on how well its garbage removal contractors are fulfilling their agreements in regards to trash pick-up. Another customer, he says, even found they could use analytics to enforce speed limits inside the facility's gates. Other firms report applications for analytics as people counting systems. Still others have delivered such systems for measuring retail marketing effectiveness at "end-caps", and other firms have explored how analytics could identify when it's time to add another bank teller or retail cashier.

But according to both Flerl and Kolar, that expansion of applications creates new challenges for the traditional security reseller channel. First, it sometimes places a technology sale outside of the traditional security department. Second, the "connected" nature of these systems means security integrators need to know IP connectivity and how to work with networks and servers and customer PCs. And the third challenge is that unique business applications for video analytics aren't always obvious.

Kolar and Flerl say the "IP" issue can be solved fairly easily enough. Some integrators already have the IT expertise (Flerl mentions one integrator who hopped on a plane without any knowledge of the system, and by the end of the flight had a laptop running with an IP camera beside in the seat and was comfortable doing the basics of setting up the analytics). Kolar adds, though, that the company is also working on finding more savvy integrators, and he recognizes that some of the traditional integrators have to be encouraged to team with IT-specific service providers when the need arises for a project.

Overcoming the IP training lag in the security channel, he says, also means creating an internal reseller training program that covers everything from the basics of networking to the finer points that would apply to delivery of the company's systems.

"One of my goals is to create a one hour online program that teaches the basics. The partner can go to a computer, and learn how to download the system, install the system and flash the 'Agent' to the devices," said Kolar. He notes that he is in development on new training programs for Agent Vi which will encompass everything from the one-hour program to a "black belt type of training and certification program."

The bigger training challenge, says Kolar, is going to be teaching the skills of working with clients when showcasing video analytic solutions.

"Working with a customer is about being very open, and it's not just about doing a site survey," said Kolar. "The key is to get your customer to let you know what they need. You have to sit down with them and listen and try to understand their business needs. If you do this, then you learn about potential applications that you wouldn't see doing a security survey."

Of course, revamping the channel for video analytics also means attracting non-traditional resellers. One of the reasons he was brought aboard Agent Vi, notes Kolar, was his ability to develop partnerships with VARs in the IT sector. Since not all of these analytics systems are being sold for facility security purposes, that means analytics are being delivered as business information management systems - and that's a selling angle that most VARs already understand from delivering IT resource projects.

According to CEO Buddy Flerl, the recruiting of IT VARs and the training of security integrators are exactly the kind of efforts upon which the company has to be stay focused. He points out that Agent Vi's solution takes a software-centric approach that divides the analytics workload by putting some of the effort at the camera, DVR or encoder level, and with the rest being processed by software running on the company's network.

Because of the system design, he says, the integrators aren't approaching customers to simply "sell boxes," but rather to deliver technology services that work with existing hardware and common IT equipment which customers can select -- or which they may already have. That approach, says Flerl, is why strategizing on the channel remains so important to Agent Vi.