Exclusive: Catching up with GE Security's Jim Clark

During the GE Security Conference & Workshop in Hollywood, Fla., earlier this month, staff from SecurityInfoWatch.com and our sister publications Security Dealer and Security Technology & Design were able to catch up with GE Security's Jim Clark, vice president of global sales and marketing, for a morning discussion about the company's take on IT convergence, supporting the dealer channel versus going direct, education of resellers, company positioning and more.

As head of GE's Security's business's marketing efforts, Clark has quite the challenge in front of him. GE's been all over the news as it has acquired a lot of big names in the security business recently, including Edwards Systems Technology and VisioWave. That presents a unique challenge in pulling all the technologies together – especially as the technology rapidly changes from its traditional standalone, low-voltage-only design to today's IT-networked capabilities. Despite the unification challenges of bringing many companies together under one umbrella, when it comes to helping dealers and integrators sell the company's products, Clark says the company is focused on marketing the company's breakthroughs and innovations. He adds that a vertical market sales and education effort is underway as part of that process.

According to Clark, the first tier verticals that the company has been able to focus on include such arenas as retail, financial/banking, education, transportation, healthcare, and government/homeland defense. Clark says that while those markets have gained top tier status in terms of the company's marketing and investment, the company is also very focused on security sales in the gaming market and to the multitude of auto dealerships that dot America's highways. And because funding is always instrumental to the sale, Clark says GE has been able to take the power of another company division – GE Capital – to help secure financing for some of its larger projects.

As in GE's case, the direct-to-consumer push of marketing to verticals has been pervasive in many of the top multi-national companies in the security business. It's a practice that has worried some dealers and integrators, who fear that they might be squeezed out as the industry's largest companies find direct sales.

That's just not the case says Clark. He adds that when GE started working directly with its verticals, it was designed as marketing and education push – and not designed to cut off any of its reseller network. The direct-to-vertical/direct-to-end user marketing, says Clark, may have brought some nervousness in the industry, but that nervousness has been dispelled.

"Our partners feared that we were going direct, but now they're seeing the benefits that we provided by educating those markets," says Clark. "They're saying, 'You're doing exactly what you said you were going to do.' Had we not done this (education and marketing effort), I think our partners see that it would have been very hard for them to compete in this industry."

And while this education effort from GE may seem to be focused only on top commercial markets, Clark says the company hasn't forgotten about its partners that largely work in the residential market.

"Residential has been a key part for our company and continues to be," says Clark. "We have millions of customers and hundreds of thousands of accounts."

But residential security isn't the same business it used to be. As a vertical, it's starting to mature.

"We're starting to see the sophisticated improvements in the residential sector," said Clark, stressing that the Baby Boom generation has fueled some of the growth of advanced residential security installations. "We're seeing the addition of access control and even remote video. And we're seeing security technology scale into the realm of assisted living devices. Many of us have aging parents, and the important thing is peace of mind."

The company, he adds, stays active in industry associations like the NBFAA and the NFPA, and has worked in tandem with law enforcement agencies on a variety of issues, from alarms to more – it's the kind of support our industry needs to show the value of private security systems and operations to our nation's law enforcement officers.

Of course, what Clark is really focused on these days is the company's technology morph. With the advent of network convergence of physical and IT infrastructure (a convergence that, depending on who you ask, is about to happen, or is already happening), GE's security technology is being converted, redesigned and retooled so that it's IT-ready.

"I don't think we can really look at security any longer as a standalone entity," he explains. "The IT infrastructure has become the community's infrastructure. In terms of technology, all of our products are being IT-enabled. The strength we have and our partners have will come into play when you deploy these IT capabilities."

On that same note, and before the company's June conference, GE announced its commitment to training its dealers and integrators in the latest network technologies, and announced its commitment to provide the back-end support and resources in network technology that the company's channel partners would require when it actually came time to implement these new IT-ready systems. Asked what their commitment to the education of their dealers meant, Clark explained that the dealer community is a vital element to the profitability and success of even the most multi-faceted company.

"We want to make our partners more competitive," explains Clark. "They are the ones that drive our industry."

But when it comes to the network convergence, driving the industry also means that manufacturers must lead with technologies and solutions that live and breathe convergence. As Clark explains, this means "not letting the pipe (the network wiring) be the defining technology," rather it means scaling the technology to plan for the infrastructure that will come tomorrow.

"It's a lot like the HDTV scenario we have right now," says Clark. "Consumers know that it's going in that direction; you would be hard pressed not to buy an HDTV-capable television." It's the same he says with security technolgy; it has to be scaled to the future.

As technology moves further into the direction of network-based connections, it raises new questions in terms of sales. For resellers and integrators, the question has lately become "To whom do you sell a security system if it's a networked system: the physical security director or the IT security director?"

That question also belies the common prophecy of a turf war between IT and physical security. But as someone who spent years in the IT and networking industry before joining GE, does Clark believe the predicted turf battle between IT and physical is a guaranteed event? The answer, he says, is somewhat nebulous.

"I don't think there will be a turf war if we don't make it a war," says Clark. "As an industry, we have to make it a cooperative effort. The skill set that physical security directors have in terms of risk and safety is not going to go away. What we need to do is to make sure we're working cooperatively with the IT staff. We have to get away from an 'Us vs. Them' approach."

He cites the disastrous consequence that turf battles can create, noting that the telecom vs. IT battle of the '90s was tough on both industries, and that in the opinion of most, the telecom industry was forced to succumb to the IT industry. In order to avoid such events in our industry, companies like GE have been involved in organizations like the Open Security Exchange (OSE) which brings together leaders from both IT and physical security manufacturers.

The final take? If security products manufacturing leaders like GE can help transition our industry from being one that sells standalone systems one that sells integrated parts of today's business networks, then the industry and its dealers, integrators and resellers stand to see a strong future selling, designing and installing the security systems of tomorrow.