Integrator Connection: Following the Path to Value

Aronson Security Group (ASG) has achieved 30 percent year-on-year growth for the past decade and has made that growth by being somewhat different. “Our major growth in our company began in 2002-3,” says Phil Aronson, CEO of the Renton, Wash.-based company. 

He says the industry was fragmented from the vendor, integrator and consulting perspective; and that security was entering the information management age and a new level of service and collaboration needed to be articulated and advanced. “From that time onward, we committed to advancing the idea that our profession was made up of a number of professional disciplines that could be organized around a formal methodology to create value,” Aronson says. “Our growth was a direct result of the pent-up demand for this in the market.” 

The path they followed — called the ASG Path to Value — was different than most companies take. “We are not an integrator,” emphasizes Nigel Waterton, ASG’s vice president of corporate strategy and development. “We are a solutions provider, helping our clients reduce risk. At the end of the day, we are a trusted partner.” 

Integration, he explains, is one function of several that ASG performs in the middle of its customer service process. 
“We do integrate,” he concedes. “But that is just one of many steps that deliver a complete security program.”

 

Humble Beginnings
ASG provides end-to-end services that drive value and mitigate risk through technology solutions and professional services — which is a far cry from the company mission when it started 50 years ago. Back in 1963, Conrad Aronson opened the C. Connie Aronson Company to sell and install locks in Washington and Alaska. In the beginning, Aronson and his wife Betty worked out of their home. 

As the company grew, they moved the business to a small office near the Space Needle in Seattle and hired three associates. In 1969, they moved to Renton, and in 1990, they sold the business to their two sons — Phil, and Paul, who is vice president.

For the first 35 years of its existence, ASG was a 30-person lock and door hardware business. There was no electronics involved. But ASG built a record of trusted relationships with its customers. In 1999-2000, they decided to leap forward. “We were always customer centric,” Phil Aronson says. “We developed long-term relationships based on trust that allowed us to be an advisor to our clients.”

 

Designing for the Future
Aronson and Waterton met in early 2001 at a security event. Aronson liked Waterton’s experience and his deep and wide perspective covering roles in both guard force management and electronic security. “We wanted to design the business for the future,” Waterton recalls. 

They saw that future in electronic systems and started off with the usual access control and video camera installations; yet, Waterton is quick to caution that their business is not just about product. “Product is the outcome,” he says, “of our effort to design and engineer best-of-class platforms for our client’s business.”

He calls product “tonnage” and notes that they do not want to sell “stuff” but solutions. The ASG Path to Value started as a workflow system but became the company’s core methodology. “We have a Global Security Network of consulting and integration partners that help us provision solutions worldwide,” Aronson says.

In fact, they are happy to maintain relationships with multiple risk consultancies, four access control partners, multiple VMS partners and several camera partners. “Looking at all those vendors, the combination of solution outcomes is in the hundreds,” Waterton says. 

This agnostic approach lets them be a true consultant and partner to their customers. That is topped by their test facility that allows them to review equipment and be sure it is what the client requires. “You have to stand in the customer’s shoes — not just for a while, but have constant conversations with every member of the client firm from the CSO and CIO to the security managers and users, Waterton explains. “We are able to help managers define value.” 
 

ASG is able to help them optimize their current approach, and divert investment from that effort to create added value. Partnering with ASG lets clients have a more resilient business and better business continuity.

“Resilience is the ability for an organization to respond to any risk or challenge in the business,” Waterton tells clients. “We help you establish a resilient and adaptable organization.”

 

Growth Challenges
The security business has risks, too. One of the big challenges ASG faces is continuing to supply the best products and solutions for their clients. Waterton is wary of over-committing. For example, take an integrator that immediately answers “yes” to a client’s request for a 1,000-camera system. Waterton feels the first thing the security firm should ask the client is “why” they want the cameras. “If you say yes but fail to perform, you will erode your core service,” Waterton says. “You shouldn’t do that.

“Don’t extend beyond your ability to deliver at the level you need to perform,” he continues. “If you shoot for the target you need to hit it. Otherwise, it dilutes the effectiveness of the technology. Don’t just jump from project to project.”
Waterton notes that consultants like to blame integrators, and integrators like to blame technology vendors or clients for industry problems. “It’s not that,” he says. “If you do not focus on the business and the alignment of the security organization with the business, you have not done your job properly. At the end of the day, we are in the value business.”

 

Down the Road
The company has added more than 100 people in the past decade. Waterton says: “We have The ASG Way that are statements that are foundational to our culture. One is ‘We embrace change’. Another is ‘We are self-correcting’. These kind of values have helped us navigate change and growth.” 

Waterton wonders where things will be in another decade and notes that the idea of a Gigabit backbone just a few years ago was a million-dollar proposition — now it is commonplace. That said, he expects to see more virtual technology deployed to help support clients in the cloud. KPIs will constantly be measured in quarterly reviews with each client. “We definitely will see more virtualization,” Waterton says. 

He sees trained application engineers in their Business Optimization Center as the first level of triage, rather than just dispatching technicians in a truck. “A certified applications technician will look for the root causes of a problem and take steps to mitigate it,” he says.
Here is another area where ASG differs from run-of-the-mill security firms — every human element in their chain has a professional discipline. That means that service technicians are service techs, not installers. Designers design. Project managers are not simply lead technicians on a project but people with schooling and certification in project management.

ASG expects similar professionalism from its technology partners and benchmarks them. “Much to the chagrin of some partners when we tell them their technology is not good for everyone,” Waterton says. “Our goal is to align what our partners are good at with what we are good at.”

“We benchmark technology partners to ensure they meet or exceed the specifications needed to address our strategic markets,” Aronson adds. “Then we work with them to find the means to make their products better while fitting into the common operating picture. We call this a go-to-market strategy.”
It is not all a bed of roses, especially when it comes to standards. Waterton says the industry is embroiled in its own version of the VHS-Betamax wars of years past. He is especially concerned about VMS and access control interfaces. “The industry needs a set of standards,” he says. “IT was stabilized by standards. VMS and access control is a complex problem and we need to have an authority that everyone agrees on that will set standards.

“I love competition,” Waterton continues. “But when it is detrimental to the business as a whole, it is bad. And I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Waterton worries.

Down the road, he does see ASG continuing its focus on specific vertical markets. “Our goal is to maintain our internal continuity,” Waterton says. 
That will require ASG’s special sauce that is based, Aronson says, on the firm’s people, processes and vision. “The vision comes from the hard work of research, having great conversations with every member of the market and finding new and innovative ways to drive value,” he concludes.


Curt Harler is a technology writer and regular contributor to SD&I magazine. Reach him at curt@curtharler.com.

Loading