The Straw That Stirs the Drink

You sometimes hear that if you consult enough experts, you can confirm any opinion. So as end users face the daunting task of keeping pace with evolving security technology, understanding the role of a consultant and what to expect once you choose one has never been more important.

At their annual conference in New Orleans recently, members of the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC), the industry’s most respected consultant’s organization, wrestled with the complexities of their profession and how the landscape is changing with their various partners. The days when bringing in a consultant was regarded as a luxury is no longer the case. Securing a qualified consultant to oversee a project from bid to implementation is crucial to a successful outcome for the all parties concerned; from the vendor, to the systems integrator, and finally the client.

“A good relationship can help protect the integrator in many ways. For instance, owners (clients) can be very fickle. One day they want this and the next day they might want something different. If the consultant is there to police that and make sure the proper risk and regulatory requirements have been defined, and that the scope of the project remains within the parameters established at the outset, the vendor can have a successful install – get in and get out and remain profitable,” says Frank Pisciotta, president of Business Protection Specialists in Raleigh, N.C. and the current president of the IAPSC. “Harmony is required so everyone can make a profit and to have a good front-facing project for the owner. The fact is the consultant will eventually move away from that job, but the integrator and vendor will be servicing the client for another five to 10 years.”

One of the primary pitfalls consultants face when dealing with end user clients is a lack of expectation or perception of what they do. It is imperative that all project partners develop a consensus about why the consultant is needed, what the deliverables will be and what the project roadmap and timetable look like.

“I tell the integrator to try and avoid doing the consultant’s job for the client because they are overanxious to get the project started. As Frank said, if you’re an integrator acting as your own consultant and the project goes wrong, you have put your company in a bad position moving forward with this client,” warns Harold Gillens, president of Quintech, a security consulting firm our of Summerville, S.C. “ If you act as your own consultant, there is no buffer. We want the integrator to know how to use us. We want them to recommend us to the clients versus them taking on that role. There is a role for all of us in a successful project – the end user, the consultant and the integrator.”

Pisciotta echoes Gillens’ assessment, saying that a qualified technical design consultant, who is non-product vested and independent, is better able to bring all the right parties and technologies together.

“This entire conversation really strikes to the heart of procurement and the issues surrounding it. In fact, the reason why it’s not in the best interest of the owner to have the integrator acting in the consultant’s role is that there is an inherent conflict of interest – I’m recommending something I sell. That can be perceived or it can be real,” continues Pisciotta. “Also, as an integrator, I’m usually going to have a limited amount of product selection in my line, so I can’t afford to have every product represented.

But the consultant can step back and look at the entire landscape, assesses the requirements, and then match the owner with the right product with no vested interest in any of that. You lose that benefit when you go directly to the integrator or a manufacturer’s rep.”

While the consultant fleshes out the technology specs for a client’s project, he or she must also ensure that there is an educational process going on to not only increase the end user’s systems acumen, but to foster an understanding of the project management process. Gillens shares a story that while in the primary project stages of a client job, the end user began to push an access control technology he had researched on the internet. During Gillens’ discussions with the user it was discovered the system was manufactured in India, which presented several issues.

“Automatically, support would have been a huge issue, and they didn’t know what they would be getting into when it came to training, service; or simply a comfort level that this company would be around in the next three years,” Gillens confides.

He says that his consulting session starts with listening and assessing the knowledge level of a client so he can educate them where needed. Then Gillens puts together some sort of matrix so the team can visually see what types of technologies are available for their application and what features best addresses their issues, and what is applicable to their needs. That way, he has all these facts as selection criteria.

“So the matrix we create is all about the pros, cons and benefits of the technologies being considered. I also like to focus on life cycle. This is an important consideration. Especially when you figure the support you would get on a system installed on an island like Puerto Rico would be completely different than you’d expect in (Washington) DC. So you have to look at the total life cycle costs,” he says.

Pisciotta cautions that once a project is underway, the consultant must trust his partners to work on behalf of the end user. He points out that the consultant should understand that the vendor play a pivotal role in a project’s success.

“When you get to the point in a potential project where you are past the bidding and award process, you have to go back to the client and convey that a harmonious relationship with a consultant must rely on a mutual respect and an expectation of quality work done in a timely manner. But all concerned must also recognize that the vendors deal with the detailed products every day, so you have to know where to take the limits of your systems design and where the integrator should pick up on that.

“It is important to realize that the consultant is working together with the integrator on behalf of the project owner. So you can’t have an adversarial relationship. For the integrator, it means paying attention to the details of the RFP; and it means bidding exactly for what’s been requested,” Pisciotta says. “But at the same time, the consultant needs to keep an open mind with respect to alternatives the integrator may suggest -- both during the bidding process and afterwards as the project progresses. As a consultant, having provided a good solid spec goes a long way in this regard.”

Both agree that a top-notch consultant is always learning. With the rapid pace of technology advancement, staying ahead of the curve can make or break a firm.

“We make a substantial investment in attending trade shows and establishing close relationships with manufacturers. Most vendors now understand the criticality of having an A&E interface and having the resources to services that community, which include datasheets, AutoCAD support and drawings, price lists, etc.,” adds Pisciotta. “Consultants are looking to build out projects on tight deadlines and don’t have time to keep running back to the manufacturers every time we have a design change. So we are trying to educate ourselves on how to put the products together and do it efficiently – especially when you have very time sensitive jobs.”

Gillens concludes that there is a double-edged sword when it comes to training. While his team spends a lot of time and money staying abreast of evolving technologies at vendor events, they also spend a lot time educating potential end-user clients that may or may not result in revenue. “At the end of the day, you don’t want to spec a product or a full solution for a client without having some buys in. If the project develops some sort of hiccup, it usually all comes back to you. You want the client to understand your solution choices, so even if there is a hiccup during the project, they are already on board and understand what happened. Keeping the client involved is key.”

 

Steve Lasky is the Editorial Director of Cygnus Security Media, which includes SecurityInfoWatch.com, Security Technology Executive and Security Dealer & Integrator, along with the Secured Cities conference. If you have any comments for Steve Lasky regarding this or any other security industry-related issue, please e-mail him at steve.lasky@cygnus.com.

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