The Straw That Stirs the Drink

Security consultants often are the glue binding systems projects together

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.”