Despite the vastly increased media attention paid to K-12 security as shootings and other incidents are publicized across the United States, finding and sustaining business for security integrators in this market has been a difficult proposition. Tight margins and multiple challenges that range from finding end-user funding, to choosing technology, to low bids might make it seem next to impossible to break into K-12; however, a good plan of attack and help along the way from your distribution and other partners can create for you a robust customer who will keep coming back for more.
“In order to be profitable within the K-12 market, it is imperative that integrators receive the best possible pricing from their technology and distribution partners,” explains Tony Varco, Vice President of Convergint Technologies’ Security Division. “Then, they need to ensure that projects are properly and professionally managed to bring the projects in on-time and on-budget.”
The one easy part for integrators in K-12 may the the most difficult in other markets — getting the end-user on board the security bandwagon. “Unfortunately, it is not difficult to show (K-12 end-users) an ROI (on security),” says Keith Watters, a General Manager with Protection One. “With all the recent events across the country, you can back up any presentation with some solid information.”
Challenges to Overcome
Lack of Funds: In talking to several integrators, the biggest challenge for the K-12 market when it comes to commissioning a security system is — you guessed it — funding. For many school administrators, the choice might come down to either a video surveillance camera or a smart board for a classroom; or door hardware vs. new equipment for the library or student computer lab, and most of us realize that security will be on the losing end of those decisions. “Many states are managing through substantial deficits, and they simply lack the funds necessary to implement even the most basic technology upgrades,” Varco says.
A lack of time and resources among already busy school administrators goes hand-in-hand with the funding issue. “K-12 customers tend to lack the resources or have the time to assess technology options,” explains Mike Painter, President of Salt-Lake City-based integrator AlphaCorp Security.
When there are funds available, it is important to know if the funding for security be part of a capital expense, or from grants for security, or the school’s technology budget. But there’s another potential stumbling block: “For schools which must award to the low bid, there is real risk that after the long process to choose what they want, they will get something different or a poor implementation, which disappoints everyone,” Painter says.
Integrators should strive to be a trusted partner for K-12 administrators by at least making an attempt to help locate additional funding through security grants and other means. While sources for federal and state funding may be diminishing over time and through rough economic stretches, some are still out there. “We do a basic web search for the district and often find articles or grants that the school never knew about,” Watters says. “We also make a call to the local authorities who also have insight on different funding options.”
“We point them to resources or other schools who have had luck,” Painter adds.
“In our region, school districts are doing a better job of exploring on their own the availability of school security funding,” says Gannon Switzer, Vice President of Koorsen Security Technology, based in Indianapolis. “The State of Indiana and advocacy groups have also been much more proactive in communicating to school districts what funding is available.”
Defining the Decision-Maker: “Those in the positions to, or who have expertise to make technology purchase decisions, tend not to be the security systems decision-makers,” Painter says. “The budget authority for spending on new technologies — particularly those related to security/safety — is not readily accessible for those who have the most interest in these technologies.”