How to be a better security integrator

If you’re a large, national or multinational company needing a systems integrator, you have it good. Most of the mid-size and large integration firms have set up specialized departments and services just for you, because you need specific services. You get cross-site communication, project management status reports for huge projects, in-house placement of integrator staff to work with your team on a consulting basis, multi-office service projects using dedicated national account teams, and input directly from the brass at your integrator. But if you’re a smaller client, chances are you aren’t as satisfied with systems integrators today.

I spoke with a financial market analyst this morning who has been spending the last few weeks calling upon end-users to discuss their relationships with their systems integrators and he tells me the smaller clients aren’t as happy as the bigger clients. He asked me, “why is this?”

It’s a symptom of the structure within most integrators’ businesses, I explained. If you have a multi-million dollar national client, what team members do you put on them? The answer most managers will give is obvious: They start with making sure the best sales persons work with those national/international clients. Those sales people and their operations managers usually work to build a special team to service those “whale” clients. They grab their best techs, their best customer service representatives, their best project managers and throw them onto these national projects. The result is the national project goes amazingly well if the ops manager can keep it all together. It makes sense for your employees, too. If they are excelling, they want to be recognized by three things: 1) your personal praise, 2) an improved paycheck, and 3) being assigned to the best projects that would really take advantage of their skills.

But what happens to the smaller client? Since you’ve stolen your best talent for your national teams, your smaller clients with smaller annual security technology expenditures end up with what’s left, right? And that means your second-tier sales people, your techs who are a little sloppier, and your team members with not quite exceptional communication skills are assigned to those projects. And is that right -- is it right that your smaller clients deserve less service? The integration business is often like a pyramid, and these smaller clients often make up your foundation.

So how do you change this? The easiest answer would be to say, “Don’t steal your best employees away to work on the national accounts.” But I’m not sure that’s a real solution, because you do want amazing service for your national accounts, since you know they’re going to be pitched from all your competitors – competitors who will put their best people forward for those clients. So, what’s the second option? How do you ensure that your smaller clients don’t end up calling your competitors? One option is to “spread the love”. It’s more than a saying of the late 1960s; in this case it means putting your best people in leadership positions and encouraging them to raise the level of the people who surround them. What else can you do? Well, you can try to hire even better, not allowing yourself to simply get stuck with what you have. Thirdly, take time to invest in the people who have promise, training your “good” employees how to be “exceptional” employees.

And what makes an end-user love their security systems integrator? Paul Rothman, managing editor for Security Technology Executive asked that question of many end-users for a feature story that will be appearing the August magazine supplement “The Executive’s Guide to Systems Integrators.” It’s coming to your mailbox (if you’re a subscriber to STE or SD&I magazines) in a couple weeks. Here’s what he was told was the #1 thing an end-user was looking for: Consistent Quality of Communication.

The CSO told him this: “The main challenge that I face when dealing with systems integrator is communication. Having offices across the nation and coordinating with different employees within the same integrator company creates an opportunity for a large variation in customer satisfaction.” That’s right! It’s not price, it’s not your product lines, and it’s not whether you know IPv6 or DHCP. What your customers want is consistent, quality communication with your business. Give them that and you’re gold.