Catching up with ADT's new commercial group VP John Kenning

Kenning talks about IT training, where analytics fits into security, and why ROI is so important for his customers


Today at ISC West 2010, I had the opportunity to reach out to John Kenning, ADT's new group vice president for commercial security in North America, with a ton of questions. Kenning is new to the security industry, having only been with ADT Security Services for three months now (his position was just announced to the media today), but he's no stranger to technical systems. He previously worked at Nortel, a company which he said also went through the analog to IP transition during his stint there, and he says he's intrigued by and attracted to the fact that the physical security industry is dealing with the same transition, just at a later date. Before Nortel, Kenning was at Comdisco. That's a company name unfamiliar to many physical security industry professionals, but I was surprised at the conceptual tie-ins. Comdisco provides large integration services for business continuity, disaster recovery and asset management solutions - in fact, the company sounds like a smaller version of ADT that is focused on IT assets instead of physical assets.

Admittedly, Kenning comes to ADT's commercial unit at a time of the industry's economic troubles. He's jumping aboard after one of the roughest years in terms of financial performance of the industry as a whole, and when you talk to him, he generally comes across as ready for a challenge. To start learning the industry, he said he's been visiting some of ADT's largest and most progressive commercial clients to learn about his customers' needs. He tells me of the story of a large food company that's taking a proactive approach and adding a great deal of video surveillance to food warehouse and distribution sites. He notes that the company is doing all of this (which is certainly not an inexpensive project) in advance of potential regulations that would require added security in the supply chain of food. He tells also of another customer that handles air freight and packages that is doing the same thing to create visibility in their shipping chain. I asked him why such companies are able to spend hefty capital budgets on security projects in a down economy, and Kenning says it is because of two things: 1) compliance requirements and 2) they can find a return on investment (ROI).

ROI, of course, is the biggest buzzword in the industry, and I think that's for good reason. As Kenning explained, companies can't expense projects today without being able to show that the investment improves their business processes, saves them money or even makes them money (the sales guy's holy grail of a shoe-in project). We talked about video systems in retail, which have traditionally been used to spot crimes in stores. Today, he says, those same systems can be augmented with analytics tools to provide store marketing information (think dwell times at displays) and to link with point-of-sale systems to ensure cashiers are correctly checking out customers (and not running "sweetheart" scams or returns fraud scams). Today, the security industry "can give our customers the solutions that will help them enhance their business processes," Kenning said. But that doesn't mean ADT is going to become a business processes company, he said. Rather, the company expects to keep its core focus on security while leveraging all of the other benefits that security technology can create in today's integrated environment.

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