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

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.

But beyond the ROI push that has transformed commercial security system sales, Kenning comes into the industry during a time of technology transitions. There's the analog-to-IP transition that is affecting all systems integrators like ADT. Kenning's background at Nortel readies him for this, but he recognizes also that ADT, like many companies in the industry, needs to stay focused on training its associates to fully embrace this transition. He says he's focusing the internal training efforts on educating associates about networks and network technology. Kenning said that the company, while it doesn't want to become a company that installs business networks (there's no shortage of VARs already doing this and fighting for those projects), needs to have its people educated so that they can properly work on and implement security systems that maximize the use of the network. That means doing IT training with the hope that ADT's commercial systems unit employees are as ready as anyone to be an end user's "consultants" on large, complex, integrated transactions. It's a move, said Kenning, that takes the expertise brought in from the SST acquisition, and pushes that knowledge out to everyone in the company who would be involved in such projects.

But beyond the analog-to-IP transition, there is also new technology that has to be proven. One of those technologies is, of course, analytics. For groups like ADT's commercial division, it's a technology that can generate a lot of hope and promise. It could mean automated security responses or just faster responses, and someday even more accurate alarm and alert detection. That's the future, but the reality is that analytics was overpromised and under-delivered for so many years that it left a bad taste in many end-users mouths. So where does analytics fit in for a company like ADT (keeping in mind that their parent company Tyco has made some significant investments in this space)?

Here's what Kenning had to say: "ADT is trying to figure out what are the practical applications for video analytics. I think the 'easy' analytics are going to be the first to have payback. Everyone needs to get better because the ROI on analytics isn't as good as it needs to be for end users. Analytics is also going to be different in terms of training. You have to train them [the customers] on how to use the data properly to get that ROI. At ADT, we're also focused right now on training our engineering teams on analytics."

Beyond the nebulous world of analytics (which is, depending on who you talk to, either proven and reliable or still a difficult tool for integrators to add to their skill set), Kenning says ADT is pushing forward in its core business of monitoring. He said that ADT is seeing real opportunities in the banking and retail markets for handling the outsourcing of monitoring. When he speaks about monitoring, Kenning really seems to get the fact that the monitoring industry's future is about more than just burglar alarm signals coming in from the field. It's about video monitoring, doing remote surveillance tours, and remotely monitoring and managing access control systems for their clients.

With advanced monitoring options, a digital transition, and emerging technologies, Kenning has a lot on his plate (could that be the biggest understatement of this article?), but he seems eager to fully understand the security industry, and most of all, he seems eager to listen to his biggest customers to find out what are the problems that they need solved by their integrators, technology partners and monitoring providers. It bodes well for his leadership of ADT's commercial group.

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