The security week that was: 08/13/10 (Managed services)

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The rise of managed security services

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the team from Siemens Security Solutions at their headquarters in Buffalo Grove, Ill. One of the topics presented at the meeting was the rise of managed services, a business area in which the firm is strongly positioning itself. Managed security services, for those needing a definition of this term, is essentially the outsourcing of select security operations to a third party provider. It's not a concept entirely unfamiliar to the industry, after all outsourcing of security guards to a third party guard services company is essentially a managed service. Indeed the monitoring of traditional alarm systems is also a managed service. Rather than a business or homeowner monitoring their own alarm system, they've been hiring monitoring companies to receive alarm signals and dispatch police for decades.

But managed services means much more than outsourced guard services and alarm monitoring today. For companies like Siemens, the model is to offer outsourcing of technical security systems like access control and video. In this model, the video and/or access control (and alarms, rather obviously) are monitored by a central station such as those which Siemens operates. A firm like Siemens can monitor video feeds to verify alarms, to do virtual "guard tour" style checks of a property, assess the status of an access control system. Some of the systems are more "managed" than others; basic managed services might mean outsourced monitoring, but full-fledged managed services can mean moving the head end and servers running such systems off site to the integrator's own data center.

Some end users are mixing their approaches on adopting managed solutions. Siemens tells of customers who will manage their own systems during the day, but will transfer control to the Siemens station at night. That's made all the easier because the systems are networked, and control of such systems is typically handled through a software client installed on a PC or through a web-browser interface.

Phil Atteberry, the director of the Managed Security Services unit at Siemens, says there are two key reasons that security end users are turning to managed services. The first is that with the economic downturn, firms simply don't have the capital expenditures to put in place monitoring equipment and staff. By going to a managed approach, these end users can transfer those expenditures into the "operating expenditures" budget. In fact, companies offering managed services offer end users the option of leasing the electronic security equipment rather than buying the cameras outright. The advantage of the leasing model, of course, is that if a camera or server fails, the managed services provider would be on the hook for replacing it. The downside, however, is that if a company decided to switch service providers, they face the prospect of still having to buy the equipment back from their provider – or risk having it all pulled from the wall.

The second business driver toward managed security, says Atteberry, is that end users often lack the in-house expertise for supporting and running technical security systems. By outsourcing to a firm like his, the company gains the advantage of a dedicated security team which can not only manage the video, access and alarm signals and data coming in, but which is also adeptly trained in supporting the systems should technical bugs arise.

In a full-fledged managed services offering, the servers and data might be hosted off-site, and the end users interact with their systems using a "software as a service" model. Corporate IT departments often find that appealing, Atteberry says, because software as a service means there are no software upgrades that the IT team would otherwise have to handle; instead, those upgrades are performed by the integration/monitoring company.

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