VARs Look at Business Growth as Big Brother Goes Digital

VARs recommended to partner with physical security providers

"This allows multitasking by video operators so they can be more efficient instead of just sitting in front of a screen," says David Reed, vice president of business development at Electro Specialty Systems (ESS), a San Diego-based systems integrator.

There's a wide range of potential customers for this IP-based physical security. There's an obvious demand for military bases, airports or train terminals and retail outlets. But the technology also has great appeal at universities, hospitals, corporate campuses and amusement parks. Basically, any organization that has a physical space to secure is a prospect.

"We did an installation at Sea World in San Diego; they were having problems with people coming up on the beach and wanting to swim with Shamu," says Phil Robertson, vice president of corporate development at Cernium. "We're now seeing more and more of the physical-security budget coming from IT groups."

ESS also deploys card readers and ID badges that are integrated with networked systems. Those technologies allow for a more sophisticated level of monitoring, preventing things like people swiping an access card and then passing it back to someone else, or "tailgating"-someone trying to enter a building right behind a legitimate employee. ESS and others are beginning to get into wireless-security installations, as well, for organizations that have remote sites to monitor and don't want pay for the cost of laying physical cabling to the sites (see "Lay of the Land," below).

Physical Fitness Challenge

What all these technologies have in common is that once the data is collected, it's delivered and shared across a simple Ethernet connection, just as with any other network. "Different levels of security have different levels of integration; access-control systems typically are integrated through the WAN and back to the network host," Reed says. The addition of a physical component to a logical security installation can also provide additional revenue.

"Customers are looking for someone who can import a physical-security component to their network and include it in their standard data correlation and reporting," Hunt says. "Every customer site will include at least some customization, so you can add extra costs for those services."

One way for IT security folks to ramp up their skillsets is to partner with physical-security resellers such as Convergint Technologies. Based in Schaumburg, Ill., Convergint has put most of its 380 employees through a network-certification program to ensure they know the IP basics. The company tries to partner with traditional IT solution providers on its converged projects.

Tony Vasco, vice president of Convergint's security division, estimates that about one-quarter of the company's project proposals are completely IP-based, up from about 10 percent a year ago. "In the past few years, a lot has happened with video," he says. "It's more than just installing cameras, because it's all digital, and people need network-management tools for that."

By getting Convergint's employees versed in the basics of networking, the company is trying to bridge the gap that might prevent a sale. "It takes about three seconds for an IT guy to say, 'You don't understand the technology' and write you off," Vasco says. "Our goal is to get enough of an understanding of the IT side of the business so that we're an appealing partner."

Unfortunately, this ramping up of skills doesn't always go both ways, and traditional IT resellers may find themselves on the outside if they don't also take the time to learn the physical side.

"We propose our projects from a business perspective, not just because the technology allows it to be done. The CEOs and CFOs will only move forward if you can make that case to them," says David Ruhlen, Convergint's business-development manager.

This is where solution providers such as ISG will have a leg up on those who simply demonstrate how cool a new converged technology is. "We were traditionally a logical security company and got into the physical side a couple of years ago," Palmquist says. Training people on vendors' products resulted in $3 million annually coming directly from the physical-security engagements, he adds. Palmquist says that the training, coupled with ISG's IP background, will make the company tough to beat as convergence gains more traction.