Live from the 2005 GE Conference and Workshop

The 2005 GE Conference and Workshop has kicked off its second day in beautiful Hollywood, Fla., just south of Fort Lauderdale. Held at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, 700-plus dealers, integrators, end users and product partners are here to keep up with what's new at GE and to get product and networking training.

The conference formally launched Tuesday morning with a series of messages from GE Infrastructure, Security's VP Global Sales and Marketing Jim Clark and GE Infrastructure, Security President and CEO Ken Boyda.

Boyda provided the big picture look at what the conference was intended to be, with a focus on how security is changing and what the world of convergence will look like. Boyda stressed that GE's position has become an enabler of security and that the company can't just be fit in a box and labeled a "product manufacturer." Boyda put it this way: "The most important part of being a technology leader is to have the flexibility to be an enabler. Training is becoming the more important part of the business relationship; creating an IT skill set is what GE has to enable." Boyda pointed toward examples of systems that will require the networking skill sets -- systems such as wirelessly meshed networks of sensors, and explained that in the world of commercial and industrial security, the days of the stand-alone system are nearing their end.

"Corporate customers have increasing demands for global networked solutions," explained Boyda. He added that, as the networked nature of security has increased, the decision process on technology and system implementation is moving higher up the corporate food chain, so to speak. So not only is there education needed in the dealer community about networking systems, but the end users are needing additional training on how security systems can get funding and approval inside a company's corporate structure. Of course, it's not just coincidental that Wednesday seminars are being presented on those very topics as I file this report.

If we have to sum up Boyda's overall message, in addressing the conference's attendees, it was that GE's immediate purpose is to enable both end-user and dealers/integrators understanding of technologies and solutions, and to show how the company's solution chain end-user to dealer/integrator to GE is vital to the service of all involved. Indeed that message and that connection between the end-user and the dealer/integrators is perhaps no place better evidenced than in the composition of the attendees, which seems to have a fairly even split between end users and GE's channel partner dealer/integrators.

Strong Advice from Guest Speakers
Jeff Kessler, a security industry analyst from Lehman Brothers, took the stage after Boyda, and addressed financial and growth areas of the industry. While Kessler’s presentation had the full complement of numbers you would expect to come down from Wall Street, his presentation left a handful of take-aways that I’d like to share directly with you:

  • "The industry remains fragmented despite consolidation."
  • "Products mean less and less; instead the companies are looking for solutions."
  • RFID and background screening, while still some distance off, are gaining traction with medium-size companies. ... but, lack of RFID standards will push back RFID implementation from 2006-2007 to 2007-2008.
  • "IT is going to drive the entire security business."
  • Lehman Brothers' analysis is pointing toward a rebound in financials for monitoring companies and guard services companies.

Kessler also pointed to what he saw as the emerging areas of sales for security products, services and solutions. He listed the following as the areas which will be "major security investment themes over the next 3-5 years": background screening, plant analytics, biometrics, specialty digital/video, and DNA identification.

Don Dixon of Market Access International, IT Security magazine and the Homeland Defense Journal presented briefly on what the HSPD-12/FIPS 201 standards for the federal biometrics-based unified access control card will mean in terms of convergence. He presented the world of convergence as a turf war between physical and logical camps. Dixon added that he's seen that VISA and the financial world are underwriting a lot of the forward forces in the convergence arena. That comes as no surprise, when you think about it. After all, it's grocery stories like Piggly Wiggly and others that are being the forward forces in adoption of biometrics as the stores roll out financial pay stations that use fingerprint readers. The financial community (and by extension, the retail market that uses the services of the financial market) will always be a technology driver.

When Dixon finished, it was still before the lunch hour, and Francis D'Addario of Starbucks stepped on stage to discuss security in the company's global supply chain and at the store level. From traveling coffee buyers to scores of containers shipped every day, to securing and ensuring against loss prevention at the retail level, D'Addario's staff does it all ... and apparently does it well. His department's activities stymied a drop in armed robberies at stores to 11 per 1,000 in 2004 (standard quick service food stores like McDonald's and others typically face 48-75 robberies per 1,000 restaurant units) and has implemented systems that can track excessive sales figures at the store level to identify internal theft and scams, the Starbucks systems is a great model. D'Addario's presentation was jam packed with information that every system designer, integrator and end user can use, and he's been a fairly regular presenter at industry events. Most importantly, he's not afraid to discuss the hiccups of getting an excellent enterprise security system working. If you get the chance to hear him speak, by all means drop what you're doing and listen. You'll find it well worth your time. It’s not just an editor saying this either; your peers were describing Francis as “sharp” and as someone who “has their system together.” Some high-end integrators even called his concept of security a “model.”

After lunch, attendees were treated to a presentation by GE's own corporate security director, Frank Taylor. Taylor had extensive background in the State Department before joining GE in a security capacity. Because he was involved in government security during the integration of all security needs (IT, infrastructure, intelligence, investigation), Taylor takes a holistic approach to security, and says, that on the issue of convergence, despite some attitudes in the industry, good security directors do not see a physical-vs.-IT battle. There is simply no separation in what we all do, he says.

"IT and security and the investigations department and law enforcement are all in the business of managing information," said Taylor. "Security must be global. It must be horizontally connected within a company, within connected companies and within the government. Security needs to be inclusive; it is not an appendage that must stand off to the side."

Making security an inherent part of business is not without its effect on managers of security, and Taylor said that as a part of making security intrinsic to business, we as an industry are seeing changing metrics in security (not just numbers of arrests, or even prosecutions), but that the security director will more and more often be faced with the need to demonstrate the value of his/her operations in terms of ROI. It was a thought perfectly shared with D’Addario.

Taylor wasn't the last speaker of the day; former President of Spain Jose Aznar spoke next and then the U.S.'s first Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge concluded the day, but their comments are enough to make an entire other article, which is what we'll do. Look for a report on Aznar's and Ridge's speeches later today and additional updates from the conference as it progresses.