Mind the Gap when it Comes to Access Control and Security Systems

July 13, 2018
Asking and listening to customer needs is the first step to overcome a cluttered security world

Tim, the owner of a southeast security company, has experienced firsthand the security industry’s progress and transformation over his 30 years as a manufacturer’s representative. In recent years, Tim has recognized a distinct upward trend in competition, and a corresponding downward trend in profit. In order to improve his position in the security industry and his profitability, Tim speculated that his company could benefit from a recommitment to developing strong customer relationships.

Listening closely to the needs of customers, finding appropriate and manageable solutions to those needs, and working hard to implement those solutions helped Tim differentiate his company from the growing competition. Rarely does theory become reality; however, Tim found success following this simple path.

Editor's Note: This article is part of the bonus publication "Access Control Trends & Technology 2018" - follow the link to download the full magazine. 

With less experience than Tim, Jeremy, the owner of a small-medium security company in the Northwest, also found success in a crowded industry by paying close attention to best practices. Jeremy executed a well-thought-out strategy to dodge competition and move in an upward trend.

Jeremy and Tim’s stories are not uncommon across the cluttered security market in the United States. Security providers are caught in a market jammed with manufacturers offering a variety of indistinguishable products with low-profit margins. 

According to U.S. Department of Commerce, 98 percent of all U.S. companies are defined as small businesses employing less than 500 people. If this ratio holds true for security providers, then it follows that many of these providers can relate to the stories of Tim and Jeremy; small companies caught in the clutter of too many manufacturers offering an endless expanse of indistinguishable products with shrinking profit margins.

Fortunately, we may be able to learn something from Tim and Jeremy’s success stories.

Security Gap; Where’s the Need?

Security gaps are identifiable security needs for which limited options exist. For example, card access and mechanical locks are the most commonly used systems for physical security. In the appropriate application, both are excellent solutions. New construction specifying a high traffic entry point is a perfect application for a card access system, whereas a remote site is well suited for a padlock. A security gap exists when the customer is in need of a functional and affordable solution where there’s none to be had or – better said, where a solution is hard to find.

Security gaps are not unique to physical security, extending to other disciplines such as video monitoring. For instance, this gap becomes apparent when a customer wants a camera to monitor, detect, and alarm. Filling this gap can be a prohibitively expensive undertaking involving unproven solutions: potential candidates may utilize high-definition cameras with facial detection software and further integration to an alarm system. Although theoretically available, expensive and unproven solutions are not necessarily ones that customers want or can afford to pursue.

How do security providers identify security gaps? Consultative assessments are essential. Asking the right questions and attentive listening can help providers quickly identify an opportunity. Many security companies are already skilled at asking questions to reveal a customer’s obvious needs. Security people looking to the future will probe further yet. Here are a few topics worth considering:

  • What problems would the perfect system be able to solve for you?
  • If you had unlimited resources, what would you want it to look like?
  • List all important assets and identify how they are currently being secured?
  • Do you have areas or assets that are secured only by mechanical locks?
  • Would you employ higher technology if it was more affordable?
  • How does convenience factor into your security system requirements?

Tech Gap: Where’s the Solution?

Technical gaps exist when current technology is not yet able to reliably fill an existing security gap. Manufacturers interested in meeting market demand for innovative solutions will inevitably develop new products. However, security products should, by definition, be secure. Security professionals will exercise great caution before introducing unproven solutions to their clients. In fact, end users will often demand proof. The answer to the tech gap is revealed in a basic security tenet: redundancy, back-up, layers, and fail-overs. Introducing innovation alongside proven security tools like card access, alarm, smart key, camera and mechanical locks may advance end-user needs and manage risk with security.

Another tech gap that can frustrate end-users and security providers alike emerges when technology surpasses the capabilities of its delivery channel. Again, in order to adequately fill a security gap, technology must present a reliable solution. For example, integrating security software systems with an end-users existing platform is a convenient singular point of management. Unfortunately, only large security firms have the resources to offer software integration, leaving customers served by small and medium firms with an unmanageable security gap.

Progress in technology can cause similar tech gaps. For example, a security system using a connection to a WiFi or GSM network to provide real-time lock-down capabilities depends on component circuitry (speed, size, reliability), power (replaceable vs rechargeable batteries, backup), and wireless communication (security, speed, reliability). Technology progress in each space takes time and, most importantly, must be proven before used as a security system. Moreover, a change to the technical specifications of one aspect can disrupt functionality across all components of the system.

Tech gap questions to explore:
      - What systems can meet the customer’s need?
      - How long have such systems been in use in security applications?
      - Are these systems affordable, available, and reliable?
      - Is a small-medium size security provider able to offer and support such a system?

Business Gap: Where’s the Money?

Business gaps exist when profit can be made in places where providers haven’t previously seen success. Identifying security and tech gaps can directly result in increased profitability if security providers provide a value-addition, connecting the need and solution. However, the cluttered security market with an overwhelming selection of analogous products makes it increasingly difficult for security providers to identify and fill business gaps.

Revenue streams from labor, pulling cables for card readers, initial points of sale on hardware, and recurring monitoring/service contracts are also under pressure. This environment is causing small-medium companies to seek out manufacturers with innovative solutions to solve the tech gap. Along with important considerations like respectable discounts, quality products and training, competition is a topic to consider when closing the business gap.

It is essential to understand market, provider and manufacture saturation. How many customers will need this type of solution? How many security companies currently occupy this space? How many manufacturers make similar solutions? What direction is the market trending?

Provider saturation depends on the manufacturers’ go-to-market strategy. How a manufacturer determines its security system should be sold and supported may determine how distribution should be structured: multiple tiers (number of levels within a single channel), multi-pronged (number of channels: retail, wholesale, man rep, factory, etc), or a combination thereof.

Close manufacturer proximity in the form of a single tier that ties together the relationships of the manufacturer, the security company and the end user, and single-channel (only security company!) is a strong advantage for end users, small-medium size security providers, and the manufacturer. Under this model, product support and training quality remain high, security provider's value-add is profitable, and end-customer feedback fuels new solution research and development.

Business gap questions to explore:
           - How many manufacturers offer tech solutions that fill security gaps?
           - Which manufacturer offers the best product, training, support, discounts, and channel construct?
           - What is the manufacturers' cost of business expectation?
           - Which manufacturer can small–medium security providers trust?


The lesson learned from Tim and Jeremy’s story is that small security providers can succeed! The Second Law of Thermodynamics essentially states that without constant upkeep, all matter is subject to decay. In order for security companies to succeed, attention to customer care is an absolute must!

Asking and listening to customer needs is the first step to overcome a cluttered security world. A carefully executed site survey will help define what existing tools will help and also reveal what tools are missing.

All innovative security systems were at one time new and unproven. Mechanical locks and keys have existed for millennia and are widely accepted as proven security tools for the right application. Card reader security systems have been around close to half a century and are also proven for certain applications. Smart key, electronic locks have been around for two decades and are just now being accepted for a range of applications. Each could fill a tech gap provided they are used for the appropriate applications. Many customers will require proof of concept, references, and assurances of reliability before using something new or unfamiliar. A customer’s security is not necessarily at risk provided new tools belong to a comprehensive system.

Finally, business gaps can be filled and profitability can grow if the manufacturer that closes the security gap is trustworthy, committed to the quality of its products, offers thorough training, provides world-class support, and consistently focuses on future research and development.

John Moa is Director of Sales at CyberLock Inc. Moa has over 11 years of security industry experience and is responsible for global channel growth. CyberLock Inc., with corporate headquarters in Corvallis, Oregon, is a leading supplier of key-centric access control systems. CyberLock Inc. is part of the Videx family of companies with roots dating back to 2000 when the first CyberLock branded electronic locks and smart keys were introduced to the market.