The Security Week That Was: A Recap - Jan. 20-26, 2007

Jan. 27, 2007
SIW Editor Geoff Kohl gives a weekly surveillance of news shaping your profession

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending a network video vendor-sponsored mini-conference called the VSI Summit. There was a lot of discussion about how networked video opens doors to new product integrations. Speaking with one Southeastern integrator, he asked me, "Is this where you see it all going?"

"Yes, it's inevitable for the large commercial projects," I replied. "It may take longer for the small, standalone commercial projects, but even those, I guess, will at some point go to an Ethernet backbone." He said that his crew was really studying how they could do more for their clients once they get video into a pure data format.

While everyone checked their voicemails or grabbed a drink of water during a short break, we started talking about the problems facing commercial security systems integrators. He said the main challenge facing his business was that it was becoming tougher to bid on projects. He said that since Department of Homeland Security grants had become involved in so many large commercial security projects, the nature of who was bidding was changing. Even the projects worth less than $1 million were being bid on and landed by the traditional government contractors like Northrop Grumman and their competitors.

"It's not that they're small projects," he said. "But projects worth $1 million or less were formerly left to the privately-owned systems integration community."

The problem is that his company has every bit of the knowledge and expertise to competently handle small- to mid-sized commercial and government security integration projects. But without a GSA schedule (often not needed in these smaller, "grant funded" projects) and a proven track record servicing the federal government, they're getting squeezed.

They've found that even municipal and private companies' security projects -- such as a security project at a local powerplant or a city busy system -- are acceding their contracts to companies that have been able to work directly with the Feds and DHS. It's as if these organizations believe that because a touch of their funding comes from the DHS, they have to use the same contractors that the military always taps. And for mid-sized integrators who had made their living doing these kind of projects and doing them well, that's just an unfortunate part of life.

But the "unfortunate" organization in this mix isn't just the mid-size integrator who didn't have enough clout to land the project. Often the organization which contracted out for the security system lands in the "unfortunate" area of this equation. While these national government contractors have plenty of staff in areas where government and military have a large presence, they don't have those staffs spread evenly across America. And by the time these security systems begin to require maintenance or updates, the contractor is sometimes hundreds of miles away in a D.C. suburb, creating frustration for local end-users who see service of these security systems delayed by days, maybe even weeks at a time.

Thus the small- or mid-size systems integrator comes back into the equation. As my acquaintance at the conference noted, they typically become simple contractors to these large government contractors. That at least brings the integrator the local work his business needs and gives the user the local knowledge they need. Yet there is another worry, a worry that many integration firms may become soleley relegated to duties of "system maintenance subcontractors." And unless they were a contractor for design and installation, they often face the uphill challenge of trying to debug a system they never designed or wrote the documentation on.

Some might say this is just a "whine" from the industry, but this kind of complaint is not new or unique to this particular integrator. In fact, when I start to hear universal complaints and gripes, it's often when an industry starts looking at new ways to come to business.

I guess there are three lessons here. The first is that security contracts using DHS grants will often go to the best "name", as long as that company can be competitive. Second, the economy of scale is busy at work in the world of integration. Finally, I think the biggest lesson here is that if private systems integration businesses and VARs want to bid against the Goliaths in the government contracting industry, they may need to consolidate to pool resources – or work with a name that the government already knows. Coincidentally, that's just what PSA members did recently with CondorTech to try to land government projects. Time will tell whether that alliance can bear the fruit that the mid-sized integrator needs to stay competitive.

The Buzz in the Industry
Research on network video, following the Coke espionage case, and more

In case you've been under a rock these last couple years, networked video is a nicely growing market. That point was further reinforced by a not-so-ground-shattering study from IMS Research which puts high percent growth for network video products in the next few years, and which also found strong sales for hybrid IP/analog as systems make their conversions. … Mike Horgan has joined SIAC's board. Horgan has been very involved with the Wisconsin BFAA and is considered an NBFAA representative to the SIAC board. … Last week in this newsletter, I mentioned what was going on with HR1 – the house bill would require 100 percent cargo screening. Well, the verdict is out. While the House of Representatives may love this bill, it's not loved back by industry. Here's what you should read to stay abreast on this subject: APTA President William Millar's statement to the Senate, an exclusive Q&A on with Global Security Associates' William McGuire, and a new position column from International Cargo Security Council Chairman Scott Dedic. … The other thing going on is the Coke internal-espionage case which allegedly saw a worker steal and try to sell Coke secrets of its new BlaK cola to rival PepsiCo (which wasn't interested in becoming involved with the fraud).

The recent weeks have also seen some major acquisitions and moves toward acquisitions. Biggest of all, Bioscrypt and A4Vision will merge in a business venture that reflects major consolidation within the biometrics industry. It wasn't a typical acquisition but an anonymous blue chip bought up the leftover assets of IPIX Corporation's bankruptcy proceedings. No word on who that is just yet, though. Stanley finished the paperwork on its previously announced intent to acquire HSM Electronic Protection, a move that puts Stanley in the commercial/national accounts monitoring space. Mace Security received an offer of purchase from Kelly Capital, an investment corporation. The last of the big buys was Mark Ein's acquisition of Kastle Systems, a company which delivers monitoring and integrated electronic protection to corporate buildings and office parks.

Finally, we close with a look at our most popular stories of the week:

  • Put Down Your Key And No One Will Be Hurt
  • Bioscrypt and A4Vision Merge Biometric Businesses
  • Overcoming the Salesmen Vs. Installers Battle
  • Air Cargo Security: Is the Industry Ready for a New Mandate?
  • UDT Surveys Building Owners on Preparedness for Biological Attack