Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Or, at least smart enough to work the K-12 and higher education marketplaces?
In the wake of several highly publicized security events — both in local schools and at colleges — there are concerned parents bringing pressure on administrators to provide a secure environment for their children.
Therein sits a profitable opportunity for security dealers and integrators to be of service to their communities — and their own bottom lines.
We assembled a team of experts to help integrators make the grade when dealing with security at schools of all levels. Our roundtable includes Robert J. Beck, president of R.J. Beck Protective Systems Inc., Norwalk, Ohio; Jim Fairbanks, president of SiteSecure of Sanford, Fla.; and Henry Olivares, president of APL Access & Security Inc., of Gilbert, Ariz.
What is a good approach to the education market? Should or can you focus on a total solution?
Beck: The only way to be successful in the education market is to be a total solutions provider. You must be able to design, install and maintain intrusion, access, intercom, CCTV, IP video. Clients want a total solution provider. But you have to have a level of expertise with good common sense solutions. You cannot cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all in this market.
Fairbanks: A total solutions approach which highlights risk mitigation, staff workflow and ease of administration is a good starting point in working with school administrators, procurement and safety departments.
Is there a difference between the K-12 market and higher education? What is different or the same?
Olivares: There is definitely more money available in the higher education market than K-12, so higher education can obtain higher-end security equipment and systems. K-12 is more of a standalone system then a higher education. For example, a college campus requires more integration with students and their building access, dorm access and the access card they use for access control. That card has to be able to provide university credentials and is used like a debit card for school supplies and meals. We are still learning. We are trying to further tap into the education market as currently it is a very small percentage of our revenue.
Fairbanks: K-12 typically does not view technology deployment cost, system sustainability and technology end-of-life issues as critical in the procurement decision process. In higher education, these concepts are much more widely accepted and understood.
Beck: Most clients have multiple building or campus situations, so you have similar protection issues. But each building or campus will house different age groups. With that you have different issues. You still need to lock down on command, and you have ingress issues during operational hours. The issues are the same after hours: intrusion detection, surveillance and after-hours issues.
What is one of the first things to do when approaching any education market prospect?
Fairbanks: Ask questions to understand the prospect’s pain and risk points.
Beck: Listen to their needs. Be realistic in your approach both in system design and budget considerations.
Olivares: Listen to their needs. Users want a total solution that is easy to use and administer.
Overall, what are end-users looking for in this vertical market? Have recent events boosted demand for certain products?
Beck: Recent events have made these solutions critical. Schools want a total solution that is easy to use and administer. End-users are looking for ways to secure the building, control ingress and identify who is at the door. They need to slow down aggressors and let responders know what they are going to encounter.
Olivares: Recent events have boosted demand for safety of students and staff. The demand is there, but not all schools have the necessary budget in place to get what they want.
Fairbanks: The schools want to offer their students and staff a safe environment. The challenge is dealing with limited funding and agreeing on the most appropriate solution for the overall organization.
Who does an integrator usually work with on a job — is it Security, Facilities Management, someone else?
Olivares: Our experience in some of the local community college projects we have done is that we deal with the directors/managers of physical security. They understand how things work. We also work with their IT staff.
Fairbanks: The most successful deployments include the Facilities, IT, Student Services, HR, Procurement, Safety and Compliance Reporting functional representatives.
Beck: It depends on the school district or university, who is in charge of the project and what type of project it is.
Are there special kinds of equipment/technology for education as opposed to business offices, for example?
Olivares: Most of the equipment/systems in the education environment are similar to those used in the business office environment. Some more common items in the education environment are door lockdown systems, audible alarms throughout the campus, emergency phone call stations in parking lots, etc.
Beck: Not really — you will use a commercial grade system which is the same for all buildings.
Fairbanks: Agreed — the same technology is deployed in both markets.
How do you test the waters to see if your market actually wants the service?
Fairbanks: Meeting with the organization and uncovering their current and future plans.
Olivares: We are constantly looking for bid opportunities on the web from school district and college websites for their needs.
Beck: Letters, cold calling, references — but it depends on the project.
What are some dos and donts for the newbie?
Beck: Do design a good system. Don’t bring the project in so low that you cannot complete it or lose money on it. Do provide a good solid system with a good warranty. Do keep it simple and makes sure it works. Be comfortable and do not take on projects that are out of your comfort zone. Beware of bids or projects designed by people who do not understand our business. It is better to walk away from a potential project that is poorly designed or will not work.
Olivares: Like any other market, do not get your customer upset. If you want to continue to do business in the market and move on to larger higher education systems, you will need specific market experience with project references under your belt.
Fairbanks: Do invest time in understanding the organization’s culture, structure, needs and risk.
Curt Harler is a technology writer and regular contributor to SD&I magazine. Reach him at [email protected].