In June of this year, security systems integrator Star Asset Security announced that it is now offering managed services to its customers with robust IT-based support and service. Star Asset Security’s managed services are supported by and include an in-house 24/7 security operations center and its wholly-owned subsidiary IT managed services company ION 247, which provides full support for physical security platforms and IT systems.
What makes Star Asset Security’s announcement noteworthy is that the company is embracing the ever-increasing blur between physical security systems management and IT with open arms. The Orlando, Fla.-based company is leveraging its internal IT expertise and talent to offer centralized security operations services with an emphasis on cybersecurity, proactive monitoring, artificial intelligence, automation and comprehensive support.
Making the move to become a managed services provider is definitely a paradigm shift for a traditional security integration firm. Star Asset Security VP Jack Johnson and Chris Davis, CTO for ION247, has unique insight into how to take this approach, along with advice for traditional systems integrators who may be considering dipping their toes in managed services’ waters.
What Happens When a Physical Security System’s Server Goes Down
Star Asset Security originally formed ION247 – its IT managed services subsidiary – in 2015, when it merged together Netxfolio, an IT managed services provider, and Interactive Video Technologies, a video and security managed services provider. The company was formed to support cloud-based IT and physical security applications, particularly for the small and mid-sized markets. One of the immediate targets for ION247 was to reduce barriers to implementation during the deployment of physical security systems.
Most of the customers that systems integrators have are busy running their businesses and either have an internal IT department or contract with an IT company to support the technology that they use in their operations. When a new access control system is implemented or a video surveillance system’s server goes down, there is very often a push and pull between managers, IT professionals and system integrators, because they do not speak the same language or may be balancing different priorities.
“Decision makers are changing, (for example) facility managers may be reporting to an internal risk department that is led by someone who may not know anything about access control,” Davis explains. “That is why when we talk to customers about the value that managed services offers, we often begin by discussing what impact it would have on daily operations if a server or platform goes down or a security device is compromised.”
According to Davis, this conversation starting point helps business owners and decision-makers understand the need for redundancy and cyber protection for their physical security systems and associated IT systems. In approaching physical security managed services from an IT-centric perspective, Star Asset Security can support both the physical security system and the IT technology the system runs on. When a problem arises, the customer calls a single managed service provider for help instead of two or three.
While the company will continue to offer traditional security systems integration services and support on a project by project basis, Star Asset Security is making a long term commitment to the managed service model. As a company, it has made significant investments in training and cross-training, automation, process development and back-end systems to support the managed services paradigm. Currently, 20 percent of Star’s top-line revenues come from its managed and recurring service offerings.
“Traditional systems integration is still a big part of our business, though, because it can often get us in the room with decision makers – including IT decision-makers – to talk about the value of our managed services,” Johnson says. “In some cases, we are seeing our end-users transition all of their physical security and IT services to Star’s managed services.”
One significant advantage that Star Asset Security has is experience: IT managed services went through its own growing pains and evolution 10 years ago. The company has been able to leverage the experience and knowledge of its IT managed services division to create best practices for how it offers and supports managed services for physical security customers.
RMR and Long-term Customer Relationships Built on Problem-Solving
“The big lesson learned from the 2008 recession was that you have to build partnership relationships with customers for the long haul and you have to build service models around customers if you want a sustainable business model,” Johnson says. “If all you do is installations, you are really just a contractor. You have to get sticky with customers and create long-term relationships with them.”
With its managed services model, customers pay Star Asset Security a monthly fee for the long-term management and maintenance of video surveillance, access control, fire and life safety, and intrusion systems. Star includes 24/7 support, cloud-based servers, multi-server redundancies, cyber protection, security reports and security hardening as part of its managed services. The company also provides live video monitoring services that enable customers to offload day-to-day monitoring and escalation of critical alerts to Star/ION247.
One of the starting points for the Star Asset Security leadership team when developing the managed services was to determine which services to offer and how to manage them with efficiency. Managed services is a broad term and can mean a lot of different things. According to Johnson, they took an organic approach to ramping up the physical security managed service offerings and integrating them with IT managed services.
Star has broken down its service plans into two main categories: a Service Assurance program and an Enterprise Service Assurance program. Both managed service programs include the maintenance, design, monitoring and service of any IT and physical security system in its entirety – including service desk support, proactive monitoring, cybersecurity and remote/field support.
The Enterprise Service Assurance program also includes program management, which encompasses customized dashboards, portals and reporting, as well as dedicated personnel for the development and deployment of security systems. Management and standardization of programming, upgrades and new installs are also included in Star’s enterprise service agreement.
According to Davis, Star Asset Security’s turn toward managed services has done more than just increase the company’s recurring monthly revenue – it has enabled the company to get creative and form true partnerships with customers.
“Because we have recurring monthly revenue, we can really push the edge for the customer and be focused on delivering results that are not tied to a one-time project or one-time fee,” Davis explains. “The managed services model changes the conversation. Instead of going back and forth with the customer on the cost of providing a single service, we can work on solving problems and building relationships that will last.”
Essentials for Launching Managed Services in a Traditional Systems Integration Business
For system integration companies that do not have an existing IT managed services division to call on when launching managed services like Star Asset Security has had, Johnson has a few recommendations.
“Hiring qualified personnel to staff your managed services division can be a difficult and expensive process,” Johnson says. “We were obviously fortunate that (President and CEO) Bobbie and (Executive VP) Roger Hirschy had the foresight to fold an IT managed services business into Star Asset Security. If that is not an option, then partnering with an IT managed services provider is a good approach to take for most system integrators.”
Johnson also recommends system integrators pick one managed service to begin with, while continuing to offer traditional systems integration services as part of their core expertise. Johnson sees managed access control as a good starting place for any systems integrator contemplating transitioning to a managed service model.
According to Johnson, it takes time to create the infrastructure that supports managed services. Even with its own IT managed services company in place, Star Asset Security has been forming and evolving its managed services for the last four to five years. Choosing the right processes and tools to support physical security systems and IT systems from the front-end to the back-end can position managed service providers for success.
“As you grow, you have to add additional resources, processes and tools to pull everything together,” Davis says. “We use eight tools to serve our managed services customers and to centralize management of their systems. Automation is one of the most important tools to implement because it is cheaper than dedicated services and ultimately is a time and cost-saver.”
As a systems integrator with nine offices and loads of traditional systems integration talent, it has been a cultural shift for Star to transition to managed services. The transition has involved taking staff members out of the field and training them to use remote support tools instead. On the sales side, the company is offering training and education to business development managers and account managers not only on how to sell managed services, but also on how the company and employees can benefit from the managed services model in the long-term.
One of the biggest opportunities that comes from becoming a managed service provider like Star Asset Security is the ability to go national and service the entire country, instead of just a region. Customer attrition is also greatly reduced with managed services and the ability to provide additional services presents new revenue opportunities for managed service providers; in fact, some of Star Asset Security’s customers are asking the company to talk directly to their customers, with ION247 acting as an internal support team for the customer. This is a great opportunity to provide more value to the customer and add another level of service to the relationship.
“It is an exciting time for the industry,” Johnson says. “We all have to up our game and focus more on problem solving than trying to find the next widget. As IT is more involved with physical security and the Internet of Things, managed services are better able to help customers achieve their goals.”
Catherine Berce is the owner and lead writer for Berce Creative, a provider of writing services including marketing communications, social media content, thought leadership articles and more. Learn more at http://bercecreative.com.