When the lifeblood of your business is its relationship with contractors, enduring the uncertainties of 2020 and the pandemic that has defined it has put systems integrators who handle the design and installation of sophisticated security solutions and customized add-ons for upscale and luxury facilities at the mercy of a chaotic business landscape. Already reeling from labor shortages, the fallout from this administration’s tariff wars and the social unrest in some major construction zones, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the pressure on integrators to meet the new compliance and policy requirements of their clients and their approach to a revised technology strategy.
How to Work with the Contractor
While many contractors across the country say it is business as usual, with COVID-19 has come more concern about the safety and welfare of their workers and the partners involved in building projects. Although these contractors have plowed ahead with large projects, there is still concern that the lack of specialty technicians like mechanical, electrical and low-voltage workers will have an impact. Adding to the anxiety of collaborative partners like systems integrators and contractors have been material delays in commercial building projects that count on Chinese technology and goods. Supply chain and production issues have also been felt while the coronavirus raged in key industrial centers in China. With nearly 30% of all U.S. building products imported from China, a delay or rise in price for materials or technology can crush a project.
As COVID-19 continues to make investors and lenders nervous, the volatility of global economic markets has tested the resiliency of larger systems integrators like VIP Systems out of Miami, Fla., that count on the vibrancy of new construction to drive their financial engines. They have found themselves reimaging their business operations and their work/life priorities.
“Business is a little different than it was six to eight months ago. There are two sides of major business on which we focus. One is construction, new construction. Another is existing customers with our ongoing service. Starting with construction protocols with our offsite personnel, boots on the ground, it's changed the environment tremendously. Things such as social distancing on-site, having to wear PPE protection and having to have temperature checks before entering a site are now SOP. We are also being closely monitored by the general contractor and safety staff for any symptoms of coughing, feeling or looking fatigued, or even tracking word of mouth incidents of protocol breaches,” says Ed Genin, President of VIP Systems. “The entire routine has changed. If someone even goes to a safety inspector and says something about personnel not looking good or says that they had been near somebody who contracted COVID-19, they will send a notice to the office and set a protocol where that person has to go get tested. And even if they test negative but it's confirmed that they were next to someone who tested positive, they will have to quarantine for 14 days off of the site.”
Genin adds that his company had to implement a large-scale education program through its training facility in its South Florida headquarters, bringing in specialists who hold virtual sessions with the staff about different policies or on how to provide safety protocols that will keep them and their team safe. The goal is to show staff and techs what needs to be done on the job and at a worksite so they can be as preventative as possible and stay out of those gray areas that might cost them the opportunity to work or be quarantined.
“We've had a couple of scenarios where some employees actually have tested positive on-site, and some sites have had some tremendous breakouts. It's been a new way for us --- managing virtually. But it has been a big tool that we've all been using, whether it's to get information from the site to see details, from the project site if a person is quarantined or just managing that site. We also use it to supplement owner-rep meetings and construction meetings and even talking with municipal inspectors,” Genin explains, saying that they’ve moved many business management operations to platforms like Zoom. “The whole status quo of how we used to operate a construction site, from showing up and being able to get on with our daily activities and doing the things that need to be done on our task sheet to how we approach the scope of work have changed. The scope of work hasn't changed but how you get to that finish line has changed by preparedness and keeping tremendous amounts of caution of what you touch and who you're near while trying to still have productive workdays.”
How to be Preemptive
The stakes are high for Genin and his firm given the environment they serve. VIP’s high-value sectors like arenas and public venues, luxury hotels and casinos, high-end bars and restaurants, in addition to high-rise construction projects have helped lay the groundwork of what has made the firm a first-tier technology planner and integrator. Their design engineers, project managers, and technicians have played a major role in major high-value projects from Manhattan to Miami Beach. A failure to maintain air-tight business operations and pandemic protocols could cost the company money and brand damage.
“We take a huge amount of time to educate the staff and all the associates on how to be prepared. We provide a tremendous amount of PPE for the staff and everybody working with clients. Then there are certain protocols that now they have to adhere to like no longer giving paper work orders. Everything's done digitally. Sign off is done digitally. We're not physically having them touch any device. Any room that's our techs have worked on is being wiped down first. It only adds several steps of extra protocol to ensure that nobody's put in danger,” says Genin.
“Just like any organization, you have those key players that always have to keep their teams going. You have the service division, the install division, the CAD engineering group. We have to make sure that none of the different parts start to fail because the result could be like dominoes. In the office itself, anybody who works inside our building is not to visit the site and not to visit with work personnel. We have set up an isolated training room in our facility which has access to the exterior. The project management staff will only use that training area and is not allowed in the rest of the office. Our warehouse facility has been completely redesigned so only the material handler creates crates for each independent job and these are placed in a bin outside and picked up by project-site staff. We're minimizing the exchange and interaction between people, not because we don't want people to interact, but because we really are concerned about spreading the virus and keeping everybody safe. When people are quarantined, it really minimizes the productivity of the personnel on the project site.”
How to Adapt Technology to the New Normal
Like most systems integrators, Genin has had to remain flexible as jobs migrated through the stages of the pandemic. Clients began to request cleaner and more frictionless means of accessing spaces and subsequently tracking employees or clients through their facilities. VIP made the adjustments on the fly and still is.
“We quickly pivoted all the way back at the end of January. Beginning in February, we started to order different items for temperature monitoring and also augmented technology chambers that allow clients to do vast detection. We've done installations across the board from New York City to Los Angeles, Miami, with their top-end hotels from Ritz Carltons to JW Marriott where we're installing and training back-of-the-house personnel with temperature monitoring detection systems that we're connecting directly into their security rooms so they have contactless temperature checks for their employees. We've had to work with their legal departments to ensure that we're not overstepping any HR issues like blurring indiscrete, visible areas because of the thermals,” explains Genin.
He adds that they are doing a lot of work with multi-family companies that have varied requirements such as touchless estimation control on elevators that allow users with a FOB key scan to activate which floor they want. Holo Industries has developed a line of touch-free control panels for germ-free interactions, with the first two entries targeting elevators and kiosks for restaurants. The devices project a floating image of the controls that the user can activate and senses the user’s fingers as they “touch” these mid-air controls. Other clients are installing automatic door openers with a pedestal HID card reader or scanner using a QR code.
“We've seen different technology, whether it's an unlimited service building that doesn't have all of the up-to-date technology and they have, let's say, a KONE elevator system. KONE has been working with us on a QR code scan dispatch, so if the building doesn't need an access control system, we can basically install a QR reader in the elevator cab and the management company will issue QR codes to residents. The QR codes will be scanned and automatically send residents up to their floor without touching a button,” says Genin. “So, absolutely, we've been seeing a little bit of everything from multifamily requirements. We're working with several high-end condominiums where they have gyms where we're installing cameras for the protection of the patrons visiting the facilities to ensure that everybody's correctly wearing their masks. These cameras run analytics with mask detection on them which works in the environment to make sure that everybody's following the rules of the establishment.”
About the Author:
Steve Lasky is a 34-year veteran of the security publishing industry and multiple-award-winning journalist. He is currently the Editorial Director for the Endeavor Business Security Media Group, the world’s largest security media entity, serving more than 190,000 security professionals in print, interactive and events. It includes Security Technology Executive, Security Business and Locksmith Ledger International magazines, and SecurityInfoWatch.com, the most visited security web portal in the world. He can be reached at [email protected]