This article originally appeared in the July 2022 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.
Security system integration has progressed into working with some of the most advanced technology in the world. Today’s network security devices – including cameras, access control, intercoms and audio devices – are capable of more than ever before, and they are a part of complex system integrations. These systems are providing end-users with comprehensive solutions and increasingly more value.
For example, advancements in analytics applications, based on deep learning at the edge, are providing end-users with actionable data that is improving security and enhancing operations. This technological evolution bodes well for system integrators, especially as it relates to new business; however, there is another factor that should not be overlooked. With billions of connected devices already on the network, and more being added every day, device management represents a critical need for end-users and an enormous opportunity for system integrators.
Retain customers through device management
A system is only as good as its performance. When it comes to network security, end-users are counting on their systems to protect people and property. For any user, a worst-case scenario is a device that is breached by a hacker, or rendered non-functional because of outdated software, which can often be traced back to poor device management. In either case, an end-user’s physical security, system integrity, data protection and financial well-being can be compromised. For the security system integrator, this could damage the future of the relationship.
In every industry, the real test of a vendor-customer relationship begins after the sale. Adequate support for a product or solution is essential to customer retention, especially in today’s competitive business environment. An in-and-out business strategy is not sustainable; thus, after-sale service is crucial.
Move from a reactive to a proactive model
Many companies operating within integration-related fields have long adhered to a break-fix business model; however, in today’s fast-paced world, more than ever, “time is money” and a break can be devastating. Businesses and their networks, IoT devices and, their security, cannot afford downtime – nor can system integrators afford it. System integrators who run their business in a reactive mode will continue to experience diminished productivity and significant opportunity costs. It is not profitable in the long-term to send a technician to troubleshoot every time a customer experiences a problem, and likely not acceptable by business owners.
Fortunately, just as network devices have created value for end-users, digitalization is creating new opportunities for system integrators. New, sophisticated device management tools are allowing system integrators to:
- Work more efficiently;
- Manage devices remotely and maintain their reliability;
- Perform preventative maintenance and address issues proactively;
- Add new services to their contracts or enhance existing service agreements; and
- Keep customers satisfied and loyal.
In short, modern device management tools provide system integrators with the ability to remotely monitor hundreds, and even thousands, of devices at multiple sites. This new capability is helping integrators to move from a reactive break-fix business model to a proactive device management model.
Modern device management tools are robust and intuitive, providing system integrators with dashboards for an easy, at-a-glance view of devices and their statuses. Moreover, system integrators can use these tools to manage major installation, security, and operational tasks remotely, when they previously had to send a truck and a tech onsite.
Provide long-term solutions through lifecycle management
While device management tools offer the clear benefits of troubleshooting and resolving immediate issues, they provide even more value over the long-term. Lifecycle management of network devices is essential to maintaining reliability and cybersecurity, and ultimately long-term customer satisfaction.
Lifecycle management includes two types of lifetimes:
1. A device’s functional lifetime which is how long you can expect it to operate and function appropriately; and
2. A device’s economic lifetime, or how long until a device starts costing more to maintain than adopting new, more efficient technology.
A savvy system integrator, with proper tools and a plan for device management, can offer the expertise to meet a customer’s needs on both counts, becoming a trusted partner and creating mutual value in the business relationship.
Device management tools ensure cybersecurity
Lifecycle management is particularly important when you consider today’s cyberthreat landscape. A 2022 Cyber Threat Report from SonicWall found that every category of cyberattack – from ransomware to vulnerability exploitation – increased during 2021. Since every new device added to a network creates a potential entry point for hackers, cyber hardening is critical. It is a given that all software-based technology will need to be patched or upgraded at some point both to optimize performance as well as protection against hackers.
Today’s device management tools allow system integrators to proactively identify and inventory devices by location, upgrade software and apply cybersecurity controls – such as user rights, profiles and certificates (i.e. Identity and Access Management) as well as update firmware and configure provisioning templates.
Many end-users often fail to perform these simple tasks due to lack of time and resources, so it is a fairly simple, yet high-value service that a system integrator can offer. What’s more, many end-users are not familiar with all the technology deployed on their network, so this is an opportunity for system integrators to offer their expertise. A system integrator equipped with device management tools can assist end-users by inventorying devices, monitoring their health, and upgrading as required.
Beyond identifying and automating upgrades, today’s device management tools can also identify devices that will require replacement – devices which may no longer be upgradeable, may no longer be supported by the manufacturer or may be out of warranty. In the end, this information can help an integrator to provide insight that helps an end-user proactively plan, including budgeting for replacements devices vs. the alternative of dealing with an unexpected and unwelcomed expenses.
Gain mutual benefits through managed services
New technologies are being introduced every day and more devices are being added to the end-user’s network. For IT personnel, who are already strapped for time, the prospect of dealing with this increasingly complex infrastructure can be daunting to say the least; therefore, managed services offered by expert system integrators, who are well-versed in the technology, present an attractive option for end-users and their IT teams.
Maintenance agreements can offer valuable benefits to end-users and profitability for system integrators via a recurring monthly revenue stream. When incorporating any service into an agreement, it is important for integrators to understand their customers’ needs as well as define what services are the best fit for their business. That said, modern device management tools can translate into a service plan that includes regular system monitoring, software and firmware upgrades and device calibration to ensure a customer’s system runs reliably.
Always consider your options and your customers’ needs
Most device management software will find a device on a network, but it will likely only reveal that it is a device. This capability is generally free. What is improved is that today’s managed devices can reveal the type of device and its location along with cybersecurity information, firmware and warranty status, and more.
Ultimately, it is important for system integrators to determine what they themselves require to manage their customers’ needs. It is equally important to understand what the customer wants out of a platform. What type of data do they require? How do they wish to manage and maintain their system? Who is responsible for system maintenance and what are their policies? Subsequently an integrator can look for a vendor who can incorporate the necessary devices and provide the tools to manage them appropriately.
Manufacturers of physical security devices offer the ability to manage their own devices to varying degrees, but they seldom offer the ability to manage third-party devices. This presents an opportunity for system integrators to write their own integrations if they have the capability and the platform has APIs that allow for customization (a billable service). If not, they can work with manufacturers who provide professional services with the ability to customize, integrate and/or offer plugins.
Integrators can elect to charge their end-customer for these services or treat the cost as a pass-through. In these instances, a manufacturer’s professional service group helps augment business for an integrator who doesn’t have in-house capabilities. At the end of the day, the important thing is to find a solution that will help you and your customer efficiently manage their devices.
Become a trusted advisor
It is time for integrators to move beyond the break-fix model to a proactive approach that efficiently manages smart security devices like network cameras, audio devices and access control. Modern device management tools can deliver a wealth of information that increases business opportunities, generates recurring revenue, improves project installation and device management, and bolsters customer satisfaction. As technology advances, end-users will require trusted advisors. They will need system integrators to help them navigate their increasingly complex IT infrastructure and ensure that their network security devices remain secure and running properly.