Back in the days of analog when we designed and installed Matrix systems we had actual integration. Whether it was Pelco, Honeywell, or American Dynamics, each included hardware to allow different systems to participate in event management, and be controlled by a central command point by a single operator using a single user interface. An operator could call up live cameras and control PTZ, call up playback on a separate monitor, acknowledge alarms from intrusion, access, or fire systems, and even control open/close commands to access control. All by analog serial connections and a series of monitors controlled by a joystick/keyboard. These were the days where integrators maintained relationships with manufacturers, maintained training for programming and configuring systems, and most importantly, had the ability to test and demonstrate every feature and every macro contained in the finished product.
Over the last few years in this industry as we have seen the migration out of analog CCTV into the world of IP systems it seems that nearly every company has taken on the mantle of "Integrator". How many end-users I wonder actually appreciate the level of knowledge and technical ability that is implied with the term, and to be perfectly blunt, how many of our colleagues that refer to themselves in this way are actually qualified to carry the banner? To be sure there are some stellar integrators out there that help raise the bar for the industry. But there are unfortunately a good deal more contractors who although they can perform basic hardware interface and even complete clean installations on time and on budget, they do not have the technical ability to actually complete an integration. There are certainly a number of very talented technicians who on their own may be able to figure out complex systems and software collaboration, but lack the technical support expertise, or are allowed the opportunity or budget to train by their employer to complete a project to its full potential. Then there are those companies who knowingly take advantage of end-user naiveté. These are the guys who consistently win low bids and do not have people qualified for the work. These are the companies that we all know very well and have had to clean up after numerous times, the guys that make us all look bad.
To answer the question there must first be a definition applied to the term. To define "Integrator" in the context of a professional physical security contractor, it is necessary to first establish the definition of an integration. An integrated physical security solution is a complete and collaborative software interface allowing each software access and command of the others database including; import / export of data between collaborative software's. The combined software collaboration is intended to expand the capability of a single GUI to command and acknowledge video, access control, and intrusion / alarm events in each system simultaneously from one point of command also known as a “dashboard” or “console” client workstation. The end user operator should be able to; in an automated fashion, have alarm events displayed in real time, with associated live video streams, and include links to or option for pre-event playback. The end-user operator, by a single point of software GUI, should be able to acknowledge and clear, escalate, or place events on hold in levels of priority, be presented an event hold/pending stack, and create back-up files.
An "Integrator" or integration company then, possesses a team or people with the experience and knowledge to accomplish the above result within a dedicated timeline, budget, and standard of execution. That team would consist of; first technically savvy sales people who understand the software environment and can initiate collaboration with design specialists and end-user operations, security, and IT stakeholders. Second, professional and highly skilled designers and IT software specialists who are manufacturer and IT certified in the specific software of all systems included in design as well as industry certified in network systems and operating systems. Third and finally, a team of professional and highly skilled installers who have been trained in BICSI, NEC, and EIA/TIA standards to insure the final product meets appropriate building and industry standards. This is a professional integration team.
Unfortunately it is not difficult in this industry to find integrators who cannot accomplish a software collaboration. It is not difficult to find a couple of output relays from one system hardwired to inputs of another and the resulting hardware interface to be referred to as a "full integration". It is not at all difficult to find a security operations center that utilizes 3,4,5,or more different software's to accomplish event management because that is all the installer was capable to accomplish. So, in summary it's pretty simple; if you cannot accomplish an integration, you are not an integrator. But you can get better, go get the training you need to contribute to the industry and improve your and our collaborative reputation. Pay your employees to get trained and certified. Buy the correct tools to do the job right the first time. Hire IT people who can speak the language of corporate networks and build your credibility and influence in that space. These are the things that will help you to win bids, overcome technical challenges, and deliver on your customers expectations. If you still refuse to do these things, maybe consider a new career path, used cars perhaps....