Manufacturer's #1 Complaint: Integrator Errors
I have never seen manufacturers so passionate nor united than on the topic of integrator error. In our recent debate about manufacturer product failures, the most consistent rejoinder was, 'yeah but most of the problems are caused by integrators.' On the one hand, it can be seen an excuse and one that certainly does not dismiss their own issues. However, on the other, the feedback has been so common and frequent from so many manufacturers, that the complaint must contain a whole lot of truth.
In this note, we examine the problem and potential solutions.
So far, the two fundamental root causes seem to be (1) lack of expertise (general technical expertise) and (2) lack of product specific training. This leads to errors getting systems online where the integrator accuses the manufacturer of providing a defective problem. Manufacturers say this is typically because integerators misconfigure or do not understand fundamental networking or product settings. Manufacturers needlessly and wastefully send out new products or dispatch their own field engineers to assist even though the issue is later determined to be the integrator's fault.
At least a half dozen manufacturers, both publicly and privately, claim that a majority (or more) of all product problems are the cause of straight integrator error.
From the examples they provided, I would categorize these as 'unforced' errors - meaning that they are not a result of manufacturer mismarketing. By contrast, I consider 'forced' errors to be integrators following manufacturer's marketing claims and then having problems (i.e., our megapixel camera can replace multiple PTZs, our facial recognition can alert if a child molester enters your store, etc.). Those are clearly the fault of manufacturers.
Solving Integrator Unforced Errors
We see two main ways to solve errors caused by intregrators:
- Channel / sales policy changes
- Improved Education
On the channel / sales side, manufacturers can implement incentives, fees or policies for integrators.
- Restricting Support: The most common one we see is offering support only to integrators who have current 'factory' training. This incents integrators to get training and helps prevent calls with techs with no background on the product. On the other hand, this can be a logistical problem for the integrator especially if the guy on the job site needs help immediately but is refused because he is not personally factory trained (but others in his company are).
- Charging for Technical Support: Manufacturers can charge a per minute or hour fee for technical support phone calls (e.g., this is common with Microsoft). However, in the surveillance industry, this is very rare and not expected. For instance, a lot of objections were raised when Norbain instituted an ~$45 USD per hour phone support fee [link no longer available].
- Adjust dealer discounts: Manufacturers could provide integrators better discounts for less technical support problems / calls. This is indirectly accomplished through volume discounts though that is not perfectly correlated with lower support problems. The main challenge we see here is that adjusting discounts based on support problems can cause ill will and conflict with the integrator (e.g., the integrator gets offended because their discount is being decreased because of too many dumb support calls).
On the education side, manufacturers can:
- Make it easier to get product information: One problem we continue to see is that information is restricted or unavailable on the manufacturer's website. Many manufacturers still restrict public access to their technical documentation. The harder they make it to get information, the more support problems and calls they will receive. On the other hand, many manufacturers want to protect their dealers from competition and view restricting their information as a tactical solution.
- Make it easier to get product training via video: Only a small number of manufacturers offer easily accesible comprehensive video delivered product training (here's an excellent example). It is simply infeasible for most integrators to send all their techs to training. Making video training readily available can help get integrators trained quickly and at lower cost. They can also look at videos on demand when they hit a certain issue, helping themselves rather than calling tech support.
The final and perhaps most basic component is ensuring that integrators are well trained on network and surveillance basics.
Manufacturers try to address this but it is difficult. We have heard from both integrators and manufacturers that combining fundamentals training with product training is frustrating. Often the integrators at training already know those fundamentals so it is wasted day for them. At the same time, it costs the manufacturer a day of an instructor, classroom, etc. Plus, it is impossible to really learn the fundamentals in a day anyway.
Third party surveillance fundamentals training options are fairly terrible - typically expensive and out of date (e.g., 8 hour webinars for $495 [link no longer available], Charlie Pierce's old CCTV course, $2,000+ training in the UK, etc., etc.). Because of that, most integrators are left to learn on their own.
Even we (IPVM) do not make it easy on beginners. While we have a training section, it is completely self serve. Plus, our focus is overwhelmingly on testing newer technologies and advanced aspects. On the plus side, we clearly have an unrivaled depth of information on the site at a very low cost. However, on the down side, we do not make it easy to learn it nor do we help teach and train our members.
Undoubtedly, there is a clear need for better training that helps integrators improve their efficiency and lowers manufacturer burden for erroneous support requests. We need to do a better job meeting that. I believe we can as we expand our team this year.
UPDATE: an IPVM Surveillance Training Course is planned for this Spring [link no longer available].
Given that integrator error is such a significant problem, we are going to investigate more into the specific causes as well as develop new content and programs to help rectify this. If you have comments or questions, that would help in determining next steps.