Should Smart Integrators Lead with Access Control?By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Aug 02, 2012
Video gets all the hype but should savvy integrators lead with access control instead? Recently, some integrator members advocated this as a strategy to overcome the ongoing challenges in the video market. In this note, we examine why this is being considered and what the advantages and disadvantages are.
Video is being hard hit by three major factors: the rise of internet sales, the dubious 'value proposition' of some integrators, and progressive role many end user IT groups play as primary stakeholders. The net effect of these forces is that 'video surveillance' is no longer a security system that must be subcontracted to specialized companies. The option of self-performing surveillance projects from end to end means that traditional security vendors have thinner margins and less opportunities to choose.
However, physical access control bucks this trend. This subset of integration has shown far more resiliency to commodity pricing and 'DIY' installation than many areas of physical security.
In the sections below, we contrast the Video Surveillance market with Electronic Access Control (EAC) and examine the underpinnings of the idea that shrewd integrators hang their hats on the access control business first:
Advantages of Leading with Access Control
What value does the EAC business offer integrators beyond what video provides? A few of the major elements are:
- Much harder to Buy Online: Unlike Video components, Access Control is a more piecemeal design and specification problem than video. Buying a complete access control system often composed of hundreds of pieces is much more difficult compared to buying a few cameras. In addition, IP video has a closer affinity to 'wide open' computer and network equipment internet resellers compared to the closed distribution models the 'door hardware' market is built on.
- Much harder for End Users to 'DYI': Installing access control requires specialized skills not generally possessed by end user IT groups. Beyond the custom wiring schemes, mounting door hardware, modifying door frames, and programming credentials require a level of knowledge beyond common skills.
- Much harder market for Non-Experts to Enter: Video is frequently sold and installed by 'trunkslammers' with no real technical expertise. However, this type of competitive element is much less common in Electronic Access Control. Selling and performing this type of work successfully requires experience and training difficult to intuitively learn. The buying relationships required to resell most manufacturer's access control systems require a level of committment beyond casual involvement. The end result of this positioning is that resell pricing is higher due and margins are more protected compared to video.
Advantages of Leading with Video
However, not all strengths are equal. Video Surveillance provides some distinct advantages over EAC that should not be presume:
- Bigger market: Put bluntly, more people want and use video compared to EAC. Video has the quality of being generally useful in a variety of applications, where access control is useful to controlling who is authorized to enter a given area.
- Faster growing: In the 'tiered' security model, video surveillance is more fundamental than EAC. While access control expands on simple keys and locks, video introduces another surveillance layer altogether. When customers seek to 'enhance' existing security, they very seldom think first about EAC, but rather look to video as the next step. The result is that end users buy into video long before they justify or grow into need for EAC.
- Faster changing technology: Access control lacks the 'game changing' technology pace of improvements afforded video. While every new year brings a variety of new advancements over previous video technology, an EAC system purchased 15 years ago has the same major features and functions of a system sold today.
- EAC 'system changes' are Rare: Partially due to lack of technology improvements, and also because of capital expenses involved, simply 'forklift upgrading' an EAC system is rare. While incremental improvements to video can be experienced by upgrading select cameras or servers, improving EAC covers a larger system scope that generally encompasses a large expense. As a result, the life of many access control systems is measured in multiple decades, not 5 to 7 year replacement cycles.
Smart integrators who ignored access in the past should reconsider the positive impact EAC can have on existing video surveillance clientele. Aside from the close system proximity that video already share with EAC - they are frequently integrated together - providing both systems distances the integrator from being replaced on a whim, and provides the customer with a 'single source' contact for two major security systems.
Commonly, end users and integrators negotiate different pricing for combined systems rather than separately. The overall maintenance cost for either system can drop when the integrator can combine service calls into a single stop, and the integrator can sell this increased efficiency.
Finally, the strongest business aspect of selling EAC comes from the higher margins on sales and more complex nature the work entails. Simply stated, end users are less likely to consider self performing EAC work due to the specialized knowledge it requires.
However, the challenges of doing access control should not be overlooked. Stepping into EAC is not a casual decision and venturing into doors and hardware requires atypical skill for most integrators. Some of the risks to consider are:
- Code Knowledge: Because access control can significantly influence Building Egress, it is subject to many safety and building codes. Familiarity with these codes, and how they practically translate into design and operation of EAC is mandatory and failure to comply is subject to punitive actions.
- Mechanical Knowledge: The interaction of doors, frames, and hardware is deceptively complex. Understanding how all these components interface, and then modifying that interaction with EAC equipment has no common ground with traditional video surveillance work.
- Craft Knowledge: Finally, installing and servicing EAC commonly require trade skills not shared with Video Surveillance. Modifying doors and frames to support electrified locking hardware require uncommon tools and training. Good 'surveillance technicians' do not always double as good 'EAC technicians'.
'Video-Only' integrators continue to face the threat of being a commodity business. Online/direct reselling will continue to squeeze margins and IT departments will become increasingly knowledgable at performing video work. However, integrators possessing EAC knowledge provide customers with a 'one stop' service contact for either system. The value proposition of an integrator increases significantly when complementing access with video..
However, the onus on training and developing skilled designers/installers is greater when adding EAC. Since many end-user/manufacturers complain "Integrators Don't Know What They Are Doing", this approach has the risk of spreading a thin resource even more thinly. However, the payoff is being skilled in a system that can grow integration business in a number of ways.