Do Not Trust ADI For Product Recommendations

By John Honovich, Published Aug 27, 2021, 09:29am EDT

Do not trust ADI for product recommendations. While they are arguably security's best box mover, they are also arguably the worst distributor for product recommendations.

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This debate flared when community members called for a security integrator to be banned, as the clip below shows:

However, the integrator told IPVM that he trusted and believed ADI's recommendation:

we buy so much equipment from ADI. [ADI] said that they had a whole lot of Hikvision. And that they were selling a whole lot of Hikvision for this... So Hikvision apparently was selling quite a bit out of ADI. And that's, of course, our main supplier, and we trust them and believe in them

Many online argue about who would trust ADI for product recommendations but this $500,000 deal underscores that many big purchases are made based on ADI's recommendation.

Inside this note, we examine what ADI is good and bad at, what various industry professionals have to say about the issue, and the risks for security system procurement.

Strengths of ADI

ADI does many things well, even exceptionally. They have the most local branches. They have lots of stock of the products they sell. They carry a wide array of products. And ADI does not make many mistakes in moving boxes.

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ADI surely knows this as well. Anixter, now Wesco, the next closest is hardly a threat, and most every other security distributor is far, far smaller. Everyone has to buy from somewhere and ADI is the most common place to buy.

ADI has market power.

Problems of ADI Recommending Products

All distributors have fundamental risks in recommending products but ADI's approach amplifies it. By design, ADI will rarely ever recommend products they do not carry and ADI frequently recommends products where manufacturers will give it the steepest discounts or rebates (e.g., historically Hikvision). This is fairly typical.

What is atypical is despite ADI's immense size ($3 billion a year and hundreds of millions in profits), while they have the resources and scale to actually understand what products work, they do not have the culture to prioritize this. Their management hires and their e-tailing promotion tactics are about maximizing immediate revenue. It leads them to deceive customers with risky moves like secretly relabelling NDAA-banned Dahua in 2021 and pushing fever cameras in 2020 to customers like the Georgia integrator.

Voting Results

Ongoing LinkedIn poll voting results show that most do not trust ADI for product recommendations:

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Profitable For Ignorant ADI Customers

Even if statistically most do not trust ADI, still that leaves hundreds of millions of dollars of deals where ADI can drive the product selection. The Georgia integrator claimed he did not know Hikvision's relationship with the PRC government in mid-2020, which makes him amazingly ignorant for a professional in this industry. However, he is surely not alone, ADI has tens of thousands of customers and surely many dealers are like him, looking for ADI to recommend products.

For ADI, this likely works out well. They are so big, that most dealers will still buy through ADI for the box-moving advantages, even if they do not trust ADI for product selection. At the same time, those that do trust ADI, allow ADI to make even greater profits.

Former ADI Person Comments

A former ADI employee emphasized that many dealers do expect ADI to design their systems:

I used to be “ADI counter person” and the amount of high-level technical knowledge the customers expected me to have on dozens of brands was mind-blowing. Corporate expects you to be a high-volume box mover, the customer expects you to design their systems, and you get stuck in the middle.

Adding that most of their customer base was effectively trunkslamming, switching from product to product based on what ADI put on sale:

One of the reasons I left distribution was 95% of customer base was focused exclusively on price. I was spending my days doing camera quotes in 3 different brands depending what was on sale that month.

Integrators Responsible

Most respondents, though, emphasized that integrators should be responsible:

Any integrator, true integrator would know that and do his own homework on products before making that size of a selection.

I don’t know this mom and pop “security” company per se but if you had a true national integrator yeah relying on ADI recommendations alone is problematic as a true integrator should have consulting and design in house

ADI moves the boxes in this situation. All on the integrator for using HIK in the first place. Plus, why would ANY distributor say no to a 500k deal

Integrators fault for not doing their research and trusting a company who's sole job is to sell equipment.

To get the prices down, requires not paying there staff enough to where they soon leave. Anyone in the industry knows the talented distribution employees leave to take factory jobs. To trust your business to a counter person at an ADI is foolish....

Distribution companies tend not to have high level expertise. Manufacturers reps tend to offer a solution that includes all of their solutions that could be used. I never use these sources or even the manufacturers for a complete system design. I want to know and understand the solution and be responsible for the design vs. getting a BOM and not knowing how and why it works.

You have to be an educated customer to shop at ADI. Know what you want and why. Then they will get it for you. That integrator is responsible for his decision on tech.

Challenge for Integrators

The challenge for integrators is that it is hard for most to have the time, energy, and expertise to figure it out on their own, making asking sellers like ADI an expedient, if risky, tactic.

Question: How can we or others help integrators make better product selection decisions?

1 report cite this report:

ADI Hides Dahua Relabeled Capture Camera Critical Vulnerability [Now Issues Notification] on Oct 08, 2021
ADI's Dahua-relabeled Capture cameras are vulnerable to a critical...

Comments (27)

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I feel bad for all the goobers involved in this story. The security company destroying a 40 year old reputation, the school district spending half a million dollars they probably don't have, the parents trying to keep their kids safe, the ADI counterpeople doing what they've been trained to do and parrot the spec sheet upon request, the Hikvision reps who've somehow convinced themselves that they don't know what they know and they don't see what they see, and Robert Wren Gordon just trying to inform people and help them look out for their own interests.

And now everybody is mad at everybody else and pointing fingers at each other, when this whole thing could have been avoided by a couple hours of research per month on IPVM, or even a simple google search upon receiving a proposal.

You believed what you wanted to believe and you got screwed because of it. Next time check the water for sharks before you go swimming.

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To clarify: Robert Wren Gordon is not a goober. Everybody else involved in this story most assuredly is, however.

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To clarify: Robert Wren Gordon is not a goober. Everybody else involved in this story most assuredly is, however.

I appreciate the clarification. That said, I would argue that all of the protagonists in this saga are just people, some of whom, in haste, made less-than-wise decisions.

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Def not a goober. The Ultimate/Fayette County/Hik piece was good work. Well done.

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RWG is not involved in this story... he is the teller of this story.

so the clarification - while I voted it funny - is not required.

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RWG is not involved in this story... he is the teller of this story.

And good journalists never make themselves the story.

However, I think the confusion sprung from the statement

I feel bad for all the goobers involved in this story.

followed by the direct enumeration of potential goobers with its implied prosody:

The security company,

the school district,

the parents,

the ADI counterpeople,

and Robert Wren Gordon…

Perhaps substituting “with” for “and” would have been ideal in hindsight and Oxford comma notwithstanding.

Also, your reading of RWG not being a goober, while correct, relies more on your personal prima facie knowledge of RWG’s non-gooberness than of his byline.

For if (counterfactually of course), RWG had bungled the reporting, causing more confusion, then a fair reading would have naturally placed him with the rest of the goobers.

so the clarification of the clarification - while I voted it funny - is not required :)

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All things considered, I’d rather be the goober with the half-a-million clams. Just to console me.

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Question: How can we or others help integrators make better product selection decisions?

I applaud the attempt to try and approach this issue positively, but I think this comment indicates the issue is culture and values one for many.

...one of the reasons I left distribution was 95% of customer base was focused exclusively on price.

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Many online argue about who would trust ADI for product recommendations but this $500,000 deal underscores that many big purchases are made based on ADI's recommendation.

The above statement holds no weight. This is Griffith's responsibility, not any distributor. A distributor exists to provide stock, credit, and access to the resources the manufacturer provides. The integrator is solely responsible for the products they choose to provide to the end-user. In 2020, I spoke to several integrators that decided not to jump on the fever camera bandwagon despite end-user demand and the promise of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue because they didn't know the technology well enough to be accountable for it. Griffith should have done extensive research, asked Hikvision for a demo to test it himself first, not rely on ADI, Hik, nor IPVM. If this was such a rush, he should have walked away from the project.

It is ridiculous to point out that ADI wouldn't recommend something they don't sell. The majority of distributor salespeople wouldn't do that. It is wrong to state ADI is arguably the worst for recommending products unless you provide data for every other distributor regarding how they go about recommending products. The fact is that every major security distributor was heavily marketing broken fever cameras like Sunell or Dahua, etc. in 2020. I would spend time linking IPVM articles about fever camera tests and FDA research to my integrators when I knew they were attending Wesco\Anixter\Graybar\Accu-tech webinars in partnerships with the fever camera offenders.

There is no excuse for Griffith's actions and I can't disagree more with the title of this article. It would be responsible journalism if you remove ADI from the title and almost every paragraph and replace it with "distribution"

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A distributor exists to provide stock, credit, and access to the resources the manufacturer provides.

For sure, if that is the accepted starting point for assessing what distributors do, then there is not even any need for this article. The reality is a non-trival number of people do trust distributors for product recommendations as even the former ADI person acknowledged.

It would be responsible journalism if you remove ADI from the title and almost every paragraph and replace it with "distribution"

That's like not criticizing a specific politician because one claims that all politicians are bad or whatever the issue is. ADI is especially larger and powerful ergo they get the focus.

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The reality is a non-trival number of people do trust distributors for product recommendations as even the former ADI person acknowledged.

People being businesses, and they do so at their own risk. Your money, your business, your responsibility.

It would be responsible journalism if you remove ADI from the title and almost every paragraph and replace it with "distribution"

That's like not criticizing a specific politician because one claims that all politicians are bad or whatever the issue is. ADI is especially larger and powerful ergo they get the focus.

Have to agree with manufacture #1, distributors sell product. By limiting scope, distributors absolve themselves the overhead and responsibility of handholding customers through purchase decisions.

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Have to agree with manufacture #1, distributors sell product.

Yes, however, if they are willing to go beyond being a simple distributor to one who is also offering recommendations and advice, then they are opening themselves up to being critiqued on it.

Usually the consequences are not that big. In most cases, recommending one brand of mag lock over another is not that big a deal. However, in this case with temperature screenings for use during a pandemic, the health and liability aspect is greater considering the purpose of the product.

I'm not absolving the integrator of responsibility and agree they should bear the brunt of it. Even if Hikvision has been grossly misleading in its advertising, there's been so much reporting on the efficacy of these products that one cannot simply claim ignorance. At some point when you work in an industry with significant life safety concerns, you have to realize due diligence needs to go beyond the ad literature and supplier recommendations.

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This is anecdotal of course, but based on my professional experience ADI is the LEAST likely of the "big three" distributors to inject themselves into technical decision-making or brand-steering absent an invitation by the integrator to do so - - something we consider very much a feature, not a bug, or our relationship with ADI.And that's something we very much hope they continue as a policy, in the face of real pressure to become an adjunct "sales and technical arm" for integrators who cannot, or will not, maintain in-house technical sales staff with product expertise.Outsourcing logistics is one thing. Outsourcing product expertise, something else entirely.

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because they didn't know the technology well enough to be accountable for it.

I looked at the technology and thought it was stupid and far-fetched. Then I read the IPVM articles and I'm glad I never jumped in.

I've never trusted a distributor to design a system. Years ago, I had a rep from Alarmax assist in some alternative products to what I was specifying. I checked them out for myself and made my decision. This was all SD at the time. When looking at IP cameras, I believe they were pushing Toshiba at the time and I didn't feel that was the correct product.

I have never expected a distributor to design my system. I would rely more on a manufacturer to assist in a system build if I had questions as I expect them to know more than a distributor. I look at it as suspending loudspeakers over someone's head. You can ask a manufacturer to help with the system design but they aren't going to design your rigging system. I will design a rigging method for smaller systems, but on a larger system, I would rely on a third-party company that can provide stamped drawings. Can you imagine if the distributor told the integrator how to hang a fever camera (assume it weighed a thousand pounds) and it fell and killed someone? That becomes a sticky situation.

I think it should just be a policy that distributors don't design systems unless they higher competent designers and have a large design team. This takes the scenario of supervisors wanting boxes moved and integrators wanting systems designed by the same person. That's what the article leads me to believe; that ADI doesn't have a specific design team. If they do, then the employee specifying systems is doing more than they should for the salary they are most likely paid.

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That's what the article leads me to believe; that ADI doesn't have a specific design team

ADI does have a design team and I am sure they are generally more knowledgeable than the counter people. Here's how ADI describes it:

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26 out of 2,000 or so ADI employees and relative to 100+ branches.

And what they offer:

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From what we have seen, no doubt they can be helpful providing quotes, helping with accessories, etc. We have never heard any evidence that the ADI systems group would recommend against buying ADI products because they violate the FDA or they are NDAA banned, or that they have known performance problems, etc. If anyone has such experience, definitely share.

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Something though that Kyle said makes me ask, and forgive me if I missed it, but what was ADI's side of the story in this? Do we know how the conversation between the ADI sales person and integrator went? If the ADI sales person did him they needed a blackbody, and told him not to be influenced by the ads in that you could only check one person at a time, straight on in a controlled setting, and they had to be carefully calibrated, and still they would not be anywhere near 100% accurate - in essence if the ADI rep did everything right, then the article title might not be very fair to ADI, even though in principle it's still good advice.

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We reached out to ADI 2 days before publishing this, requesting comment. They did not respond.

If the ADI sales person did him they needed a blackbody, and told him not to be influenced by the ads in that you could only check one person at a time, straight on in a controlled setting, and they had to be carefully calibrated, and still they would not be anywhere near 100% accurate

This is possible. Also, Elvis could still be alive. In all seriousness, I highly doubt the ADI salesperson tried to talk him out of this sale, based on how ADI operates (lack of technical expertise, strong desire to make the sale).

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We reached out to ADI 2 days before publishing this, requesting comment. They did not respond…

Also, Elvis could still be alive.

Reached for comment, Elvis deflected by saying:

Everybody’s got the fever, Fever started long ago.

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How can we or others help integrators make better product selection decisions?

Keep doing what you're doing.

I think the integrator carries the majority of the blame here. Why are they selling products and brands they clearly have no in depth knowledge on?

If they were a cyber security company, would anyone expect that they shouldn't have up to date expertise and instead should trust some random distributor on the bet advice for ransomware mitigation?

This industry as a whole does very little to hold anyone accountable. In a more ideal world SIA would have warned everyone about Hikvision several years ago and informed their members on the unreliability of fever cameras.

Ultimate Security rolled the dice on outsourcing what should have been a core competency to ADI instead. They got burned, and they earned it, that's what happens when you don't really know what you're doing. Most likely they won't be the last integrator to get burned by trusting ADI for knowledge they should have in house.

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Question: How can we or others help integrators make better product selection decisions?

Customers need to hold their integrators accountable for poor product recommendations. Customers need to be accountable to their businesses, to do their own due diligence on products, and to challenge their integrator, forcing them to stand behind product recommendation. An integrator that is held accountable will not be able to take anyones "recommendation" on product.

Passing the buck is the easy way out, and my experience is many people would rather save face with the boss than own up to an unvetted purchase. Blame ADI for a 500k mistake? No, thats on the customer.

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The customer being the integrator - customer of distributor or the customer being the school district - customer of the integrator?

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As an old fashioned distributor the whole box moving business model drives me insane. It means that distributors who spend the money to have proper on staff on site technical people who actually understand what they are doing are penalised as they then can't do the price.

Unfortunately so many are driven almost solely by price, end users & installers / integrators. If it is roughly the same & a cheaper price they will go for it & forget about all the extras, like after sales support, proper warranty support & real useful advice. They will then whine about the end result not being as good as it could / should.

I am not in the US, however even I have known for years that ADI are just box movers, little better than Amazon. With this in mind I personally feel that the whole blame for this mess lies at the feet of the (so called) integrator. I also wonder how many other projects they have stuffed up because they based their knowledge on the say so of a glorified counter jockey.

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Improving this perception would be hugely valuable for us manufacturers that are loyal to the disti channel. As cloud starts to take over the security industry it would be a great benefit to have more accurate and valuable recommendations given to current and new dealer partners. That is one of the perceived benefits of partnering with the disti channel.

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I trust ADI to recommend products: products that they sell, and products that they're motivated to sell for obvious reasons. But I know that going in. I don't call them for a truely objective opinion.

But I would never go to their Design team to design a system. That's my job. I call them when I'm designing the system and say 'I need a Widget that Does This and Does That, do you have this Unicorn Box?' Then I get the Quote and proceed to check the specifications.

If an integrator is having ADI 'design' their systems then they're not an integrator. Maybe just an installer.

If you want a pristinely objective opinion pay somebody with experience and expertise that does not profit from the sale of any of the goods they recommend. Like a consultant. One that is never paid or influenced by any manufacturers. Because I'm sure all consultants are pure as the driven snow and never paid by manufacturers. Like, ever. I'm sure of it.

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"I used to be “ADI counter person” and the amount of high-level technical knowledge the customers expected me to have on dozens of brands was mind-blowing. Corporate expects you to be a high-volume box mover, the customer expects you to design their systems, and you get stuck in the middle."

I don't know but I can call graybar, anixter, Jenne, ses and their front line people can find products without needing an exact part number, can also make recommendations for similar products from other mfg's and generally understand why you may need specific products. We don't have to hang up, call a "systems group" and have them put a "document" together for their front line people to pick from. And they are one of the most expensive distributors of them all, on top of it. ADI, you are lazy. And maybe cheap, not investing in your own people enough.

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It's a shame that this long-standing client (the school board) was ill-advised by the integrator.

I read back on the previous article and the name Hikvision was bought up by the school board, It's impossible for me to believe that the integrator didn't know about Hikvision's history or current affairs and this was simply a case of the integrator being pressured for a solution.

That said it IS the responsibility of the integrator to consult and inform the client, after all, they are the "professional" in the room. With a half-million-dollar deal on the table, it's hard to say "No" you're making the wrong call on this and lose the deal.

I'll briefly share that I too came across a similar situation with a school we work with. After installing a new CCTV system I was asked by the client if the manufacture had any cameras that could scan for elevated body temperature/fever.

My response is posted in the attached email, I have of course blanked out the client details.

This integrator might have won the deal, but was it worth the backlash and it seems the loss of credibility within the community?

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In your email, you are recommending SafeCheck USA? Really? These Florida Real Estate Agents Are Now Selling "SafeCheck USA" Temperature Detectors

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