Will Security Integrators Survive IT Convergence?

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jun 12, 2008

Many believe security integrators are dead; walking dinosaurs who are oblivious to their impending extinction. Indeed, many new IT entrants certainly wish that security integrators (and physical security managers) are wiped out.

Despite this belief and hope, is this really the case? Are security integrators destined to fail?

No, I believe security integrators, as a whole, will survive. I believe the detractors have made 3 main mistakes:

  • Detractors look at convergence as a recent phenomenon whereas security integrators have been adapting for the last 10 years
  • Detractors do not appreciate the skills that security integrators possess
  • Detractors view IT as a disruptive innovation when it is truly a sustaining one

Adapting for 10 Years

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

Security integrators have been assimilating IT skills for the last 10 years. While a lot of anxiety exists over IP cameras and NVRs, the technical challenges were far worse 8 to 15 years ago. At that point, integrators were deploying their first DVRs or network based Access Control systems. Most had no IT skills. Many did not even know what an IP address is. Over the years, with education and on the job experience, the situation has changed dramatically. Today, most security technicians have at least basic IT skills and many are fairly sophisticated. IP cameras and NVRs present new technical challenges but they are extensions of the basic skills security technicians have been learning for years.

I am not contending that security technicians are as strong in IT as IT technicians. However, there are 4 very real aspects that affect the competitiveness between IT and security integrators:

  • IT technicians are much more expensive than security technicians
  • Security technicians have a good basis for the tasks needed for IP security systems
  • As IP based security systems mature, they are becoming easier for non-IT experts to use
  • A lot of what IT technicians know is overkill for IP security systems

Because they have been adapting for the past 10 years, security integrators can offer many of the IT skills needed at less cost than IT integrators. This is an under-appreciated factor in why security integrators will survive.

Security Integrator's Skills

Many underestimate the importance of security integrator's skills and the value those skills will continue to have in projects. Two key issues exist:

  • Security Integrators have many key skills that IT Integrators lack
  • Even in IP security systems, most of the integration work is not IT

Good security systems integration requires extensive design and implementation precision. It is far more more involved than simply installation plus IT tasks. Security integrators have been learning skills for years that IT integrators totally lack.

Good integrators in any field participate in design. Just for video surveillance, security systems integrators must be able to:

  • Anticipate what areas and assets require protection (many end users need guidance here)
  • Determine how to protect those assets with what cameras and what positioning
  • Understand the limitations of the products available for protecting/imaging
  • Understand the environmental limitations and how to accommodate them
  • Determine and eliminate gaps in coverage

None of these are IT tasks but all of these are essential in integrating a high quality video surveillance system.

These skills are needed throughout the implementation and are not a distinct part of abstract design. Rarely can security equipment simply be installed. It requires skill and judgment in how to adapt to on-site issues:

  • Judgment and skill in final camera positioning is critical in ensuring the right shot
  • Camera settings and lenses will need to be adjusted to optimize image quality
  • Cameras may need to be moved due to an unforeseen implementation issue
  • On site managers may object to aesthetics and integrator will need to find new positioning
    • Again, none of these are IT tasks and none of these go away with IP based systems. You need to master these aspects for good security integration. The average security integrator has this. The average IT integrator does not.

      The same pattern exists in developing policies and best practices for using security systems. Security Directors routinely expect and lean on their integrators to help teach them and share ideas on how to best use the technology for security objectives. IT skills are of little help here unless you know the application and the issues involved in physical security.

      80% of the work involved in security systems integration is in the areas I have just outlined. The IT side is certainly valuable but as a matter of time and effort, it is a rather small portion of overall IT projects. As such, it is a natural candidate for security integrators to simply expand and integrate into their services. And as I have discussed above, this is is part of a long term trend that security integrators have been doing for years.

      IT is a Sustaining Force to Security Integrators

      The emphasis on IT being a 'disruptive' technology to security is misleading. Many think disruption is a factor of how sophisticated or powerful a technology is. In a business context, that does not make a technology disruptive. Technologies only disrupt businesses when they disrupt business models. The widely held theory of innovation contends that if a new technology enables incumbents to make more money from their best customers in the same way they have historically, the incumbents usually win.

      Security integrators can make more money from their best customers by selling IP based security systems. As such, innovation theory holds that security integrators should survive. Just like they did before, security integrators are still selling products, integration services and maintenance services. Plus, the revenues per deal have generally increased. In the often cited scenarios where incumbents where killed, it was because prices were radically different (e.g., mini-computers vs PCs) or the business model switched from selling products to subscriptions (e.g., SaaS). This is just not the case here. There's no reason to think security integrators will retreat and growing evidence that they are responding.

      All the big security integrators are financially motivated to compete and they have resources they can invest in IT. Just like many other industries, security integrators will engage in training and will hire new personnel with appropriate skill sets, assimilating them into their organization. And because security integrators have excellent existing skills in the fundamentals of security systems, they will have a big advantage over IT integrators trying to learn the space, relationships and implementation details that integrators have mastered over the years.

      Concluding Thoughts

      Running a security integrator, I have lived through all of these elements first hand. At that time, I was the IT outsider brought in to help the transition. However, it was I who assimilated because that made the best business sense. Of course, I brought in new training, practices and skills that helped grow the business. Nevertheless, we used the core group of existing security technicians as the basis, improving their IT skills and supplementing them with a small number of strong IT engineers. It was simultaneously less disruptive, more profitable and allowed us to execute on the many physical security related details that the IT engineers would have taken a long time and a lot of money to sort through.

      You may have a couple of counterarguments:

      Counterargument: My Security Integrator is Bad

      It happens. But consider that about 1/3 to 2/3 of all IT projects fail. Making security into IT is no panacea. IT has plenty of its own issues.

      Counterargument: IT is the future - It has to take over Security

      To the extent that computers are replacing electronics, absolutely. Security systems will become an IT specialty, just like historically security systems were a specialty of low voltage electronics. However, the companies that succeed in security as an IT specialty are likely to be the traditional security integrators who evolve into this role.

      Some Security Integrators have to fail

      Certainly, some will fail. Some always fail but the failures will be more an issue of poor individual execution that it is that the whole industry will collapse.

      IT integrators have a lot to offer

      I agree. Look to see IT engineers hired into existing security systems integrators or see them start their own specialty shops dedicated to security systems. I am only objecting to big IT integrators coming in and wiping out security integrators. There is always room for new skills and new talents to grow an industry.

      Most everyone I know has an opinion on this issue. Please share yours in the comments.

Related Reports on Integrators

Worst Access Control 2016 on Oct 19, 2016
Two access control providers stood out as being the worst to work with for integrators. In this report, we analyze the answers to: "In the past...
Move Aside Cisco, Axis Has A Network Switch For Integrators on Oct 18, 2016
Cisco is a common choice for network switches, including in our Favorite Network Switches survey, but now Axis is releasing a 16 port PoE+ switch...
No Marketing Gimmick, Sharp Security Robot Targets Professional Market on Oct 17, 2016
Security robots are getting a lot of attention. Unfortunately, this is often for wrong reasons, most spectacularly highlighted by the Knightscope...
Cisco Meraki Launches The Most Expensive HD Camera In Years on Oct 14, 2016
The video surveillance market is racing to the bottom, with 3MP IP cameras being sold for as low as ~$100 through distribution. Cisco is not...
4 Biggest Low Light Problems on Oct 10, 2016
100 integrators told IPVM what their biggest problems were with low light images. The most commonly cited themes were: Limited IR Range Uneven...
Top 5 Biggest Access Control Problems 2016 on Oct 06, 2016
New IPVM survey data reveals integrator's top 5 problems with electronic access control: High Cost Complex Doors and Hardware Lowball...
Why Surveillance Pros Rationally Won't Care About The Massive Dahua Attack on Oct 05, 2016
The physical security industry has been fairly indifferent to cyber security (e.g., see the Cyber Security For Video Surveillance Study). Here, we...
The 'Last Chance to Save' On Hikvision Is Here on Sep 29, 2016
It is over. After at least 8 across the board price cuts in the past 10 months, including an unprecedented back to back 20% off, Hikvision has...
Get End User Leads for Just $997 A Month on Aug 31, 2016
Scam or opportunity? As trade mags continue to suffer from the decline of print media, they are scrounging for new ways to make money. Rather than...
Integrators Vs Manufacturers Direct To End Users on Aug 31, 2016
Many manufacturers have increasingly large and hungry sales forces that call on more and more end users. One recent example is Axis ~$20 Billion...

Most Recent Industry Reports

"WTF?!?!? Who is Brian Karas?!?" Exclaims Knightscope on Oct 21, 2016
Knightscope co-founder Stacy Stephens emailed us: He may not have intended to send it us and he probably can figure out who Brian Karas is,...
Security Consultants Speak Episode 1 - Protus3 on Oct 21, 2016
This is a first of a series of conversations with security consultants. If you are a security consultant that wants to talk and can share frank...
Sony and Samsung Breaking VBR on Oct 21, 2016
For years, users have known variable bitrate (VBR) as one thing only: bandwidth varies, compression stays the same. This is not an accident but an...
Pelco Matrix End Of Life - End Of An Era on Oct 20, 2016
Pelco Matrix switchers, once the pinnacle of large SD analog installations, are now literally impossible to build. The Matrix products were not...
Axis Video Revenue Down on Oct 20, 2016
An important milestone. Axis revenue for video products is down year over year. But Axis is now focusing on 'diversification'. In this report, we...
Worst Access Control 2016 on Oct 19, 2016
Two access control providers stood out as being the worst to work with for integrators. In this report, we analyze the answers to: "In the past...
Hacked DVRs Surge To 400,000 on Oct 19, 2016
The global internet is under attack from record breaking botnets. And it is getting worse, Mirai doubled in size in the last month. Shamefully,...
China "Unswerving Leadership Over State-Owned Enterprises" Like Hikvision on Oct 18, 2016
The PR agency of the Chinese government declared: President Xi Jinping stressed the Communist Party of China's (CPC) unswerving leadership over...
Move Aside Cisco, Axis Has A Network Switch For Integrators on Oct 18, 2016
Cisco is a common choice for network switches, including in our Favorite Network Switches survey, but now Axis is releasing a 16 port PoE+ switch...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact