Partner to survive

With convergence, integrators need to mask their weaknesses
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Monday, May 1, 2006

As I reflect on what was probably the best ISC West Security Expo I have personally attended, I wanted to share with you a conversation that I had on the plane ride out to the show. I was seated next to a high-level executive of a large wireless service provider who was traveling to the Cellular Telephone Industry Association show, also in Las Vegas that week. I asked him what his company's role in the show was and his answer, as well as the subsequent conversation, had a profound impact on my view of partnering.
He told me that his company was going to the CTIA show to look for key partners in an effort to prepare for the next wave of technology convergence that was sure to happen in his industry. Yes, the same type of technology convergence that our industry is experiencing now.
What followed next was nothing short of astonishing as he led me down a path populated by Ma Bells and Baby Bells, followed shortly thereafter by the wireless explosion. It was at this point that I started to see a striking resemblance to the security industry of today. When he mentioned the convergence of the wireless world with applications like the Internet, satellite radio, video, GPS, and a whole host of other technologies that neither he nor I would have ever thought available via my cell phone, I started to take notes. However, the most valuable piece of information he gave me came when I asked him how his company had survived. His answer was simple and it reinforced what I have been saying for years: They had survived the convergence of technologies because they partnered with the right people and the right products, and provided better than average service to the customer.
In the last 12 months, I have been asked to speak several times on what effect the convergence of the physical security and IT worlds is having on the physical security integrator. In those presentations, I stress that to survive and be successful, we must partner with the right products and the right people and provide high-level service, both physical and IT service, to the end user. On the surface, to partner is a simple concept, but one that I feel our industry has overlooked or been hesitant to embrace because of the lack of trust between physical security and IT professionals.
Now, the key to any partnership is maximizing the strengths of the partners and minimizing the weaknesses in order to mitigate any risk of failure. Again, the concept sounds simple, but, if taken lightly, it can lead to disaster. To develop and maintain a true working partnership, one beneficial to all parties, you must be willing to admit what your weaknesses are and find a partner who can mask those weaknesses for you. In addition, you want your strengths to be where your partner lacks expertise. You and your partner must communicate and, if necessary, put in writing the desired outcome, listing the expectations of all parties and sharing strengths and weaknesses in an effort to put all of the cards on the table.
Don't be afraid of partnering with an IT company. This is key a partnership in our converging worlds because they don't understand physical security like we do and we don't understand the IT world like they do. The true beauty in partnering with an IT company today is the fact that IT companies are getting asked more and more to incorporate physical security into their offering of products and services. They have the money and they need us! What are we waiting for?
As I walked the show floor at ISC West, IT was everywhere. Almost every booth I visited had some sort of IP-ready product and IT companies like Cisco were listed as "partners" on numerous security product brochures. I also noticed that several manufacturers of IP-ready products were going to market with "Certified" dealers, not just anyone who had a truck and a couple of techs. I believe that a true "Certified" dealer program--a partnership between the security equipment manufacturer and the physical security integrator that includes IT network certification training, escalation service assistance and the sharing of sales opportunities--will be key to the success of physical security professionals and the manufacturer as convergence happens.
My last piece of advice on partnering is simple: You must be willing to take a smaller piece of many pies instead of the entire pie once in a while. After all, if you play your cards right, good partnerships will leave you with more pie than you can eat--at least, you won't go hungry.

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Rob Hile is the vice president of business development at Convergint Technologies, an independent integrator focusing on CCTV, card access and fire alarm systems, based in the Washington, DC area.