Specifically Speaking with Andy Parsons, RCDD

Senior consultant, EDI Ltd. based in Denver
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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How did you get into security consulting?

When I graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in computer science, I didn’t know what I wanted for a career other than it needed to be something in the field of technology. I interviewed for an entry-level position at EDI not really knowing what they did and was hired on the spot. EDI consults and designs various technology and low-voltage systems used in large facilities such as hospitals and corporate office buildings. A major aspect of what we design is security systems. When I started at EDI, I was working for our senior security consultant putting together drawings and specifications for the various security systems we design. I was immediately excited by the challenge of securing buildings and using technology to keep people safe. As I grew at EDI to become a senior consultant and project manager, I kept that focus on security systems and continue to grow my knowledge in the field.

What's your role as senior consultant at EDI?

EDI consults on and designs over fifteen technology and low-voltage systems in any given building. Each consultant at EDI is able to design and manage the implementation of all of these systems. In addition to the generalist knowledge each consultant must have, EDI aims to have an expert for each technology. I serve as the senior security consultant for EDI, keeping up to date on the latest security technologies and trends by going to conventions, scheduling office demos of various systems, reading trade magazines and being a member of ASIS. For example, I recently attended SecurityXchange 2016, which was a great event that offered one-on-one interactions with manufacturers and others in the industry. From there, I take the knowledge I gain and disseminate it to the other consultants at EDI across our Denver, Atlanta and New York offices to increase their understanding. When our project managers and consultants encounter complex questions about security systems on their project, I lend my expertise to give input and resolve the issue.

In addition to my role as senior security consultant, I serve as project manager for the majority of the projects out of our western region office, which is based in Denver. I design structured cabling, nurse call, overhead paging, and distributed antenna systems among the various systems. Another of my main focuses is structured cabling design in which I hold the RCDD certification.

What kinds of systems do you specify? What vertical markets do you like to work in?

Specifically for security we design access control, video surveillance, intrusion detection, infant protection and emergency communications systems. EDI is truly a consultant; it is all we do. We are not an MEP company that simply puts symbols on drawings where instructed by the customer. We work with our customers to understand their concerns and threats and then we design the security systems to meet their needs. We are vendor agnostic so we focus on the solutions that will serve our customers the best from both a functional and cost perspective.

Our largest vertical market is healthcare. EDI is one of the top three technology consultants in the country for large hospital projects. Healthcare has the unique requirement to be a very open and welcoming building that is also very secure. The security design has to allow visitors to easily visit their loved ones, but also have enough control to be able to secure a department or the entire building from a threat. Unfortunately, sometimes, family members are the threat. Due to these challenges, it is critical to have a consultant who can work with the hospital to understand their threats, their workflow among departments, and the “feel” of the facility they desire to create an open, yet secure facility.

EDI’s other large vertical markets are corporate and education. Corporate has its own security challenges such as ensuring access across many sites, central monitoring of sites at a single location, managing turnover of employees with badge access, and integrating with other systems like parking controls, meal plans, PC access, etc. In education facilities we deal with keeping students safe using perimeter control, lockdown procedures, mass notification, and full camera coverage, all while dealing with strict budgets. Having a consultant like EDI is crucial to ensuring security is planned up front instead of trying to “tack it on” at the end at a higher cost.

Can you talk about what new or emerging technologies you are seeing or using today?

The main reason I love my job is seeing how technology has changed over the years and seeing what is coming next. EDI has seen a lot of changes in its history. We just celebrated our 30th anniversary in September. EDI started working out of a basement office with three employees and an 8 MHz 286 PC with a whopping 1 MB of RAM costing $5,000. We now work on 3D BIM models with 4K displays to produce our work. Throughout my 11 years here, I’ve seen technology change immensely in the security industry. When I started, I was specifying analog coax cameras with matrix switchers and CRT displays in the command center.

The most exciting new technology I’m seeing is the newer video analytics and their applications. Analytics have been around for a few years with specific uses and the really useful features could only be done on recorded video. I am now seeing live facial recognition that can unlock doors as you walk up to them, validate users as they walk through turnstiles, track suspects across multiple cameras throughout a building, alert security when a certain person enters the building, etc. These new applications along with the dropping costs have made analytics a real value. It changes a credential from something you have to something you are. I have been exploring these uses for my healthcare projects to control clean areas where staff can’t wear badges or touch anything after they are scrubbed in. 

An emerging technology that is slow to take off is NFC (Near-field Communication) for badge access. In the corporate market, we are seeing increasing demand for employees to be able to use their smartphone for everything due to the entrance of millennials into the workforce. They can use their smartphone for everything else; why can’t they use it as their credentials? NFC technology solves at least two common problems. The first is an employee forgetting their badge. They can’t get in the parking lot so they have to park somewhere else, go to security, get clearance, reprint a badge, go back out and park in the secure lot, then finally get in to work. The one thing no one forgets when they leave the house is their phone. If your smartphone was your credential, you would never forget your badge.

The second common problem is an employee that travels between different offices across the country or the world. Each office usually has a different access control system or different card format. This causes the employee to have to deal with getting a temporary badge, which causes the same issues as a missing badge. With NFC on a smartphone, a credential can be generated and sent to the employee before they even arrive so they can enter the building without any issues. This could work with various different access control systems as long as they all support NFC.

There are many emerging technologies that I am constantly investigating including smart building technology where the access control system is linked to lighting and HVAC so that only the section of the building you work in turns on when you badge in. There are also interesting technologies such as automated drone monitoring of property lines and fences and automated robots that can do guard patrols through buildings, but I have yet to find a good application for those with our clients.

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