Spirit of collaboration

Thursday, November 1, 2007

YET AGAIN, I’ve spent the better part of a large trade show, in this case ASIS International, answering this question from manufacturers: “So, seen anything new (or cool, interesting, impressive, etc.)?”
Now, I’ll agree that I’ve likely had more opportunity to walk the show floor than most manufacturers, stuck as they are in their booths, be they 10-by-10s against the far wall or 4,000-square-foot monstrosities at the show’s entrance. But the question gets at more than idle curiosity. It points to the way that manufacturers compete with each other: by product, technology, widgets.
Yet every anecdotal piece of evidence I’ve ever collected from an installer, integrator, consultant or end user tells me the industry is not about the widget. It’s about how you install the widget, get technical and marketing support for the widget, get easy sales of the widget.
Judging by what you tell me over beers in the bar, you integrators want three things from a widget: You want it to be easy to install, thanks to training or design, and work with all the other widgets (yes, they want standards); you want whoever made the widget to help you fix it when it inevitably breaks; and you want whoever made the widget to help you sell it to the eventual end users.
Are you telling your reps the same thing you’re telling me?
Admittedly, ASIS International is theoretically an end-user focused show, but when you consider that only a handful of the 700 or so manufacturers in attendance actually sell directly to the end user, you would think I’d have seen a few more brand-new channel-development programs, a grand collection of materials advocating that end users only buy from certified dealers of a product, maybe even pronouncements of new investments in technical support staffing.
Those things were out there, but you had to look for them.
On one front, I can’t do much complaining, however: manufacturers are increasingly sharing technology and collaborating to create suites of products that work together. Have you seen the list of companies Lenel can boast as manufacturing partners? OnSSI? AMAG? Orsus? I was in the Johnson Controls booth getting the tour of their access control and video management software and started asking about whether it allowed you to dictate actions following alarms. The product manager just told me you’d want to go to Orsus for something like that, and five minutes later an Orsus rep randomly showed up to help chat up booth visitors.
Even venerable old manufacturers like JVC and Pelco are announcing technology partnerships left and right now. JVC DVRs come with Milestone video management software pre-installed. Pelco just integrated with OnSSI. Two years ago, those might have been signs of the apocalypse.
These are positive developments for the industry, but they will only continue if you integrators and installers continue to demand that manufacturers open up their technology for the world to see.
And if they want to invest heavily in their tech-support teams while they’re at it? So much the better.