What the big guys are talking about...
I attended both the SIA Forum and the Barnes Buchanan conference last week. As always, both were mind stimulating events.
For me, one of the more interesting parts of the SIA Forum was the group discussions at lunch time, designed to identify some of the specific issues the government needs to consider when identifying and designing systems to protect our country. As we all know, security has not been one of the issues on the forefront of their agenda. But things changed dramatically after Sept. 11 and now they must address some very serious issues on how to protect the country's infrastructure, airports, public places from malls to parks, water systems, roadways and our transportation network.
The government has turned to SIA to help them identify what needs protecting and how they can accomplish these tasks. We broke into six groups at lunch, each group addressing a specific high risk area that needs attention. We listed specific issues the government needs to address to accomplish good security, everything from educating the population about the risks, to identifying products or systems that will accomplish the task.
Anyone who's flown through an airport of late is acutely aware of how reactionary the current security programs are. Although there's increased security everywhere, which is good, the staff is often young and in- experienced. They're just looking for shoe bombers and hijackers. I think it's pretty safe to assume that terrorists won't use the same tactics that they've already used. It's the element of surprise that they like and what they'll likely continue to use. How do we train these security folks and the traveling population to look for something they don't expect to find?
There was a most interesting session at the SIA forum on the future of home automation and the emerging technologies needed to accomplish this. A humorous and articulate presentation was by Julie Jacobson, Editor with EH Publishing, about how inefficiently products work together today, and the desperate need for networking skills, as well as new products and technology to accomplish making your lights, heating, air conditioning, stereo, security systems, Internet and camera systems all work together.
Microsoft was there talking about the gyrations they went through to network Bill Gate's home, including the invaluable lessons they learned in doing so and how far they've come in developing home automation software products. Invensys showed what they've developed as well, and I was tickled to watch Microsoft copying down their information as fast as Pat KinneyÃ‚Â could speak...making it appear as if Invensys just might have a leg up on 'em! Hey, there's always a difference when you design products from inside or outside an industry.
There's really little doubt about the ability to accomplish the home automation goals that this group is talking about. There's perhaps an opportunity for some debate about how quickly it will be adopted by the masses and the price point needed to make it affordable to all of us. It will happen though, and it will bring benefits to the user...and it's not just about keeping your refrigerator serviced!
Another particularly interesting part of these conversations was that the goal in networking is to network homes first and then to build the products that will allow us to network the commercial world! Usually technology comes the other way around, from the commercial world to the mass market. But not this time, given the complicated nature of the task. Integrating everything to work together from a simple light bulb to having your stereo speakers tell you that there's a fire in the garage is no easy trick. And commercial buildings and systems are at the very least twice as complicated.
There's an opportunity for dealers to grow their businesses in this area, of course. It's all about networking, networking or perhaps networking. But who will be in charge of what products are installed on the network? Will you put the stereo in or just security? Will the electrician do it?
In commercial applications today, IT, the HR department and security directors all have to work together in providing security solutions. They're all intermingled. The more products that need to work together ...the more skills you need to accomplish the task. There are companies designing open architecture software that will make it easier for the less skilled to make products work/talk together. But this again will allow an electrician or a totally non-security type to implement our systems. We as an industry have to seriously consider the impact of these issues and make sure that we are in control of our market, and will not be swallowed up by some other industry who's interested in capturing our market share.
We've all watched other industries come into our world. Cable, telecommunications, other utilities, builders and now Microsoft... but right now, with the economy in the state that it is... and every industry looking for their next big horizon... well, it's important to think more seriously about these issues. It's like the entire universe thinks that security is the next great horizon... now that the dot-com world is dot-gone!
Security has been a stable industry for ages with a fairly low profile. We are now in the forefrontÃ‚Â ofÃ‚Â everyone's thinking...having exceptionally high visibility, great potential for growth in a down economy, and a number of investors, as well as other industries...who think they can jump on our band wagon and make their next billion here! On top of this you can't believe how many security product manufacturers from outside of the U.S. are looking to enter our market. Some have good technology to offer us. But...as a high profile industry, we need to rethink the risk to us...as well as the benefits. Your successes and failures with installations, especially highly visible installations, will be examined, critiqued and commented on. We need to get it right.
I think there's a lot to be gained by getting on local political committees to help direct how security will be implemented in your community. Be proactive on education, local needs, and possible systems and technology that can be can be used to resolve concerns. It's our knowledge that's so important now. Let's be more assertive with it. Take courses on networking if you don't know how to do this.
Partner with other networking companies if you haven't already. Invite them to work with you on these committees... Plan for the future if you haven't already. It's easy to get caught up in your day to day tasks and not see where things are headed..or only address them when you're in crisis. This is what our government is doing right now...and we all know it's going to take them years to catch up!
After the SIA Forum, I listened to a variety of speakers at the Barnes Buchanan conference. They're the lenders, brokers and banks that support and finance the installation and monitoring channels. There is money to grow your business regardless of the country's economic conditions. The venture guys may be sitting on a back shelf while the credit guys are out there deciding who gets how much and for what. But if you have your financial ducks in a row, you can get funding to grow or acquire. Financial ducks in a row means, in brief, good service records, low attrition, solid revenue stream and good booking keeping practices.
If you don't have good accounting systems, I recommend getting help. You're an engineer...a sales person... you design systems and service your customers. Excellent. That's what you're supposed to do. Perhaps you're a good business person too. Perhaps not. If you aren't, no biggy, there's lots of assistance out there and they should be worth the money you spend on them! They should lower your receivables, increase your cash flow, lower your operating costs, etc. You can't be everything! And think about the fact that there are unemployed folks all over the country who are looking for work. Hire them, use them, train them and grow your company.
The last thing that sticks in my mind from the closing speaker on the last day of the Barnes Buchanan conference was about insurance. Liability changed on Sept. 11th. In the event of serious injury resulting from Ã‚Â a security breach or security problem, someone will be asked to pay or take responsibly for the harm done. This issue has two sides to it. Only install systems that will effectively do the job needed. Period. End of story. And revisit your insurance provider.