ISC West, day 3: perception and reality

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03/30/2010

Day 3 at ISC West had me thinking quite a bit about what's perception in the security industry, and what's reality; what's marketing speak dressed up as opinion, and what's opinion grounded in experience and, at least, anecdotal evidence? For example, the perception of day 3 at the show was very positive from just about everyone I spoke with. People were pleased with the crowds, and the general ebullience of the first two days carried over. There was very little of the early breakdown syndrome that haunts the last few hours of bad trade shows and my meeting at 2:30 p.m. with the AD Group, just as the show was ending at 3 p.m., we very productive (more on that later). There was lots of talk about how there was good energy at the show, no one was down-in-the-mouth, etc. So, when I went to grab a fruit salad and some peanut M&Ms for lunch, I was a bit surprised to find the food line looked like this: ISC West lunch line, day 3 Deserted, right? So, is the reality different from the perception? Was the place actually a ghost town, and we were all drinking the Kool-Aid? No, I actually think the reality was that the food at the Sands sucked and people were going out of their way to avoid it. Even the fruit salad was pretty tasteless. I don't lay that at the door of ISC West, though. The Sands could try a little harder. The paninis at ISC East, for example, were quite good. The sandwiches and pizza the Sands was offering were borderline inedible. Similarly, I battled all week with the perception that the industry is moving toward a best-of-breed paradigm and that manufacturers who want to talk to you about an end-to-end solution are simply dinosaurs clinging to a golden age of proprietary-product-fueled profit gauging. The way the "intelligentsia" of the industry (a mix of CTO-types, John Honovich, rival manufacturers, etc. - I don't mean to be dismissive with that word, but they come armed with boat loads of technical knowledge) scoffs at the likes of Verint/DVTel/Dedicated Micros/Honeywell/Pelco, you'd think they were holding the wolves at bay with boarded up doors and windows and it's only a matter of time before they slip into obscurity. And there were a number of integrators talking to me, many of them prefacing remarks with "and I come from the IT side of the industry," who backed up that position, saying they'd like to be the ones putting the solution together, and that's where their value comes from: the ability to take disparate products that are best-of-breed and make them work together smoothly. However, I began to question the reality of this argument as the week went on, culminating with a couple conversations in the aisles on Friday where I was pulled aside by the arm by integrators I knew and trusted and had seen some of my posts and who told me that I was being an idiot. A couple of quotes that come to mind: "Best of breed just means I don't want to support my product and if it doesn't work, too bad for you." "The manufacturers who propose best of breed solutions want to put everything out there through distribution, and then blame the channel for being too stupid when their products are too difficult to install without lots of support." Maybe the sentence that made the least sense to me was this one: "Best-of-breed hardware? Yes, definitely. Companies are going to continue to make better cameras and access control devices with more features all the time. But best-of-breed software? That's impossible. They're all written with different architectures - how can you ever make one work with another?" But don't you need software to integrate all the different best-of-breed products, and doesn't that software that integrates them all count as best-of-breed? So, is the argument there that there must be one software that rules them all and in the darkness bind them. And aren't you tied by now of seeing the phrase "best of breed?" Oooh, and the nerdy Lord of the Rings joke? Yeah, sorry about that. Anyway, I think the reality is that there remains a pretty hard-line split between the different ways that manufacturers and integrators want to work. On one side are the manufacturers who would like to be all things to a select group of integrators (maybe more appropriately called installers, in this case, without making that a pejorative term), who value sales and marketing support, long-time loyalty, and ease of installation above the fanciest new feature and the most powerful software engine. On the other side are the manufacturers who emphasize their openness above all else, want to get their product everywhere and have it work with anything, and love to compete on features, along with their select group of integrators who want to show their value with their Microsoft engineers and their coders and their hipness to IT, and they love features and don't really care that much about sales and marketing support. At least that's how I read it right now. Finally, that meeting with the AD Group. I think the perception in the United States, especially, is that the AD Network Video repositioning/rebranding of Dedicated Micros was mostly a marketing play and that it was going to be same-old, same-old from the company known for its DVRs perhaps above all else. After meeting with CEO Mike Newton, though, and director of worldwide marketing Pauline Norstrom, I was led to see the reality of what could be a very interesting group of companies. Did you know the AD Group runs a pair of central stations that are of based in the UK and Australia, respectively, and are currently doing video monitoring for accounts in the United States through the RemGuard brand? Did you know that D-Tec, the company's video smoke detection play, has had "more than one month" with $250,000 in revenue and considers anything under $100,000 in a month a major disappointment? It's not major money, but I was a little surprised VSD was doing anything more than a few proof of concept deployments here and there. Combined with the company's mobile video play, it seems like maybe they've got something there that's pretty unique in the market for an integrator looking for a partner that could deliver a recurring revenue model. (I may add more to this post later.)

Comments

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To be clear, I am not scoffing at package providers. The real risk I see is the sharp decline in revenues and the challenges the incumbents are having in transitioning to IP video.  This is not a technical point but an issue of financial fact (http://ipvideomarket.info/report/ip_video_sales_rebound_analog_cctv_cont...).

You said lots of positive things about DM but did you inquire into their rapidly declining sales, their deteriorating financial position or their high employee turnover/layoffs?

Where did I say anything positive about Dedicated Micros? I conveyed some facts about things I don't think many readers know about the AD Group, which is DM's parent company, then said, "it seems like maybe they’ve got something there that’s pretty unique in the market for an integrator looking for a partner that could deliver a recurring revenue model." Do you know of another video manufacturer that offers VSD (fire inspections are great for RMR) and bi-continental central stations (video monitoring can be great for RMR)?

And I apologize if I mis-represented your position on package providers, and should have been more specific to their analog legacies that was causing you concern. The view was expressed on the ISC West show floor by a number of manufacturers and integrators, as I outlined above, that end-to-end solutions were proprietary and trying to trap you into something that's not good.

VSD is bigger than you think.  We're currently under contract for a major fire alarm implementation, and there are at least 50 VSD cameras on the job.  We're not supplying them, but we are providing the network for them (they're IP-based, which is unique and very clever), and and that alone amounts to about 5-10% of the fire alarm project.  I imagine the cameras are thousands of dollars each, too.  The problem is that a lot of the technology has to move into 2010 standards before it's accepted fully.  They try to market them as dual-purpose, but they're typically pretty cheesy cameras.

Anyhoo, on the best of breed discussion: I love plug-and-play solutions, but if those providers don't support any other cameras, and their own line isn't complete, they need to support others as well.

As a software engineer, I find the software comment you quoted as unusual as you do.   What architecture a piece of software is written on really has no bearing on whether it plays nice with others in the system.   Open API's, standards like Onvif / PSIA, flexible configuration and discovery (UPnP & Avahi) are all things that "best of breed" software can and should support so that no matter the architecture, anyone can write code to a published standard and have devices "just work".   Anyone can throw together software to do exactly one thing pretty quickly, but it takes really hard and focused work to design software to be open to the world yet powerful enough to still ge tthe job done.   I think it is pretty neat that the camera on my desk when on the same network as my workstation automatically shows up in IE / Safari / Google Chrome as a camera on the network (because all of those browsers support Avahi / Zeroconf as a standard).