What challenges do systems integrators face today?

What challenges do systems integrators face today?
The security industry is fast-evolving, so much so, that the systems integration business is becoming one of the most complex segments in the field. Asmag.com recently talked to some consultants to better understand the challenges that systems integrators face in today’s world.  

“The challenges are both technical and competitive in nature,” said John Sullivan, Founder, Owner and President of The Serras Group. “First, a large majority of security systems integrators are a combination of design and engineering firms and installation companies.  Many are just design and engineering houses or simply construction and installation houses.  Many firms who call themselves systems integrators are not really integrators in the sense of a true definition of integration.  They are simply installers.”

The greatest majority of so-called systems integrators are not original equipment manufacturers.  They do not design or manufacture security equipment in their own right.  They are typically dealers for original equipment manufacturers or their authorized distributors.  Accordingly, these houses design systems using only the authorized products they can purchase from their distributors, or go out the protection of the distribution system to select other parts that will “fit” into someone else’s system. 

“At the end of the day these systems integrators work with a puzzle,” Sullivan continued. “They work hard to make the pieces fit so they function as an integrated system to respond to a client’s needs.  The technical question is one of delivery.  Are clients really getting what they expect?  Did they write the system specification correctly, or “cut and paste” parts of many specifications together to get what they believe they want.” 

Most clients know what they want from a functional perspective.  Few understand how to translate functional aspirations into technical performance standards or vice versa.  On top of this, few commercial off the shelf product lines – hardware and software – will do everything a client wants them to do, so the art of compromise enters the equation.  It’s the systems integrators job to tell the client what he can or cannot have based on the capabilities and limitations of hardware and software components the systems integrator uses, or tell the client, they need to look elsewhere at a different product line and a different system integrator. 

The client, often times, is placed in a difficult position, because the market does not allow the client to deal directly with an original equipment manufacturer.  It is no different than call up GM or Ford or any other car manufacturer and telling them you want to buy a car directly off the factory floor.  It does not happen, and will not happen.  They will tell you to go to your local car dealer and give you their address and phone number.  Security hardware and software manufacturers are no different. 

“They conduct business in the same manner as other equipment manufacturers.  They will give you the local systems integrator who is authorized to install and maintain their product lines,” Sullivan added. “Please note, that I intentionally omitted the distributor because you cannot access him either.”

Chad Parris, President of Security Risk Management Consultants, said that the promise of convergence of both physical and logical security market has forced many of the traditional integration firms to become more IT-savvy as they now are required to work in a somewhat unfamiliar network infrastructure environment.

 “Some integrators are brining on IT talent to address this while others are being left behind,” Parris said. “We are also seeing more non-traditional networking companies coming into the security market-place, often times bringing a high level of expertise on network security issues, but lacking practical security experience.”

Integration firms are finding that their sales margins on equipment are shrinking more and more, which has forced these firms to find way to make up in other areas such as finding low cost equipment solutions from overseas manufacturers which may have questionable quality and possible cyber vulnerability issues.  
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