Selecting a Security Systems Integrator

Let’s face it. Whether you're managing a college campus or an office tower, a manufacturing facility or a retail complex, your security risks are higher today than they’ve ever been. Higher education institutions throughout North America are looking to strengthen and improve their security and safety programs. The selection of a systems integrator is critical. As a key player in security operations/management, you want to be certain to make the right choice. Your security systems integrator should be a company with the knowledge and experience to protect your investment by using technology correctly and help meet future needs with cost-effective maintenance and upgrades. Given the short- and long-term implications of the decision, it’s in your best interests to follow a security-specific due-diligence process.

The Due-Diligence Process
Due diligence is a business process that will help you select a security systems integrator with the experience and personnel to get you up and running now — and with the staying power to be on hand to service and upgrade your system over the long term.

The importance of applying a due-diligence process in the selection of a security systems integrator cannot be overstated, especially in today’s environment. A number of factors and influences make it imperative for companies and institutions to follow this kind of process:
  • Post 9/11 electronic security systems play a greater role in security programs — a trend that is expected to continue.
  • The systems are technology driven and constantly evolving, making it almost impossible for security directors and other security operations personnel to keep abreast of the latest trends.
  • Not every integrator consistently performs at a high level in the delivery and support of electronic security systems.
  • There is a lot of money involved, the solution is technology oriented, and it’s a business decision that can’t quickly be reversed.

Before You Start the Process
You will need to do some homework before embarking on the due-diligence route. It’s important to understand your past security needs, your present needs, and your future requirements. Interviews with key personnel and managers in your institution will help you understand their individual needs and, by extension, your institution’s overall security requirements. You should make an effort to educate all personnel on the benefits of adding an electronic security system or improving your existing system.

Be aware of your vulnerabilities and apply risk analysis to your security operations. This should include a risk-assessment process where you assess security-related risks, from internal and external threats, to your facilities, assets, and personnel. You need to know what kind of business interruptions are acceptable and what kind you simply can’t afford to take.

A number of other factors must be considered as well. Do you currently use electronic security systems to supplement your security program? If not, what do you intend to accomplish by incorporating electronic security systems into your security program? Is management supporting your decision to implement an electronic security system?

Have you discussed business continuity plans in your institution? Do you have evacuation plans for your facilities? How do you intend to communicate the evacuation plans? Do you have a voice evacuation system? What plans have you put in place should a mass evacuation be necessary? Do you have outside gathering points? Have you had discussions with staff about where they will rally and how to account for personnel, so that this information can be communicated to emergency services without delay? Do you have a plan in place to preserve your electronic information and intellectual property? How do you intend to protect your assets and personnel? How will you continue operations and recover from a disaster?

These are just some of the concerns you may need to address. The list can go on and on, because no two integrated security challenges are ever the same. That’s why you need to select a systems integrator with solid, long-term experience in security systems consulting, design, installation, and service.

Scenarios to Consider
In preparing your strategic plan for selecting a security systems integrator, the following examples of market-specific security challenges and solutions may be helpful.

Managed Properties — Challenges: Office towers, corporate campuses, and managed properties present unique security challenges associated with open access and constant traffic flows. The security threats are both vertical and horizontal, and typically include unauthorized access, business theft and risk to personal safety. College and university campuses face the same security threats.

A competent systems integrator might offer 24/7 vertical and horizontal security systems that can integrate visitor management, distributed access control, video surveillance, elevator and stairwell control, telephone entry systems, and more. These solutions are manageable from either centralized or distributed points of control and may be provided with site-specific training from the systems integrator’s staff of security specialists.

Technology and Critical Infrastructure — Challenges: High-tech electronics, IT and software companies, electric utilities, and telecommunications providers typically need to leverage their existing technology infrastructure to secure large, campus-type environments. Mobile computerized equipment must be protected against theft. The buildings must also be safeguarded against unauthorized access from an employee and visitor population that is technology savvy.

Competent systems integrators help clients leverage their ODBC databases, TCP/IP and fiber networks, and other IT infrastructure. These systems can be managed from a single point of contact — using a single integrated database — by the customer’s own IT and security staff.
Implementing the Due-Diligence Process
To get the due-diligence process rolling, you should develop a plan that includes a description of the issues to be solved, a list of those who have a vested interest in system implementation, and an overview of who will be responsible for the system. The plan should include a scope of work and system specification.

You should also put together a list of the qualities you want your security system integrator to possess. Determine how long the integrator has been in business: a minimum of five years should be the standard. Get financial and annual reports on the integrators you are considering. It’s also wise to obtain customer contact information and arrange client visits, if possible. When visiting a customer, talk to security management personnel, system operators, and system administrators. Find out if they’re satisfied with this systems integrator. How responsive is the support and the quality of the maintenance? In other words, get as much relevant third-party input as you can.

Prepare a list of requirements you want your security system integrator to meet. Ask what system platforms the integrator installs and services, and how many trained technical staff there are in the organization. Ask the integrator how many other clients have a system similar to the one that will be installed at your site. The answers to these questions will help you determine the integrator’s strength and ability to support you.

Keep Asking
Here’s one other piece of advice. Don’t be bashful. Ask the integrator for training records, such as product training certificates, and inquire if the integrator provides recurring training for its personnel. And don’t just limit yourself to meeting with sales personnel. You should also interview management representatives and technicians as part of the proposal process. Probe your candidates for anything else you can think of that will help with your choice of a systems integrator. If your organization has other sites that may be looking to install or upgrade a security system, check out whether the systems integrator has offices around the country with security system installation and maintenance capabilities. The bottom line is this: You are the customer. Be demanding. A quality integrator is one who will meet or exceed your expectations. Get buy-in from the decision makers at your institution. This makes everyone a stakeholder in the chosen system. Following this due-diligence process will be the key to a successful project.

Whether your project involves new construction, a retrofit, or an upgrade of existing systems, the due-diligence process is your best guarantee that you will choose the right security systems integrator. When this process is followed, you’ll be able to spot weaknesses in prospective integrators who may, at first glance, appear qualified. Based on an in-depth, due-diligence analysis, some candidates may be too inexperienced to deal with today’s complex system requirements. They may lack coverage across the country and the kind of national presence that would be needed should you have other sites with electronic security needs. Or they may not possess the depth of knowledge of an organization staffed with certified software specialists and CPPs. The worst thing you can do is short change yourself. If you follow the process, you’ll get what you need — and lay the groundwork for a successful long-term partnership with a responsive, highly qualified security systems integrator.

Tom Giannini, CPP, is director of Security & Emergency Communications Marketing at SimplexGrinnell (