This year I had the privilege of speaking at Security Industry Association’s The Advance, the association’s annual meeting, at ISC West 2022 in Las Vegas. As the CEO of PSA, the world’s largest integrator consortium, I find myself in the middle of problem solving on a weekly basis: “What’s it like to be the middleman between integrators and manufacturers,” you ask? It can be a challenge. When integrators can’t get product, we often take the blame. When they do get product, but it doesn’t seem to work, we can take some blame here, too. If an integrator gets product but doesn’t get paid by their customer because they don’t have enough product to finish a job … well, I’m sure you know what I will say. You see where this is going; it gives us unique insight into the industry from every perspective.

I believe what integrators need is help, not hope. It’s not because integrators aren’t smart or talented — they are. A lot of integrators start out with a lot of faith, optimism, courage, confidence … they have hope. What they sometimes lack is the ability to ask for or get help. At least, that is my experience. And I get it; before the iPhone, I was hopelessly lost most of the time. I traveled a lot but I was too pig-headed to ask for directions; I refused to ask for help.

These are unprecedented times. Integrators have one of the hardest jobs in this industry. Customers expect you to know about everything from access control and video, to bollards, X-ray machines, and now, drone detection. Believe me, most of my career was working for a manufacturer, but it all started with a system integrator in northern California. This integrator taught me about the industry, mostly by sending me to outside training. They happened to be part of the PSA Network. My first business trip was to the PSA TEC in Denver. Here, I learned from other members about security, best practices, products and services. I still remember it today. That integrator had help.

"If you’re an integrator, you might be asking yourself, “why the heck am I doing this?"

Conversely, when I worked for product companies that had a decent product, not a great product, and the company had money, it was a great gig! My friends thought I was vice president of entertainment. Breakfasts, lunch-and-learns, happy hours, dinners, trade shows … Life was great (pre-pandemic)! Not that it wasn’t hard work, but unlike an integrator, I had product knowledge, a little competitor information, and my own drive and ambition.

Working for an integrator … forget it. Too difficult. And now? Lockdowns, remote working, vaccine mandates, supply chain issues, labor shortages, surcharges and pricing issues, shipping costs ballooning, and now inflation with gas prices sky high and interest rates on the rise. If you’re an integrator, you might be asking yourself, “Why the heck am I doing this?”

The good news: integrators are resilient. They adapt. They overcome. This is a great industry with tremendous opportunity. It’s still very fragmented with mostly small to mid-size companies doing the bulk of the work globally. That’s for both the integrators and the product companies. On the product manufacturer side, most companies barely have double-digit global market share. Did you know, based on market research, LenelS2 has the most market share worldwide, with roughly 14 percent? Software House is somewhere around 12 to 13 percent. This is why ASSA ABLOY has purchased roughly 500 companies over the last 10 years in the door openings space, and companies like ACRE are gobbling up access control companies. Fragmentation creates a lot of opportunity, complexity and tremendous potential, for companies and integrators alike.

So I ask you: Why do it on your own? Don’t just ask for help, demand it! My advice: in three to five years as a systems integrator in this space, you need to align these three things and demand help from each of them:  

  • Technology partners
  • Employees
  • Your network

When selecting your technology partners, don’t just pick a company because you like the product or because there is a lot of that product installed. Pick the companies that will help you be more successful. Trust me, as an integrator, you have a lot more power than you realize over product companies. Most product companies spend an incredible amount of time, money, and energy trying to build a channel. My experience is that most product companies need you more than you need them. So don’t pick the product; pick the company that has your back. Pick a company that will help.

When it comes to employees, the labor issue is not going away, for a variety of reasons. This will be a continuous problem in the future, so prepare yourself. My advice is to upgrade your workforce. Yes, I said upgrade. Set your company up to do the same amount of work as you are today, with less people. Less people, perhaps more expensive, but more capable. More technology savvy; less rolling of trucks, more remote diagnostics/troubleshooting. Give yourself and your company the ability to be more agile. Outsource as much as you can. Yes, this requires work to find good subs, but it will allow you to be more agile, more focused on what you can do to differentiate and move the needle.

Steve Jobs once said, “A small team of ‘A’ players can run circles around a giant team of ‘B and C' players.” You are not running a jobs program (no pun intended!). As a systems integrator, you don’t have the luxury of employing B and C players. You get what you pay for!

And lastly, the network. What is your network? Who do you call when you need advice? When you need help? How do you keep your skills tuned? Where else are you engaged? How do you and your people exchange best practices, ask questions, bounce ideas, get help? SIA, ESA, NSCA, PSA, USAV, Security-NET, BICSI? There are networks out there.

Are you plugged in? Are you engaged? Are you demanding help?