Integration: The Suppliers Perspective
The garage door opener frequently is cited as an example of easily understood technology. â€œYou press the button, and the door goes up,â€ a telephone company commercial explained a few years ago. On a vendorâ€™s rough days, that is the type of simplicity of operation and integration some customers seem to expect from them.
But getting completely disparate security systems that do different things and were developed on different software platforms and perhaps even during different eras to work together is a challenge. Sometimes itâ€™s like trying to get orange juice from an apple.
â€œIn todayâ€™s world, itâ€™s hard to get different systems to work well together,â€ admits Robert Siegel, general manager for video and software solutions, GE Security, Bradenton, Fla. â€œAt best you can write an overall GUI [graphical user interface] that might be customized, but it is very difficult to make these work together seamlessly.â€
Admits Peter Boriskin, director of product management for access control, Tyco Fire and Security, Boca Raton, Fla., â€œEverybody talks about seamless integration, but there are still a few seams. I think that as an industry weâ€™re still making strides towards seamless integration, but there is some technology out there that will allow us to get there more and more quickly.â€
Yvonne Hao, vice president, global marketing, Honeywell Security, Syosset, N.Y., adds that believing everyoneâ€™s standard is as open as they say can be a trap.
â€œIn security, people talk a lot about open standards, but theyâ€™re not that open,â€ Hao insists. â€œPeople just use open standards as a way to market themselves. There is some progress, but integration is not really where it needs to be.â€
So the question for suppliers is whether security dealers, systems integrators and end users understand and appreciate their expenditure and effort.
â€œIf youâ€™re actually doing an integration based on a specific vertical end user need or doing it to cut down on installation or maintenance time for the dealer or integrator, they appreciate it,â€ Hao thinks.
Leon Chlimper, vice president systems for Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y., agrees with reservations. â€œSecurity dealers appreciate it once they use it, but I think they expect more, and for me thatâ€™s OK,â€ he comments. â€œI think you always want a little bit more â€“ you always want it a little better.â€
Tycoâ€™s Boriskin thinks those who do integration know its value.
â€œItsâ€™ definitely a bell curve,â€ he declares. â€œI think some integrators are acutely aware of what it takes to do integration, and those tend to be ones that have a savvy staff on their payroll and they themselves do some level of advanced integration for their customers.
â€œI think some integrators out there who are a little more brick-and-mortar maybe donâ€™t have an appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes,â€ he says about integration.
Perhaps those who do not appreciate integration do not understand what it is. Honeywellâ€™s Hao emphasizes that integration must have a useful advantage for security dealers, systems integrators and end users.
â€œIntegration is one of these topics that everybody talks about all the time, but when you ask what it means, everybody has a different definition,â€ Hao comments.
Agrees Boschâ€™s Chlimper, â€œNot everybody is singing the same song. Different people define integration differently. Itâ€™s not so much our customers, but the end users who are asking for very specific ways of integrating what they already have â€“ that is creating a very big challenge for us and every manufacturer.
â€œOur business has changed,â€ Chlimper continues. â€œWe used to protect assets â€“ we now protect business continuity. With that in mind, thereâ€™s a lot of integration that is happening at a higher level.â€
These include integrating human resource databases to access control systems, exchanging information in real time and similar challenges.
Although Chlimper thinks convergence is still a buzz word, he does not think that about integration. â€œIntegration is not a buzz word anymore â€“ it is already here,â€ he asserts. â€œPeople are trying to understand it better. As manufacturers are getting to understand the importance from a market development standpoint, the end users are beginning to realize the importance of getting as much as possible out of the investment.â€
Tycoâ€™s Boriskin agrees that integrationâ€™s days as a buzz word are waning.
â€œIt is both a buzz word and a real thing,â€ Boriskin concedes. â€œCertainly integration is and has been a big industry buzz word, but not for nothing. Itâ€™s an industry buzz word because thatâ€™s what the customer wants and thatâ€™s where cost savings can come from.â€
Mike Garcia, vice president marketing and product management for MDI Inc., San Antonio, Texas, thinks integration means a common operating system.
â€œEverybody is talking about open architecture and interoperability and convergence, but what theyâ€™re really looking for is one operating system, one platform that they can put everything on,â€ he maintains. â€œYou look at the definition of it, and basically itâ€™s where you put all these application programs in under one common graphical user interface and interact directly under a common GUI.â€
Tycoâ€™s Boriskin thinks multiple monitors work better for integration. â€œThe push overall has been to a single box that may have three or four monitors on it; one should have maps, and one live video, one stored video and one alarms and events,â€ Boriskin recommends. â€œThey want to create this situational awareness at that central location.â€
GEâ€™s Siegel adds, â€œI believe that systems being integrated and being able to work together is increasingly an important customer demand. The line between video and intrusion and fire and access is going to begin to blur â€“ in many ways, my job in software is what glues the integration together.
â€œThe other thing that is starting to happen is end users are starting to realize that they cannot purchase different security systems in a vacuum,â€ Siegel continues. â€œSo the ability to buy one companyâ€™s video surveillance system and another companyâ€™s fire system and a third companyâ€™s intrusion system does not always give the experience they want to protect their people and assets.
â€œItâ€™s going to be very difficult for companies to compete near- to medium-term in this business if they only have one particular product line,â€ he predicts. â€œItâ€™s going to be almost impossible.â€
Because so many security systems are connected by software, high-quality software development kits (SDKs) and application programming interfaces (APIs) are becoming crucial for successful integration.
â€œI do think more and more integration is going to be happening with software, so itâ€™s not going to be just connecting widgets; it will be software-driven,â€ asserts Honeywellâ€™s Hao.
Her company emphasizes creation of APIs, which ease integration of security systems. â€œAll of our new integrated offerings have these APIs in them,â€ she maintains. She thinks the industry is going to have to go toward open standards and more integration, although who pays for specific customized integrations varies.
â€œThereâ€™s not really a standard way it happens,â€ she explains. â€œIt just depends. Sometimes, weâ€™ll pay, sometimes we share it, sometimes integrators/dealers pay, and sometimes the end user pays for it.â€
But the APIs are built into her companyâ€™s products for free, which is a direct benefit to security dealers, systems integrators and their customers, she notes.
MDIâ€™s Garcia suggests that integration can be achieved with systems that have truly open architectures by simply replacing the software in different systems.
â€œYou take them out of the equation and you put your software in it, so now you have a unified system by replacing the software,â€ Garcia recommends. â€œIf the end user really wants open architecture, they should not worry about the hardware and replace the software so it talks to the hardware.â€
Siegel estimates that approximately one-third of current GE products have SDKs and expects within the next 12 to 18 months that figure to increase to two-thirds or even 80 percent of products having SDKs.
â€œInitial work began in the last 12 to 18 months, but it is picking up momentum at an exponential rate internally,â€ Siegel notes.
Even though his company may not be developing middleware, there is still a cost to Bosch even if a third party does it, maintains Chlimper. Engineering questions from the third-party developer must be handled by company employees, and equipment furnished to the developer cannot be sold as new when it is returned.
â€œEven though a third party is taking the load of development, the manufacturers are still absorbing some cost,â€ he declares. Estimating the cost of integrating products is difficult for Chlimper because each business unit of his companyâ€™s R&D costs are maintained separately.
Adds Siegel, â€œGE spends tens of millions of dollars a year on development of our security solutions, and an increasing percentage is going to software and platforms that can become easily interoperable. We donâ€™t develop anything going forward unless weâ€™re thinking about how to make it interoperable.â€
Vy Hoang, vice president of sales and marketing for i3DVR International, Toronto, estimates his companyâ€™s costs for integrating one project at $175 to $250 per hour for each of two to three software programmers for a minimum of two weeks time.
Additional costs include retesting the software. Hoang points out, â€œTo add a single module to our software, itâ€™s literally three months of tests.â€
Price erosion has been huge in the security industry, Boschâ€™s Chlimper concedes, but the company redesigns its equipment and adds features to provide increased value and justify a higher price.
Increased integration helps keep the value of security products â€“ and their prices â€“ higher. â€œIntegration definitely helps with price, because when you bring in an integrated product, youâ€™re not selling only access control but video and more â€“ the value of the whole package is much higher,â€ Chlimper maintains. â€œBeing able to integrate is the difference between selling that job and not selling that job.â€
MDIâ€™s Garcia suggests making your expertise invaluable to your customers as a way of overcoming price erosion.
â€œYou make yourself a solution,â€ he recommends. â€œYou sell upgrades to software, and every year you make residual revenue because youâ€™re solving a complex problem. Around that you wrap services and training for a full-blown solution. You didnâ€™t just sell him a product, youâ€™re part of the organization. Your customer loves you!â€
Trends in Integration
Integration increasingly involves the information technology (IT) departments of companies, and Boschâ€™s Chlimper sees that expanding. â€œIn the future, we will go into a public type of wire,â€ he predicts. â€œItâ€™s a network owned by the IT department that is still public. I wonâ€™t have to run my own wire, just put in a jack and I see video. Everybody sees that as one big trend.â€
That will please John Hunepohl, director of integrated solutions specialist program, ASSA ABLOY, New Haven, Conn. He sees wires leading to doors as a regular trouble spot.
â€œYou can talk to most systems integrators and ask them where are most of their problems; it is connecting the door,â€ Hunepohl maintains. Once a door is installed, disagreements sometimes ensue about who is supposed to run the wire to that door. â€œAsk a systems integrator how many times somebody has pulled a wire down the wrong side of the door,â€ he suggests.
â€œOnce you install the reader on the door, you own that door in the mind of your customer,â€ he insists.
The other trend Chlimper sees is more intelligent sensors and security devices.
Tycoâ€™s Boriskin thinks recent developments in software are promising to improve integration. â€œI think that a lot of the recent extensible protocols based on xml have really opened up a possibility for a kind of standardization that weâ€™ve never really had in our industry,â€ he suggests.
â€œNot only does it mean more expedient integration, but it is less costly for manufacturers and integrators and offers a broader breadth of possibilities,â€ Boriskin promises.
Sidebar: Vertical Market Requirements Drive Some Strategies
Vertical markets are being emphasized in her companyâ€™s strategy, reports Yvonne Hao, vice president, global marketing, Honeywell Security, Syosset, N.Y. â€œWeâ€™re not really focused on integration for integrationâ€™s sake,â€ she maintains.
These vertical markets include retail, banks, financial services, industrial processes, pharmaceuticals, airports, seaports, stadiums, casinos and other markets where security plays a crucial role in saving lives and money.
â€œThose are the key verticals for us â€“ where end users really care about security integration,â€ she emphasizes. â€œIt doesnâ€™t make sense to target every vertical you can do.â€
She gives examples of practical integrations that save installers time and end users money, such as a single system and user interface that is available in Europe for intrusion and access control.
Not only does just one user interface have to be installed instead of two, this type of product also allows for cross-selling opportunities for security dealers and systems integrators in which the additional technology can be added to a customerâ€™s specification that originally was for a single security system.
Another such practical integration in the U.S. market is of software that can allow a door left open at a company facility in Tokyo to be viewed in New York or that can flag suspicious retail transactions so they can be watched on video. Because such integrations save end users money in theft and shrinkage, justifying their expense is easier.
â€œItâ€™s integration to solve customersâ€™ problems and make installation time less,â€ she points out about linking access control with video surveillance. â€œThat can happen whether on a small or big enterprise installation. We want to see integration happen across the market.â€
Sidebar: â€˜Middlewareâ€™ Developers Fulfilling Need
Leon Chlimper, vice president systems for Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y., is enthused about third-party companies developing â€œmiddlewareâ€ â€“ software that bridges different manufacturersâ€™ systems â€“ because they can gain technical cooperation from manufacturers that manufacturers sometimes withhold from each other for competitive reasons.
â€œThe job of the manufacturer is to sell hardware,â€ he believes, adding that manufacturers develop software so they can sell more hardware. â€œWhen the time comes to start applying resources to integrating development platforms, youâ€™re always stretched. You want to build a better mousetrap, so that is where your engineering time goes.â€
But for third-party middleware developers, software is their only business. â€œThereâ€™s a void out there, and some companies are filling that void, some successfully and some not so successfully,â€ he concedes. â€œThat to me as a manufacturer is appealing.
â€œThey are the ones doing the heavy lifting and investment, and at the end of the day, they are reaping the benefit of selling those licenses,â€ Chlimper points out. â€œIs that a long-term solution for the industry? I donâ€™t know, but today I think the middleware developers are filling a void and providing a service to the integrators.â€
Chlimper refers dealers, integrators and end users to middleware developers whose products can meet the customersâ€™ needs. â€œWe believe the more we provide a solution to the end user, the better weâ€™re going to be in the long run,â€ he emphasizes.
Sidebar: Standards would Help
Standards are what can reduce costs, thinks Steve Thompson, director of marketing for fire and security solutions, Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee. His company integrates its security installations to building management software.
â€œBuilding management has done a better job in creating and adhering to standards â€“ standards are what caused the integration costs to come down,â€ Thompson observes. â€œIf you can get everyone working in the same methods, the cost of integration is less, and the task is easier.
â€œIn security, we still have a fair amount of proprietary mind-set,â€ Thompson declares. â€œA number of customers prefer a proprietary closed system because they feel it is more secure. They think if only a manufacturer can deal with it, then the bad guys canâ€™t get in either. I donâ€™t subscribe to that, but some customers do.â€