Shawn Benson, CEO of Gilbert, Ariz.-based systems integrator Benson Systems attributes his company’s success to the broad range of products that it handles. He talked to SDM about the benefits and challenges of such a business operations plan.

SDM: Who are your typical customers for integrated systems?

Benson: Everyone is a potential customer. As a systems integrator, we offer security, CCTV, card access, structured wiring, phone systems and complete fire protection. We not only do fire alarms, but we do sprinklers and kitchen hoods. We do gate control and complete IT systems. We’ll supply client work stations, software, everything.

SDM: What’s fueling the sales of integrated systems today?

Benson: Everything is going IP. You can have a network connection throughout a building or throughout multiple locations of a business. CCTV, card access and security all ride on the network.

SDM: What technologies do customers typically integrate and why?

Benson: First and foremost, it’s security integrated with card access. The key to that is the card access software that controls everything. The customer doesn’t even have to arm the keypad. The main driver is simplicity. People don’t know they want it until we meet with them and consult with them. They just want it to work and cover all the bases.

Then we say, “By the way, you already have a network. Now you can put in IP cameras, IP card access, or IP telephony.” It evolves into a tremendous opportunity for us once we mention what we can offer.

SDM: Do most customers already have a computer network that you can ride on or do you typically install one?

Benson: If it’s a new ground-up installation, we bid the wire and the whole infrastructure. Most of the time they already have a network and it saves a lot of cost. Most people have Cat 5e. The technology is evolving toward Cat 6 and Cat 7, but most people won’t pay for that today. We like to be on the leading edge, not the “bleeding” edge.

SDM: What are some technologies that you would consider leading-edge today and what are some that you would consider bleeding edge?

Benson: Complete integrated software is evolving to be leading edge. Video and IP video are leading edge now.

The bleeding edge would be advances in video software like auto tracking, where the camera would follow you around. They’re doing a lot with video — the idea being that it will see my body size or frame and look out for that.

What’s getting close to leading edge is complete IP card access. At the ASIS show, there was some really neat stuff to tie card readers and locks into the network. It’s easy to install and gives complete diagnostics. In two to four years, literally everything will be IP. Security companies that aren’t going to IP will lose out.

SDM: What are your sources of new growth in integrated systems?

Benson: Video – first and foremost. If a customer has $100 to spend, they’ll probably spend $80 on cameras. Video prices have come down and people like the fact that they can view it from anywhere. It’s a lot easier to manage and you can be proactive rather than reactive.

People are buying video now that didn’t in the past. Small business and restaurant and bar owners can be at home and watch their business. If you tie security in, it’s event-driven; it will record the event and send it to you. If the restaurant didn’t close at midnight, in the past you had to drive there. Now you can get on the video and see that someone’s still there.

SDM: What are you doing to achieve satisfactory profit margins?

Benson: Our niche is we go directly to the end user or owner. When you do that your margins are higher than when you’re in a bidding situation through a general contractor. We offer so much that it’s not uncommon for the customer to say, “We don’t even know where to go to get a competitive bid.”

SDM: What are the challenges of offering such a wide range of technologies?

Benson: In the old days it seemed like technicians were cross-trained and knew more than security or cameras or access. We’ve evolved to having separate business units within Benson. We still strive to do cross-training but it’s difficult to do. We have more redundancy than we used to have.