End User Perspective on Systems Integrators
End users speak out! They want long-term partnerships with integrators, which place the relationship above the product.
More important than the system installed is just about everything else, say end users regarding what they look for in an integrator. Of course, meeting a client’s needs has to do with the system: its capabilities and features; however, end users can find more than one integrator to install the same or similar system. Making sure clients’ expectations are met and cementing a long-term working relationship with them requires much more than an install.
It may take a lot of time, staff and resources, but those steps made before an installation are some of the most important to ensure that end users are pleased with the final results. While it may require significant resources initially, the discovery phase and first meetings allow you — the integrator — to make sure you can meet the business’ needs — paying off in the end with a satisfied customer and potential long-term relationship.
“What’s important to me is that [the integrator] gets into your organization and has a good understanding of what your goals are before they ever turn a wrench or sell a piece of equipment,” says Jay Beighley, vice president of corporate security for insurance company, Nationwide, Columbus, Ohio. “They need to be guided to find out where you want to be three years down the road and we’ve had pretty successful projects this way.”
Nationwide Corporate Security has a $9 million budget with more than 130 personnel responsible for security for the close to 400 facilities it runs across the country. Beighley says they have used Acree Daily of Columbus, Ohio, and Alert Security Consulting Inc. of New Albany, Ohio, for many different projects, including helping to integrate disparate systems with various technologies to one centralized system monitored through its Columbus headquarters.
Hush – Don’t Talk!
“We listen first,” says Tom Hagen, president and CEO of Pro-Tec Design, Minneapolis, a PSA Security Network integrator. “Too often integrators start the process by talking, and it’s better to start by listening and getting a clear understanding of the business issue that the client is trying to solve.”
One customer, which Pro-Tec Design has built a strong partnership with by listening first, is Dakota County of Hastings, Minn., where Mitch Sellner is security services manager. “Pre-project is so important, because that allows the vendor and me to come to an understanding about exactly what we’re doing and where we are going. I don’t want them to come in and sell me a bunch of stuff that turns out to be wrong for my needs,” he says. With 1,600 full-time employees, Dakota County has 33 different facilities and multiple systems to manage, including access control, CCTV, call stations, fire and intercoms.
During that pre-project phase, as well as throughout an installation and beyond, communication is a large part of what goes into helping an integrator understand exactly what the end user’s expectations are, and the end user doesn’t appreciate an integrator that will wait to communicate a delay or problem in the project. Some end users prefer face-to-face meetings or phone calls, but all say that regular communication helps keep expectations managed and on track.
“There shouldn’t be any surprises,” says Beighley of Nationwide. “I like to have frequent, direct communication over the phone or in person so the integrator can bring us up to speed on how well the project is going or when it takes a turn so we can address it.” He adds that, in his experience, the relationship will break down if the integrator cannot live up to the expectations they set or if they fail to keep up communication throughout a project.
“Communication is the answer to what makes a strong working relationship,” agrees Dave Shelton, chairman and CEO of D/A Central Inc., Oak Park, Mich., a PSA Network Security integrator and Security-Net integrator. “It seems so simple but people want to know what is going on. Customers want to have instant access to the timeline of the process — where is the project today, how is it unfolding and how soon to completion.”
When that communication extends across departments on both sides, it pays off in the end. “What we have found is that several layers of communication make things run smoother. If an entire relationship hinges on one salesperson or one security director, the relationship is in jeopardy if anything happens to one of those people, so it’s important to cultivate relationships between higher management, operations, and service people on both sides of the fence,” Shelton believes.
“It really is a two-way street,” says Pamela Basilicato, community association manager for Barefoot Resorts/Omni Management Services in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “Whatever [the integrator] needs me to do for them, I need to be just as responsive as I expect them to be. Some people drop the ball and you really get what you give.”
Barefoot Resorts is made up of 2,300 acres, including 14 communities, four golf courses, bike trails, walking paths and several pools. Basilicato developed a great rapport with Joey James of STOP Security, Conway, S.C., after an initial install, and has used him for the property’s projects ever since.
“Not only do I trust his judgment, but his pricing and customer service are beyond excellent,” she says. “Many of these systems do the same thing, so the customer service you are going to get is far more important,” Basilicato says. She says that STOP Security has been helpful to her beyond installation, with training, answering questions, and helping her address issues and inquiries that individual associations in the community bring up.
Impeccable Customer Service
Customer service through all stages of a project as well as after the final installation is a top priority for end users. The client wants to know that the integrator will be there for help with training, service and answering questions — in a timely manner.
“With our old integrator, if a camera broke, it was down for six weeks,” says Shawn Reilly, chief of police and director of security for the Greenville Hospital System, Greenville, S.C. When Reilly first started working for the hospital, which staffs more than 11,000 people and includes several campuses and a medical school, he was disappointed with the integrator they were working with. “Their business practice didn’t mesh with ours and we would be disappointed with the results of their efforts more often than not,” he recalls.
When Reilly began to partner with Tech Systems Inc., headquartered in Duluth, Ga., after putting a project out for bid, he was particularly pleased with Tech Systems’ industry certifications, pricing, responsiveness and excellent customer service. “Now, if a camera breaks here, our integrator doesn’t even ask me why it broke; they take it down and replace it right away. I don’t have to worry about waiting for weeks and weeks and being asked all sorts of questions. First and foremost they worry about the security of our facility and that is a great partnership,” Reilly describes.
Responsiveness is also of utmost importance to George McCloskey, head of corporate safety and security at Pixar, Emeryville, Calif. McCloskey heads security for the 1,250-employee, 23-acre campus with buildings both inside and outside gated areas. “I have an understanding with my integrators that if we call, we need a response and, oftentimes, that response is fairly immediate,” he says. “We have an expectation that we need cooperation and we need them to say ‘yes,’ even if it is outside their core group of responsibilities, and that’s not easy for everyone. We want to hear you say ‘I’ll take care of it,’ rather than ‘I don’t do that.’” McCloskey has relied on Cupertino Electric Inc. of San Jose, Calif., for CCTV, training and other security integration projects.
Once end users find reliability and accountability in an integrator, they stick with them. Rockwood School District, which encompasses 36 campuses including high school, elementary school and administrative buildings, has used Tech Electronics of St. Louis, Mo., as a consultant and integrator for more than 20 years. “We respect their knowledge and that becomes apparent after dealing with them for years. You want a continuing relationship, and you want them to always be available if we want to call a meeting or discuss issues that come up, because there are always things that come up,” says Chris Freund, director of facilities for the Rockwood School District, Eureka, Mo.
Those long-term relationships that span decades are built from attentiveness, customer service, and having the best interest of the customer in mind, says Steve Piechota, vice president and founding partner of Netronix Integration, a PSA Security Network integrator based in San Jose, Calif. “The initial project is just the beginning of our relationship with a customer,” Piechota says. “Though there may not be another big project, we’ve seen other competitors that don’t want to be bothered with maintenance or one or two door adds after the fact. In the long run though, this is what the client needs and it’s all a part of building those relationships so the next time there is a project, they think of us and don’t go anywhere else.”
Beyond the Sale
While communication and customer service are building blocks for strong partnerships with their customers, in the end, many end users say it’s all about personal relationships and trust. Successful integrators say that end users want a consultative approach, someone they can use as a sounding board; end users want someone they can turn to when they have a question about their system, or security technology in general.
“Due to day-to-day ‘fire drills,’ you can lose touch with a client’s needs,” says Kimberly King, COO/CFO of SecurAlarm Systems Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich. “It is imperative to stay plugged in with how the company’s environment is changing so you can be the strategic consultant that they need. We should never minimize how important our role is in helping them protect their most important assets: people and facility. Clients want, and need, a partner who is more interested in providing protection than selling a system, so asking questions and listening is the most powerful thing you can do to instill that trust and truly be their strategic partner.”
Years ago, Bob Chicarello, director of security and parking for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, a level 1 trauma hospital with 5 million square feet of space, five parking garages and a security force of 135, decided to bring an integrator company in full-time. “I’ve used the model for years that we deal with a prime vendor to do all of the service work and I don’t go out to bid for work that needs to be done,” Chicarello explains. The hospital stayed with its current integrator for more than 30 years before the owner of the company sold it to another integrator. Chicarello met with the new company and talked about initiatives and goals, and ultimately decided to continue to give his business to them, in part because such a strong relationship had been built.
“We found that they had the same goals as our other vendor and they kept the same staff, so it made sense,” Chicarello said. The hospital’s integrator, Setronics of Billerica, Mass., has a permanent office at the hospital and a dedicated account manager, Jerry Catanzariti, that works side by side with security staff on new projects, existing projects and maintenance of existing systems.
“Working together so long, we’ve built a trust,” Chicarello says. “Trust that when I ask a question, they are able to have an answer; trust that I am not going to hold their hands after we spec and design the work, and trust that I’m not going to get nickel-and-dimed to death. Yes, they are in the business to make money, but I don’t want to get a bill for $100 for four screws. If I ask for eight cameras, I don’t want a bid for 12 or 14 if I didn’t spec that out. Those are red flags.”
End users agree that trust can be established from solid communication, flawless customer service and personal relationships built — but often, time helps establish a level of trust, as well. Integrators need to be willing to put in the time and resources to make themselves a valuable, credible vendor — someone the end user keeps coming back to for information and projects.
“You build a relationship over time and the key for me is that the people we work with are people that are connected beyond the business level,” says McCloskey of Pixar. “You develop a personal relationship with them and find ways to connect with them so that they take a personal stake in your business themselves and you get that extra bit of energy out of them. When you get that connection with employees or with vendors, it’s not something you can buy and that relationship building is really, really valuable to us.”
Top Integrators Share the Keys to a Successful Partnership
There are many examples of end users forming multi-decade working relationships with their integrators. Those relationships are built from trust, communication and delivering results. In Diebold Security’s case, which has been in business since 1859, the company has relationships that have spanned 100 years. “It’s our job to work as a partner, consult with the customer, and apply the right solution at the right time,” says Kevin Engelhardt, vice president, security operations for the Canton, Ohio-based company.
Listening to the customer and applying the right solution was particularly important for Diebold’s work with the Hearst Tower in New York, the world headquarters of Hearst Corp., which is the world’s largest publisher of monthly magazines. The 46-story glass and steel structure is the first occupied office building in New York City to achieve a LEED Gold certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, which recognizes excellence in environmentally sustainable design and construction. The building called for a custom-designed and installed dedicated security network, including advanced portal security and access control, video monitoring and a new command center, that would secure the structure, its visitors and its employees and while maintaining the Hearst Corp.’s high-level corporate image.
“The building has a lot of uniqueness in the way it has to be run, and so we really worked closely with the end user to make sure that as we were deploying technology that it really met their overarching needs of what was most important to them,” Engelhardt recalls. “It just goes to show that proper planning is so important. You don’t want a moving target. You want to understand the goals right out of the gate.”
Misty Stine, vice president of business development for G4S Technology LLC (formerly Adesta LLC) based in Omaha, Neb., agrees that proper planning trumps many other factors in ensuring a successful end result and partnership between end user and integrator.
“Pre-planning is the most critical part of a project, because if you don’t understand the customers’ requirements and what is driving those, and you don’t have the right solution, the customer is not going to be happy,” Stine believes. She adds that the company takes a very methodical approach to planning, with early meetings that involve all of the stakeholders in a project, discussing scheduling, the specific solution and potential problems that could arise. “It’s really important that everybody has the same expectation and you are all working toward the same common goal; that eliminates finger-pointing and all the things that can make a relationship go bad,” Stine says.
One long-term partnership that G4S Technology LLC has created is with Spanish energy company Iberdrola. Because the client has locations around the globe, it’s paramount to success that its integrator takes into account each location’s unique security needs and not a one-size-fits-all approach. “There are many different requirements — including different government and regulatory requirements — so we have to talk about their needs. That creates a strong partnership; when a customer trusts you to do the right thing, this is a great place to be,” Stine relates.
Listening and understanding the client’s needs starts with going into each project with a clean slate and not assuming to know what the customer needs, says Bruce Yoch, account executive with Johnson Controls, Milwaukee, Wis. “It’s about never assuming you know exactly what the client wants. The big thing is listening to the client, asking qualifying questions and trying not to use any preconceived notions if you want them to be successful with their goals,” Yoch says.
In the case of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, Johnson Controls began working with the hospital on a new facility, and since then, has worked with them on several other projects. “It’s important to take a trusted advisor role, which means that you don’t always provide a ‘yes’ answer to everything. Sometimes it’s important to not commit to something you can’t fulfill,” Yoch explains. “Customers want you to be honest and upfront with them and if there is another way around the problem to meet their needs, that can help build that trust.”
The Rules of a Great Relationship
Integrators and end users shared the most important determinants of a successful partnership:
- Listen before you talk. Truly aim to find out the end goals, future goals and specific needs of the end user before bidding or beginning a project.
- Communication should span every stage of the project — on either side of the table, letting each other know if needs have changed, products are delayed, or issues have arisen.
- Don’t overpromise and under-deliver to the customer. If you can’t meet their needs, tell them and give them an alternative to what you can do.
- Provide a high level of customer service, with a focus on responsiveness.
What Do End Users Want in an Integrator?
One of the most important things, of course, is that they have a stake in the success of the security system as much as I do. Their first concern should be with the security of the facility that they are getting paid to do the integration for. I also need availability 24/7. If a camera goes down on Friday afternoon, I don’t want to hear ‘See you Monday.’” — Shawn Reilly, chief of police and director of security, Greenville Hospital System, Greenville, S.C.
The integrator has to understand the individual systems, as well as how to integrate them, from wiring to programming to constantly making sure they work. In addition, I look for professionalism and integrity — those are extremely important. If you lie to me or overpromise, cut corners or install something that is not up to par, that is going to destroy the whole relationship.” — Mitch Sellner, security services manager, Dakota County, Hastings, Minn.
[The integrator] has to be willing to look for solutions that are not just ready-made. They need to think a little outside of the box and not just sell us vanilla.
Practical things such as price and equipment are important, but really, anyone can provide that. We want someone who is involved, and understands our operation and our goals.
I think these relationships break down when they don’t live up to the expectations.” — Jay Beighley, vice president of corporate security, Nationwide, Columbus, Ohio