Today’s intercom solutions are not the same as in the past. With technological advances including IP, PoE, networking and mobile, these technologies are truly part of a fully integrated security solution and should be presented, sold and installed accordingly.
“Intercoms even three to five years ago were thought of as a convenience device where you push a button and talk to someone on the other side of the wall,” says Craig Szmania, regional business development for 2N, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass. “Now they are part of a well-thought-out security solution used to protect schools, office complexes, industrial parks and more by verifying who is at the door, both from a video and audio standpoint. That is a change that has been driven by networking.”
Network-based video intercoms enable integration across the board, adds Paul Hefty, technical sales and support engineer II, Aiphone Corp., Redmond, Wash. “Audio and video are integrated. Communications capabilities are broadened when video intercom systems are tied into an organization’s network and SIP phone system. Video intercoms have expanded well beyond basic door entry control or simple communications to become a very vital part of an overall security plan.”
What’s more, Hefty adds, intercoms shouldn’t be thought of as a “simple” door entry system anymore. “As we expand into the network, we’ve opened the ability of these devices to work in internal communications and emergency situations.”
That is a trend also noted by Michael Zuidema, marketing operations manager for Code Blue Corp., Holland, Mich. “We are seeing a growing number of our end users utilizing intercoms for customer service-based applications alongside emergency communications. A big component of this is integration, which can add a number of benefits and features when an emergency button is pressed, whether using video to complement the two-way audio, unlocking doors, opening parking gates or displaying key information.”
Besides networking, another change that has come to intercoms in recent years is the advancement in voice technologies, says Dan Rothrock, senior vice president of channel development, Zenitel USA Inc., Kansas City, Mo.
“We believe the term ‘intercom’ carries a lot of baggage. It has traditionally been associated with bad audio and has been deployed as a silo within a building or campus … We are now in the age of voice. Voice is becoming the primary interface to technology in consumer applications and will eventually be driven into the organization.”
Leading manufacturers are stepping up with products and solutions designed to capitalize on these new trends.
Zenitel is pushing the message of audio and “intelligibility” of intercoms in hopes of changing perceptions of what intercoms used to be. “We call our suite of products ‘Intelligent Communications at the Edge,’” he says. “We are focused on delivering the power and business intelligence of voice in and around new IT business models.”
Code Blue’s new Centry is an IP video help point using SIP technology that allows it to easily register and connect to a variety of device management systems, Zuidema says. “It can also drive both network connections and power off a single PoE connection, easing the infrastructure burden during installation.”
Axis/2N intercoms are all PoE-based, Szmania says. “You plug in the cable and you are good to go. It is simple and easy. Another new feature we have come out with is remote configuration. You can log onto the intercom and configure it, or program it to do different things. Lastly, we released in July a cellular-based intercom using V12 power. You can put an intercom on a gate and save the expense of running cabling.”
With all these advances in intercom technology, experts say it is time for security dealers and integrators to embrace the new intercom, if they haven’t already. Here are the top three recommendations for making the most of the latest in intercoms.
1. Educate Yourself & Your Team
The number one thing dealers and integrators can do is embrace the technology and understand it, Szmania says. “It’s not that complicated and most are doing IP-based cameras or other systems; but they need to embrace that concept with intercoms as well … If they do that, and teach their techs and themselves about the benefits, they will be situated to go out and win bids and drive new business. End users don’t know what they need and they are looking for leadership from the security integrator. If they know about the technology and how it works, they can sell it into the marketplace. They just need to train themselves how to install and maintain it.”
Increasingly the installation part is the security integrator’s responsibility, Szmania adds. “Before, the electrical contractors put in a lot of the point-to-point intercoms. But more of this business is migrating to the dealer and integrator than in the past.”
Things have changed in terms of how intercoms fit into the access control sphere, he says. End users have cards or Bluetooth credentials which need to be integrated with the building’s access control system, along with the intercom so that video and audio can pop up in the right place at the right time.
“When integrators and dealers take the initiative to educate themselves on the latest security trends, they can use that information to their advantage when they are meeting with potential customers,” adds Code Blue Director of Enterprise Solutions John Plooster.
2. Sell the Solution
Like much of the physical security realm, the consultative sale applies equally to intercom solutions, Plooster advises. “Stop focusing on price-driven conversations and start acting as a consultant or subject-matter expert. Explain how you are able to help other customers that have similar needs and situations. Additionally, identify key areas of need and focus on developing the solutions that will help resolve their challenges. Be proactive and offer system design assistance as opposed to simply serving as quote providers.”
Rothrock agrees. “Understand your client’s business process and the measures of performance that they are achieving today and how it can be improved over time. Voice can be the differentiator in saving lives and assets or improving a business process ... You are now in the business optimization and information management business. If you are selling intercom instead of intelligent communications, you are just a reseller — not an advisor.”
One way to be a good advisor is to truly understand what the customer is looking for, Szmania says. “There are lots of different solutions and systems on the market but it starts by understanding what are the goals of the system and who is going to use the system? Is it a receptionist up front or people around the building?”
He adds that it is critical to involve all departments that will be using the system. This includes both physical security and IT, typically.
“As the industry trends towards network-based intercom systems, it becomes vital for the dealer or integrator to talk with both the customer’s physical security and IT teams,” Hefty says. “Too often there’s a disconnect between those two groups. The dealer/integrator should manage that communication.”
3. Think Ahead
Not only will getting the right people involved up front help make sure there are no misunderstandings; it will also ensure expectations for future use are met, Szmania says. “I say this a lot; they have to think long-term and build relationships over the long haul because needs are going to change.”
Another part of thinking ahead is making sure you are planning the installation correctly. Szmania says one of the most common mistakes he sees is when the installer simply hasn’t read the instructions. “We get countless calls from dealers who got on-site and don’t know what they are doing. They are not hard questions, but if they would have just done a little planning before they got to the job site, it would save them time and money.”
Planning ahead also means not being short-sighted about what the customer truly needs, Hefty adds. “If a job calls for units to be installed in multiple sites, such as a school district, it’s a good idea to standardize on a single intercom unit. You sometimes see larger buildings getting full-featured units while small facilities receive something less robust. That can lead to problems. Focusing on one unit results in savings during installation, maintenance and training.”
He also encourages dealers and integrators to take advantage of manufacturer support options such as live phone and online chat support, how-to videos and help with specifying an entire system.
Don’t forget to consider some of the cutting-edge technologies that might be the must-haves of tomorrow, Rothrock advises. “Access control, video surveillance and analytics should never be specified without voice and audio fully embedded in the solution. If this is done correctly, it sets the stage for machine learning and AI, which will take the business process optimization to the next level.”
The biggest takeaway, Szmania concludes, is that intercoms can play a dynamic role in any integrated solution. “Intercoms have changed a lot, and the industry has changed. IP networked products have opened up a lot of different avenues … The world is expanding for intercoms.”