In the midst of these tumultuous times, you may (wisely) be wondering how to set yourself apart from competitors. Finding a niche — maybe one in healthcare, education or the commercial office space — might be the solution you’re looking for.

“Being in multiple verticals is a good strategy for any integrator,” says David Antar, president of A+ Technology & Security Solutions, Bay Shore, N.Y., featured on our cover this month. “It cushions you from the down cycles.”

All of these verticals are similar in that they are different from a typical enterprise, says Chris Randall, director of sales, Americas, AMAG Technology, Hawthorne, Calif.

“Hospitals have patients, office buildings have tenants and schools have students and parents — they all have an inordinate number of non-employees in their facilities.”

With this heightened focus on visitors, all three verticals also have changed vastly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Over the years there’s definitely [been] a commonality within these verticals,” says Tom Cook, senior vice president of sales, North America, Hanwha Techwin, Teaneck, N.J. “Pre-COVID-19, I would say these three verticals [had] the highest percentage of people requesting we protect the environment from something like gunshots or explosions. This year, almost every vertical — but definitely healthcare, education and corporate offices — is asking what we can do to protect their employees from COVID-19.”

One important element of protecting employees and visitors from COVID-19 is access control, particularly frictionless access, Randall points out.

“All three verticals are trying to understand how they can be more frictionless,” he says. “Mobile technology, remote credentialing, visitor management systems are becoming more and more important methods for understanding who’s coming, who’s going and where they’ve been.”

All of these verticals are trying to understand how to implement screening processes into their visitor management systems.

“One of the big challenges these organizations face is determining the workflow, or the screening process as part of a comprehensive, existing access control system,” says Daniel Gudlach, vice president, global business development, FLIR Systems’ solutions business, Arlington, Va.

Beverly Wilks, head of marketing, Americas, Genetec, Montreal, says that in all three verticals, customers are requesting new ways to use old technologies.

“Everyone wants people counting and occupancy management — those types of capabilities were requested prior to COVID-19 for completely different reasons, such as marketing to know where to advertise,” she explains. “What you see now is, suddenly a lot of these technologies are being requested more and for completely different applications. Health and safety were always important, but the intertwinement with security was less obvious before. Now, all of a sudden, health and safety is security.”

Aiding managers in productivity is also key when providing all of these verticals with security solutions, says Brad Sweet, commercial marketing leader at Allegion, Carmel, Ind.

“From managing multiple key and credential systems, to maintenance on hundreds or thousands of openings, [facility managers] are always looking for solutions that increase efficiency and reduce excess costs,” Sweet says.

And with cybercrime reaching record levels during the pandemic, privacy and cybersecurity are top of mind for everyone.

“Cybersecurity is increasingly a topic people are more aware of,” Wilks says. “During this era, people started noticing the importance of privacy because more companies started questioning whether they will ask if visitors have been contaminated, and how they would manage that information . . . Cybersecurity and privacy have always been important, but what we’ve been through has shown its critical to all of us moving forward, and that we have to be mindful of privacy and cybersecurity — it’s not a corner we should cut.”

Wilks adds that, though everyone has been rushing to implement the newest technologies post-COVID-19, at the end of the day it’s about how you can continue to bring people into these spaces without putting them at risk.

Jeremy Saline, director of business development, higher education, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions Americas, New Haven, Conn., agrees, “At the end of the day, whether you’re securing a hospital, K-12 school, college campus or commercial office building, the goal is to provide a good experience in a safe and secure way.”

“Each of these verticals shares a common goal: To protect people and help them live smarter, safer lives,” says Bruce Canal, segment development manager, education, Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass.

Yet, while all of these verticals may share the common goal of safety and security, the solutions that make them safe and secure are unique.

“The need for specialized system solutions is required for each of these vertical markets,” says Bill Brennan, president of Panasonic i-PRO Sensing Solutions Corporation of America, Rolling Meadows, Ill. “Cookie cutter systems cannot possibly meet the exacting needs of these three verticals and the myriad type and size of facilities within each market category.”


Commercial Office Spaces

The commercial office space presents both opportunities and challenges, says Louis Boulgarides, president and CEO of the Ollivier Corporation, Los Angeles.

“Commercial office space creates great opportunities due to the fact that the ability to service the property often leads to opportunities with the tenants — also, many commercial property management companies are embracing the most current security technology,” Boulgarides explains. “Conversely, the commercial office space is also the most susceptible to economic downturns, and has been impacted tremendously by the current health crisis.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Boulgarides says the office market has seen occupancy drop by as much as 80 percent, though many companies plan on sending employees back to office spaces at the start of next year. Still, though, Boulgarides says many companies are planning on having 20 percent or more of their workforce continue to work from home permanently.

Because of this, creating an environment that feels safe to return to is essential to keeping contracts.

“Many facility managers and directors — along with their counterparts in IT and physical security — face growing challenges amid an expanding threat landscape,” says Matt Barnette, vice president of physical access control solutions, North America, HID Global, Austin, Texas. “This is especially true for managers and occupants of commercial office spaces during the global pandemic. They must balance workplace safety with concerns for finding integrated solutions with the capability to boost security, improve emergency planning, help meet public health and other regulatory or policy compliance, and optimize and refine resource allocation.”

A+ Technology & Security Solutions secures 35 Class A buildings in New York.

“We’ve been in the commercial space for quite a long time, but now things have taken off,” Antar says. “We were very proactive and took steps very early on — we were already researching the temperature scanning technology in February. We had also spent a lot of time virtualizing our own office, moving everything to the cloud, so we didn’t skip a beat.”

Dave Williams, director of national accounts, North America, Speco Technologies, Amityville, N.Y., says many customers in the space are requesting more advanced technologies to earn business.

“With the competitive nature of commercial office space, the ability to distinguish your property from others with amenities like video surveillance, access control and temperature or mask detection allows your property to stand out from others who might not be providing these types of services,” Williams says.

And because most commercial office buildings house many tenants, solutions that work well for a variety of companies are essential.

“The commercial high rise space operates like a municipality where there are many companies within the building that have specific needs,” says Jim Pinto, owner of Key Security Designs in Danville, Calif. “Products and systems must be comprehensive yet adaptable for universal use.”

Pinto adds that as a security integrator, you must be able to provide immediate support to not only the property management group, but also to the building tenants who utilize the systems you implement.

Tasha Birdwell, assistant vice president, commercialization, dormakaba Americas, Indianapolis, says COVID-19 has shifted the priorities of many property managers.

“Commercial spaces have traditionally focused on the best layouts for productivity and security — now there’s a transition to make sure occupants feel safe coming back,” Birdwell says.

Visitor management is now emphasized, Antar points out, because it can tie together weapons detection, temperature detection, occupancy management and more — many of the technologies managers are requesting to make tenants feel safe.

And knowing who is coming in and out of a space is a concern for many now, says Jonathan Lach, vice president of sales, Paxton Access, Greenville, S.C.

“Whenever large groups of people need to flow in, out and around a building, it creates a level of safety concerns,” Lach says. “Managing and keeping track of flow, being able to make access decisions to buildings in real time and having additional levels of safety control are what people are looking for today.”

Being able to monitor visitors remotely is increasingly important too, as many office buildings are temporarily closed.

“Many facilities are closed more often and for longer periods than ever before,” says Tom Mechler, regional marketing manager, intrusion and access control, Bosch Security Systems, Fairport, N.Y. “In addition, access to these facilities is more sporadic. This means that the ability for facility managers to control access to their buildings remotely is more important.”

Real-time location services (RTLS) have been growing in popularity for a while, and have become more useful due to their occupancy monitoring capabilities.

“Innovative platforms such as real time location services offer a transparent view into how a workplace and its facilities are utilized and how many people are onsite at any given time,” Barnette says. “While physical security systems can address some of these needs, RTLS-enabled platforms offer a deeper understanding of a facility’s occupancy and usage, which results in a safer and more efficient, compliant and resilient workplace.”

Other advanced analytics are also increasingly in demand, according to Williams.

“Cameras monitoring parking lots and common areas are quite common in this vertical, along with access control equipment to control and monitor movement between areas,” he says. “There is definitely more interest in incorporating advanced analytics to be able to detect specific events involving people or vehicles, especially after hours.”

Eddie Sims, senior manager of retail/commercial markets at dormakaba, says that while many companies want to implement these new technologies in order to keep their employees and visitors safe, they cannot all afford to do so.

“Many companies are down in revenue due to the pandemic,” Sims says. “The question remains: Where are they going to find the capital to make all these changes needed to create a healthier environment?”

It is the integrator’s job to help facility managers do the almost impossible, and find the perfect solution at the right price.

“In office spaces, bringing them tier one products is critical, and you must educate them,” Antar says. “Very often they’re looking for the cheapest solution, which usually isn’t the right solution for them. Your reputation is based on the quality of products you bring to them, and the reliability level.”


What’s Your Niche?


In their October Marketing Madmen column,  Security Dealer Marketing co-founders David Morgan and Alex Chavez wrote about targeting success with vertical marketing. 

“Vertical marketing allows for more effective sales messaging that addresses the needs and nuances of that vertical,” they wrote. “You are the expert and demonstrate you have industry knowledge. … A special focus allows you to identify trends in unmet needs and develop services to solve market challenges in a way that would be impossible if you only generalized in that vertical.”

Finding a niche by specializing in a certain vertical (or a few different verticals) helps you to stand out in a sea of competition, and as you immerse yourself into that market, you earn a reputation as the go-to expert.

A+ Security is involved in the education, healthcare and commercial office markets, but is especially focused on education. They even developed a mobile STEM lab in 2004 to help educate students on math and science.

“We’ve been very focused on educational solutions both on the learning side and the security side, so it’s been very near and dear to our heart,” says David Antar, president of A+. “When we first started doing work in education it was just another profit center for the company, but when we saw how we were keeping faculty and students safe, it’s something we’ve excelled at, and we truly understand educators’ needs.”

Bill Brennan, president of i-PRO, says it’s important for security integrators to choose certain verticals to specialize in.

“Systems integrators are becoming increasingly aware that they need to be more than just security technology specialists — they need to be vertical specialists to help resolve specific market pain points,” Brennan said. “This is essential in today’s market to remain competitive and land big projects.”

dormakaba encourages its own employees to become subject matter experts, and believes integrators should do the same.

“When you understand your customer’s needs, you become a trusted security advisor, not just a salesperson pitching a product,” says Jeff Nelson, assistant vice president, mid-South, dormakaba. “That’s why we invest in our team members’ ability to learn and understand a particular vertical, so they understand the pain points and possible solutions.”

Tom Cook, senior vice president, sales, North America, Hanwha Techwin, says that specializing in challenging verticals can be especially rewarding.

“I definitely think systems integrators should choose their niche or path and become better that way,” Cook says. “I think everyone finds their lane, and if they do find that lane and stay with it, they’re more successful and become more proficient.”

But do not confuse focusing on a specific vertical with disregarding business in all other markets.

“If you do as an integrator focus on a vertical, you put yourself in a vulnerable position because if that vertical is affected by a crisis, that could affect your business dramatically,” Cook explains.

Antar says people have actually suggested that A+ is involved in too many markets, but he says this makes enduring different cycles significantly easier. 

“We’re heavily weighted on education, but for many years, people told us we were in too many markets,” Antar says. “But what has ironically worked out is when one area or segment isn’t doing well, the other usually is. We’ve been in business for 33 years and I believe the diversity of our organization has helped us survive and continue to grow.”


The Education Market

The education market — including both secondary and higher education — is unique in the fact that it essentially affects every person in our society, says Canal of Axis.

“As a student, a parent of a student, or a teacher, we all reap the benefits of education,” Canal says. “Schools of all types, sizes and curriculums touch each of our lives; whether you’re an adult learner or in the K-12 world, it is essential for our educational facilities to be safe and secure.”

One main challenge those in the higher education market have faced as security threats mount is maintaining the open feel that has traditionally been enjoyed on campuses.

“The campus environment is unique because of its open nature,” says ASSA ABLOY’s Saline. “Colleges and universities, especially, need to find a balance between creating an open and attractive environment while also ensuring the safety and security of students, faculty and staff.”

This can be challenging, though, especially on large college campuses that are like a city in and of themselves.

“You wouldn’t want a student to have to tap their keycard several times to get into the library, so you want places of education to be free and open; at the same time, though, we know some of the risks of campuses, so you do have to find that proper balance of security and implementing solutions without impacting the sense of freedom for the students,” says Wilks of Genetec.

With COVID-19, the issue of keycards and access control has become more prevalent, especially in higher education where student ID cards manage a wide variety of things, Saline says.

“With the pandemic, [access control] can be used to manage traffic flow, limit the number of people in particular areas and quickly change how a particular space is used,” Saline says. “Access control can also support contact tracing and allow you to restrict access to areas if decontamination is required.”

Mobile access credentials are growing in popularity on college campuses, especially as the ability to securely issue credentials remotely reduces the need for contact during beginning of the year move-ins.

Brad McMullen, general manager of 3xLOGIC, Fishers, Ind., says that one of the biggest challenges in securing the education market right now is figuring out how to use access control systems for contact tracing.

“Access control systems can provide paper trails and logs of what parts of a campus [a COVID-19 positive] student or faculty used,” McMullen says.

Credentials are also critical in secondary education because the level of access different people receive varies greatly throughout the day.

“Students need to come and go freely when arriving and leaving school, but the perimeter must be protected when students are present,” says Bosch’s Mechler.

With the confusion around closings and reopenings, 2020 is not an easy year for anyone involved in the any part of the education market.

“Education has been the hardest in today’s environment,” says Birdwell of dormakaba. “Their focus has been on finding ways to reopen in the safest manner possible.”

Jeff Montoya, Eastern regional sales director, IDIS America, Coppell, Texas, adds, “In this COVID-19 era, schools are required to implement unprecedented safety measures and new technology that these times demand. The need for savvy integrators to serve our schools has never been greater — COVID-19, despite all of its tragic consequences, has also ushered in a new wave of opportunity for security solution providers to prevent its spread.”

Will Duke, CEO of 3Sixty Integrated, San Antonio, Texas, says K-12 school administrators’ priorities have definitely shifted since the start of the pandemic.

“At the beginning of the year, school districts were focused on minimizing vaping, truancy and active shooters,” Duke says. “Now the focus of security angled towards the health and safety of everyone on campus is critical.”

As focus shifts, though, it’s important to remind customers that the security concerns of last year are still important — especially when it is time to plan for the budget.

“One of the biggest challenges is increased funding for necessary resources, such as new cleaning procedures, products and PPE — all of which are costing secondary school districts millions of extra dollars,” says Sweet of Allegion. “For the past several years, school security has been one of the top issues for school districts. However, many non-security issues, such as remote learning, staffing, social distancing on school buses and whether to have high school sports, have taken a lot of mindshare away from security in recent months.”

Budgets and closing cycles are typically complicated to deal with in the K-12 education market, since they are funded by the government. It is essential that security integrators familiarize themselves with the budget cycles before presenting to school administrators.

“Integrators must learn and understand the buying processes of educational institutions,” Canal says. “There are government regulations and compliance rules as well as buying committees and procurement rules that all impact the process. Thus, educational institutions are sometimes slow to purchase. However, with such thorough vetting processes, those institutions are usually very loyal once a decision has been made — when an integrator has made a positive impact on a school district or institution, they often find themselves in a long-term relationship as a trusted advisor.”

Antar, who has been active in New York’s secondary education market since 1998, knows a thing or two about this. “In education, it’s a very long close cycle typically — we sometimes work with schools for two to three years on larger upgrades — and you have to truly understand the budget cycles. It’s a lot of education for the educators, and you want to give them a long-term roadmap,” he says.

“When you’re dealing with state employees, they’re very price conscious; but if you bring them a solution that is going to work for years to come, then they won’t shy away from doing business,” says Joey Edmunds, vice president of Stone Security, Salt Lake City, Utah SDM’s 2020 Systems Integrator of the Year.

Edmunds adds that publicly funded secondary schools do not have the luxury of replacing a system in a few years if it isn’t the perfect fit — getting them the right solution from the start is key.

“They do with what they have until they get a bond to upgrade or change a bunch of stuff,” says Paul Fisher, vice president of national/global accounts, Salient Systems, Austin, Texas. “They don’t have a lot of recurring dollars. They have to replace entire systems because they don’t maintain them for so long — they lose sight of it.”

Paul Messenger, strategic account manager for Milestone Systems, Lake Oswego, Ore., says that understanding state buying contracts and grants is essential when advising K-12 school administrators.

“If you don’t do right by customer, they all talk to each other, so reputation is extremely important during service and after the sale,” Antar says. “There are a lot of factors for longevity in the educational market.”


Healthcare Institutions

In the healthcare market, there are many different types of buildings to secure, from large multi-building hospitals to small rural nursing homes.

“From the emergency room where access is needed for authorized personnel, to high security or limited access areas, such as record rooms and testing laboratories, hospital personnel need to be able to flow quickly and seamlessly through the secure facility,” says Sweet of Allegion.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, those in the healthcare space have also had to figure out how to secure temporary hospitals and tents used to house COVID-19-positive patients.

“Temporary hospitals and tents are becoming more prevalent and have unique security needs,” says Paul Baratta, segment development manager, healthcare, Axis Communications. “These structures need deployable technology that provides for patient care, supports staff and monitors patients.”

Sweet says that since the start of the pandemic, many people have relied on urgent care facilities instead of going to the hospital or their regular doctor’s office.

“Urgent care centers were already growing prior to this year (9.6 percent growth from 2018 to 2019) and it appears the pandemic is speeding up this trend even more,” Sweet says. “From a security perspective, urgent care and other outpatient facilities require different access control and security needs than a typical hospital.”

Telemedicine has also become more common as patients shelter in place.

“As a result of the pandemic, adoption of telehealth has grown by 65 percent in 2020,” Sweet adds. “Given the virtual nature of this service, it does not involve physical security. However, in the future, it could affect the types, number and design of medical office buildings.”

Other design shifts that security providers should be aware of include quarantine rooms, additional storage areas for PPE and rooms where hospital staff can stay overnight.

“The pandemic has caused hospitals to restrict visitors, increase surveillance and focus even more intensely on the safety and security of patients and staff,” Baratta says. “Historically, hospitals trained for response to a catastrophic event, including those caused by terrorism or hazardous material spills. So in many ways hospitals were prepared to deploy temporary structures; they had policies and procedures in place and they tested and drilled to respond. What they didn’t necessarily anticipate was the length of this pandemic event.”

Ryan Kaltenbaugh, vice president, vertical market solutions, LenelS2, Pittsford, N.Y., says that many healthcare institutions haven’t only intensified their need for security, but the need for their buildings to be healthy, as well.

“The concept of a healthy building has become much more prevalent during the pandemic,” Kaltenbaugh says. “Healthcare, perhaps more than other verticals, was already focused on maintaining a clean, safe building and working environment, but that concept has become an even greater focus.”

Finding ways to reduce the number of surfaces people touch, ensuring people are properly screened before entering the building and monitoring occupancy rates are all increasingly important to healthcare institutions.

In an attempt to make buildings healthier, many healthcare facilities have had to completely re-architect their visitor management systems, Kaltenbaugh adds.

“In the past, depending on the situation, visiting a loved one in the hospital was a relatively simple process,” he says. “Now, healthcare organizations need to be prepared for people to sign up online for patient visits, have visitors screened on the way into the building, ensure all visitors are wearing PPE and are signed in, and possibly even escorting them to a particular room, among a variety of other new steps or requirements.”

Rapidly changing policies are a challenge considering the amount of scrutiny placed on these organizations, Kaltenbaugh says.

And changing security elements becomes even more complicated in buildings that are open 24/7, like most hospitals.

“These facilities are 24/7, so when they go to do an implementation of a system, they have to quarantine areas to work in, even pre-COVID-19,” says Salient’s Fisher. “At schools, you do most of the work in the summer when the kids are gone, which makes it very easy for them to complete a task. In healthcare, you don’t have that benefit because there’s always something going on.”

Another challenge when securing healthcare facilities is funding.

“Funding is a major challenge for healthcare organizations during the pandemic,” Kaltenbaugh says. “More resources have been diverted to a variety of needs that used to take up a much smaller chunk of the budget than they do now.”

Whether it’s taking care of employees who may be overworked or buying more PPE than was originally planned for, these organizations now have to make difficult decisions regarding their budgets.

Confidentiality must also be top of mind for those securing health facilities, as federal oversight requires it, according to AMAG’s Randall. It’s not just about the doors — but how they are reporting and gathering data.

“The healthcare vertical is unique for a variety of reasons, but one of the core reasons is the strict compliance standards,” Kaltenbaugh says. “The requirements around just about everything in healthcare, at the local, state and federal levels, are complex. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) subjects healthcare organizations to a frequent cycle of surveys to ensure everything us up to standards, requiring organizations to constantly assess their level of compliance. Security in healthcare is a major part of that.

“Healthcare organizations must show that their access control systems and associated security systems are managed properly. Whether it’s a nursing home, a regional community hospital or a large trauma center, they all need security systems that remain in compliance, which often requires the systems to have very specific capabilities. Third-party systems being used such as surveillance systems or visitor management systems are also subject to these rules.”

Despite its challenges, Baratta says the healthcare market is a place of great opportunity for security integrators.

“When it comes to integrators looking for a growth market, they should consider that the global smart healthcare market was worth approximately $143.6 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.2 percent from 2020 to 2027,” Baratta says. “Rising adoption of healthcare improvements, government initiatives to digitize healthcare and the prevalence of chronic disorders and future pandemics are likely to accentuate the demand for smart healthcare systems.