Security Executives Want Integrators to Be Long-Term Partners, Not Just Salespeople

Three security executives say they embrace new security technologies but sometimes need to convince their bosses it’s worth the investment.

Security Executives Want Integrators to Be Long-Term Partners, Not Just Salespeople

Image via Adobe, by goodluz

Editor’s Note: Although this article was originally published by CS sister publication Security Sales and Integration earlier this year and was primarily written for systems integrators, the experience of the security executives highlighted in this panel discussion applies to technology end users at schools, institutions of higher education, and healthcare facilities as well. 

Campus security directors and police chiefs understand the importance of implementing the newest security technology across their organizations but often meet resistance when it comes to doling out the millions of dollars it takes to implement updates, according to three security executives who participated in a panel discussion at last November’s Total Tech Summit (TTS) held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Adam Garcia, vice president of public safety services and director of university police services for Southern Command in Nevada; Mark West, senior manager of event security at MGM Resorts International; and Jonathan Westall, vice president of ancillary services for Martin Luther King Jr. Community Healthcare, deftly answered questions about their roles in beefing up security for their organizations.

The trio told the integrators and other invited guests in the audience they prefer to work with integrators who don’t focus just on selling them the latest and greatest technology but those who understand their problems and can help them solve those issues by installing that technology, then checking in regularly.

How Executives Decide Which Security Technology to Buy

The panelists have varying degrees of involvement when it comes to making the final call on investing in security technology.

West notes each of MGM’s properties has its own operating team, “so that creates opportunities and challenges for us as an organization to be able to make sure we have some consistency in how we provide our services and how we provide our security responses across our properties.”

Campus Security Executives Want Integrators to Be Long-Term Partners Not Just Salespeople, technology, security systems, UNLV, MGM Grand, Martin Luther King Jr. Community Healthcare

Total Tech Summit security end user panelists (left to right) Jonathan Westall, Mark West and Adam Garcia pushed integrators to think of them as partners rather than just sales targets. (Photo by The Photo Group)

“Part of my role is to work with those teams as they identify things of interest — new weapons detection systems, turnstile systems, RFID, card readers, things like that — so that we don’t end up with a patchwork of different solutions,” he said.

When integrators contact different people at MGM’s different properties, “the property only thinks about itself,” said West, which can create more problems for the organization as a whole than it solves.

Garcia has “a patchwork of different institutions,” adding that “each university we serve has its own culture, its own unique identity and its own needs.”

UNLV “is in a very urban setting with all of the issues you would think of for a large urban campus,” he said, while Nevada State University “is on the outskirts of the city. Each has its own needs. We have to balance those needs with two things: is it required and what is the cost?”

According to Garcia, two years ago the Nevada State Legislature passed a law requiring every police officer to wear a body camera during every interaction with the public.

“That balancing act changed and it was no longer an option for us,” he said. “It was something we had to do. Everything we look at we ask, ‘Do we need it, and do we have the funding? If we don’t have the funding, where does that funding come from?’”

Westall goes to GSX and other conferences within the security industry as well as In-Home Supportive Services and other health care-focused events to “check out the new technologies,” adding he’s responsible for the security funding across the health care network that includes one main campus and several satellite clinics in south central Los Angeles and Compton, Calif.

Hard-Sell Tactics Don’t Work

The panelists bristled at the idea of being hard sold on the latest security technology. If integrators focus more on product features than on problem-solving, chances are they’re going to leave without closing on a sale, based on what the experts said.

“We have taxpayer funds that we utilize, so it’s not really our money, so we have to be very careful on how those funds are utilized,” said Garcia. “When folks approach us, we have to go through a very distinct and sometimes very thorough process to deal with purchases through the state of Nevada. It can be very, very cumbersome.”

“We don’t necessarily get to make the decision because it’s done not only at the local level but there’s a lot of input that comes from the state level as well. We play a very big role in how it’s implemented since it’s on our site but not necessarily in what we buy,” he continued.

Patrol cars, for example, have to come from a state-approved list, although “once we get the cars, that’s when we can determine what we put in it: what kind of cages, what kind of radios, what kind of lights,” said Garcia. The same is true for video equipment, he said, noting the team is looking to figure out how to bring its thousands of cameras across four campuses into one place.

Westall fondly recalled a long-time security technician with whom he worked at a previous hospital, saying, “I could call that guy and tell him the fourth-floor camera feed was out and he’d tell me to go in closet 2B and it’s on panel 6. I know it’s easier said than done. But having somebody like that [is extremely valuable].”

“[Integrators have to] remember who the end user is,” said Westall. “It’s not the guy with a master’s degree who totally understands technology. For the most part, it’s a $17-an-hour security guard.

“I’ve had integrators and sales folks come in and the product is awesome, but there are 17 different bells and whistles, and we’re going to use two. This is for someone who’s going to be sitting in front of 400 camera feeds on 32 TVs at 2a.m.,” Westall added.

West prefers collaboration over salesmanship.

“People who come in and take the time to understand our environment, our challenges and the need we actually have are the most successful,” he said. “If you come in talking about a fantastic product that can do all these cool things, that may or may not be what we can do with it.”

“In many ways, security is a cost center. It’s important but it’s not revenue-generating for much of what we do. Because of that, we get a very high level of scrutiny on every dollar we spend. It needs to be well understood, it needs to be well articulated in the corporate model and structure so that we can make it make sense,” West added.

Systems Integrators Should Follow Up After the Installation

Security integrators have long led the way when it comes to generating recurring revenue. Accordingly, the TTS panelists said their integrators are generally good at staying on top of their needs and concerns, without being overly pushy.

Westall’s hospital network has a master services contract with its current integrator that includes ongoing training and regular check-ins every couple of months, noting the technician looks at the cameras and card readers and tweaks the system, as necessary.

“Just pick up the phone when I call,” he said. “I know I’m not the top of the top, but I’m [spending] a couple million dollars a year as a customer.”

West said integrators who understand it’s a partnership go far with him, saying “[It’s about] having not just a transactional relationship, something more like ‘here’s the product, here’s how you can use it, here’s the training, here’s the follow-up, how’s it working out? Do we need to make any changes? How is this integrating into your larger environment?’”

“Understand that our environment, much like many large corporations, is a complex one,” West continued. “There’s lots of different people, lots of different companies and lots of different technologies involved, so while we may be solving a very specific problem here, it’s going to have to fit into a much larger universe. If I can’t articulate that for the properties, it’s not going to work well even though it may be a great product. It’s likely not going to end up being a successful implementation.”

Garcia looks to integrators for answers, not pushy sales.

“I’m no expert on any of the things [integrators] do on a daily basis,” he said. “I have to come to you to get the answers. The reality of it is, when we have an issue, my expectation is we’re able to come to you, to contact you and you walk us through what it is that our problems are. I think we’ve been pretty successful at that so far.”

“If you go to IKEA and you get this piece of furniture and you can’t figure it out, you’re alone and have no one to call. When you’re talking about the kind of expenditures we have and the importance of safety and security for the citizens that we serve, it’s really important to be able to have that follow-up, that connection. The contacts and the ability to have you all be part of our team, as well,” he added.

Factor In Training, Software Upgrades in Total Cost

Of course, security integrators make their most money by installing new technology. The panelists said they appreciate hearing from their integrators on more regular intervals rather than just when it’s time to replace their cameras or card readers.

“The ones who are more engaged…who continue to reach out to us…are generally more successful [in getting new business with us],” said West. “As the products evolve and our needs evolve, we don’t end up having to say, ‘This just doesn’t work anymore’ because we can’t figure it out.”

Garcia knows salespeople have his contact information, but he wishes they used it even after the installation was completed.

“In many ways, I wish the follow-up was as good as the sell,” he said. “My phone rings off the hook constantly, and I sometimes get multiple calls or emails from the same person trying to get me to look at something…to buy something…to do something from your end.”

“When we invest millions of dollars, my expectation would be that the follow-up is as good as the person who’s doing the selling. We had a situation this year where we had to come up with millions of dollars for our camera system in order to keep the same software because the contract had ended but nobody told us — or they might have told us, but it landed on somebody’s desk someplace,” Garcia continued.

“When we do buy these products, I would hope the follow-up would be as intense so that we know two or three years out we have to come up with $1 million vs. finding out after the contract is over,” he said. “Make the service as profitable to you as it is on the front end when you’re trying to sell me a product.”

West knows that it’s about more than technology when it comes to new security systems.

“One of the things we recognize is technology is great and it brings us some new capabilities we’ve never had, but there’s almost always a human cost associated with bringing in new technology,” he said. “There are teams we need to have, there are people who need to be specialized in that thing who need to support it on our side.”

“Sometimes, when you start to do the math, it’s going to cost more to operate it than it did to bring it in. If we don’t know that upfront, we need to rely on you to tell us what it’s going to take to keep this up and running. If you can tell us that, it helps us to really understand it better, but if you just focus on the technology piece and getting the sale in, that leaves a poor taste in our mouths,” West continued.

‘Selling’ Upgrades to Internal Stakeholders Is Challenging

The panelists sometimes struggle to get their bosses to invest in security technology until after the fact. This is common across many industries and for many businesses, which tend to be reactive rather than proactive.

“It’s not important until it’s important,” said Garcia. “Active shooter wasn’t a thing. Now it’s a thing. When we, as visionaries, look to the future and say, ‘this is going to be an issue,’ many times it falls on deaf ears, not because safety isn’t a concern, but I think that imagination is lacking.”

“Look at Sept. 11…look at some of these other issues that have taken place. Most people in my world aren’t willing to look at it until it starts happening and becomes a cascading effect. Then, it’s an easy sell, but, in the beginning, it really isn’t, so we’re constantly having to play catch-up on specific kinds of issues and events,” he continued.

State officials are reconsidering the idea of not allowing license plate readers on campuses after learning the local parking commissioners are generating revenue from it, said Garcia.

“A lot of what we do when it comes to selling to our administrators, to our state officials and our government bodies, we need to show them that there are specific needs and we can prove it,” he added.
“We don’t make them any money. We cost them money. What I’ve tried to convince them is, on the other end of it, if we have an event, and we were aware of it, there’s a huge liability. This could have a lingering effect.”

About 20 years ago shortly after the school shooting at Columbine High School, the Nevada System for Education outlawed SWAT teams on the campuses overseen by Garcia and his team.

“It had only happened one time at that time,” he said. “Then it happened again and again and again, then it came to our doorstep [on Oct. 1, 2017, when Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and injured 500 others at a music festival from his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino].”

“Then guess what happened? We get all this tactical gear — stuff we were originally told we didn’t need because we’re campus cops. Now, we’re as well trained and well equipped as any municipal agency I can think of,” Garcia said.

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The Columbine shooting “really changed how we respond — and how we don’t respond, quite frankly — to that kind of situation,” he added. “Now, if you don’t have these tools, if you don’t have this type of training, you’re not going to be able to respond and everybody understands that. It’s an accepted value in today’s world.”

Westall believes security directors must be fortune tellers to some degree.

“There always has to be a cost basis,” he said. “It’s very hard to manage based on something that hasn’t happened. We average 26 incidents of workplace violence a day at the hospital where I work, so in my budgeting discussions, that’s a very [important] topic. Using those real-world incidents and having that data can help when you’re talking to people, who make emotional decisions.”

Some decisions about implementing new security technology come from “executives who read something in the news and say we need to react to this or ask how we’re reacting to it,” said West.

“A lot of what we do is try to compile these different drivers and try to stay ahead of it,” he added. “That means keeping an eye out three, four, five years and bubbling that information up in digestible formats so our property leadership and our company leadership can see those trends and start to figure out rather than react to them.”

MLK Community Healthcare rethought its objection to weapons detection systems and metal detectors in the lobby of its new hospital after patients regularly bringing guns into their rooms, said Westall.

“We had to change the community’s outlook on the hospital [after the original facility was shut down for substandard care in 2008],” he said. “We didn’t want it to feel like a prison. We didn’t want uniformed security guards. We didn’t want to look like law enforcement.”

“About three months later, as we kept finding guns on nursing floors, that all changed. Thank God, nothing happened. We had a nurse changing a bedpan when a gun fell out of the guy’s waistband, and then his girlfriend wanted to fight the nurse because it’s his gun,” Westall continued.

“Sometimes, those things are going to fall on deaf ears. Then, we started finding stuff. Then, it became a real discussion,” he said. “You don’t want to be the guy who says, ‘I told you so,’ but you back it up with data.”

Security Technology Is Constantly Evolving

A lot has changed since Garcia started his security career more than 40 years ago.

“Today’s cop cars look like a fighter pilot’s cockpit,” he said. “I’ll get in our cars, and I don’t even know where all the stuff is. The idea of technological advances and where it’s put us is just a whole world of difference in what we have and what we need.”

“What used to be nice to have…now, you have to have it or you’re not going to be able to compete with gang bangers. When I started out, we had 357 magnums with six bullets until the gang bangers started showing up with their Uzis and everything else. Everything changes when it comes to the tools we use in our field and the technological advances,” Garcia said.

The evolution of technology “is absolutely astounding,” he believes.

“A lot of this is event-based, things that come up that make us view the world a little bit differently,” he added. “Part of that also is with [integrators’] help. We can’t just look at events that have taken place. I also want to hear what’s out there, what’s going to be the next new thing that we’re going to see in these cars?”

“My imagination is narrow, and I would assume yours is much wider. Hearing from you and having you help to drive me to where I need to be as a department…that’s everything to me,” he continued.

West stays current by talking to his integrators as well as doing his own research.

“We go out and do our own research, we go to conferences, we’re reading, we’re constantly thinking about it, we’re challenging ourselves internally,” he said. “As we’re thinking about different kinds of expansion, we need to think about how we look at a resort property and how we build it. As many sources as we can find, we try to absorb all that, digest it and use it.”

“Integrators have to bring me new technology, but it’s my responsibility too to go to these conferences, walk the trade show floor and meet with everybody there,” said Westall.

“One of the most meaningful things an integrator ever did that’s stuck with me is paying for my staff’s membership in IAHSS so they could go to the conference and see the technology for themselves at the event,” he said. “Finding the next generation, the people who know the technology we don’t, that’s everything.”

Choosing the Right Security Technology Partner

Westall is partial to companies who host lunch meetings or regional conferences.

“We shouldn’t be meeting for the first time at RFP,” he said. “The second thing: make sure you’re not the absolute rock-bottom price. Either you’re going to give me a change order at the end, or you didn’t understand the assignment.”

West prefers a conversation over a soliloquy.

“Ask me questions about what we’re trying to do,” he said. “Try to understand our business, try to understand our challenges, try to understand the questions I’ve got to answer internally.”

“Don’t start with telling me how cool your thing is. First, understand my problems. Then, tell me how it’s going to solve a problem. If you can solve a problem for me, I can socialize [it] inside. I can geek out on new technology, but then all the work is on me, and that’s not going to be a real successful solution because I can’t do that very many times,” West continued.

“Understanding the client’s organizational structure can be very important,” he added. “When you’re dealing with a small organization, you know who the decision-makers and stakeholders are, but if you’re talking to a more complex organization, there are multiple decision-makers at multiple levels. You’re going to need a lot of champions to accept your work.”

“It comes down to personality,” said Garcia. “Is there a connection? We know where the problems are. Now you tell me how you can help me solve them. Know what we need and be realistic about it. There’s nothing that’s more of a turnoff than someone trying to sell me something I know I don’t need.”

The healthcare system uses what’s called “evidence-based medicine.” As Westall described it, “That means somebody else did it and was successful and it worked. So, the person I’m convincing I need $5 million for retina scanners and motion detectors is wired to wonder who did it before and did it work?”

Craig MacCormack is a veteran journalist who joined Security Sales & Integration in June 2023 as web editor. He covered AV, IT and security with SSI’s sister publication, Commercial Integrator, from January 2011 to June 2021. This article has been edited.

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