Industry Insight

An Ear to the Rail

WHEN I was much younger, I lived outside of the city in a rural area of the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Near my home were train tracks that ran from the heart of D.C. toward Harpers Ferry, W.Va. I contemplated a few times walking the tracks all the way there.

During the summer months, my friends and I would play along the tracks, hunting for old beer cans and leaving pennies on the rails to be flattened by the infrequent trains. One particular trick, in "Stand by Me" fashion, was to put our ears to the rails to see if we could hear or feel any distantly approaching trains.

Luckily, we didn't get killed, but we did have the stuffin' scared out of us a few times from horn-happy engineers trying to teach us a lesson. The sad part was, there was a thrill associated with the scream of the horn and the thunderous, pulsating vibrations that racked your body as the tons of steel and iron raced only feet away from a hiding place in the sooty scrub along the tracks. It's that rollercoaster thrill that is gas on the fire to some of us.

I never fail to be impressed by this industry and the professionals I am fortunate enough to know, but we need to collectively get our ears to rail and listen.

I guess in some ways I have not lost that desire to take risks and live a perilous life. I'm not jumping out of planes, but I do like to live and feel alive. The one thing that has changed most for me, though, is paying more attention to the signs along the road, reading the tea leaves and keeping my ear to the rail.

Things are changing for the security industry right now; you can feel it in the air at industry events and tradeshows. People are hunkering down and getting leaner. Choices that once seemed hard to make because of old traditions and alliances are now easier to make in the name of efficiency and productivity. The dollar has a value again, and people are not afraid to say it.

Does this imply we were once free and loose with our resources, or is it simply a reflection of the growing influence of large corporations and vertical market interest in our industry? We are sucking in our guts to impress the venture capitalists and would-be corporate suitors.

There is nothing wrong with this increased focus on the bottom line. Many would stress it has always been there, but this is something different. This is the type of focus that has to do with an industry increasingly under the microscope of the promise of what our technologies and services can provide in the name of homeland security.

Security is the buzzword. I hear this in so many meetings and in conversations with people who are now just getting acquainted with our industry. I have started asking these peripheral people what the word "security" means to them. On average, I hear "guards" -- just a bit worrisome when I think about the army of security professionals this association alone represents and the markets these professionals represent.

Education of the masses as to the value and benefit of security is critical, particularly as we move forward into a time where we are shifting and changing based upon perceived and real scrutiny. We are becoming leaner and meaner in the way we do business, but who are we doing it for? So we can compete more efficiently against ourselves in a marketplace that really doesn't know who we are?

I never fail to be impressed by this industry and the professionals I am fortunate enough to know, but we need to collectively get our ears to rail and listen. We must feel for the signs of what is about to come around the bend. We run from tradeshow to tradeshow for leads and exposure. We analyze which shows will provide us the biggest yield on investment. Yet our potential clients and customers may very well be heading down a different track.

As we move into the ISC show, I encourage you to take stock of what the attendees have to say about their needs and perceptions of our industry. We move so fast, sometimes we loose the message and miss the signs.

Let us know what you hear and feel so we can better work to stay on track.

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Security Products, pg. 8.


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