Ask The Expert

This month's expert looks at security trade shows and what benefits they offer to the systems integrator

ASIS, ISC West, ISC East and GovSec -- these are just a few of the annual trade shows aimed specifically at the security industry. There are countless other security-related conferences and seminars. If you throw in trade shows for vertical markets, such as education, transportation, gaming, facilities management and others, it would be possible for a systems integrator to attend an event at least three weeks out of every month.

Most, if not all, of these shows and conferences offer interesting information. But what is the real benefit to the systems integrator in attending these events beyond racking up frequent flyer miles?

The answer to that question has changed over the past few years. Before leaving the big shows, such ASIS and ISC West, I use to make sure to check out the small booths at the back of the hall, where one could find the emerging technologies being developed by small entrepreneurial companies. But today, the success of these fledgling firms often depends on their striking exclusive agreements with one of the large multinational firms that control an even larger portion of the marketplace.

ISSUE: How has that changed the way you approach trade shows?

SOLUTION: A well-developed trend among major manufacturers is to sponsor their own integrator conferences. These annual, two- and three-day events are an opportunity to learn the latest product roadmap, listen to the insights and priorities of top management, and become better acquainted with the products, processes and strategies of these companies. This arrangement gives the integrator community an opportunity to network, share experiences and trade market observations. The information we take home with us can prove very beneficial to our clients.

So now, when I attend an ASIS show, I go to the major players' big booths more to touch base, nurture relationships and get updated on a road map with which I am already well-acquainted.

A more recent alternative to the major trade show is the Xchange format. These events, held in a number of specialized industries like security, bring together executives from interested manufacturers and the executives of top systems integrators for a series of short one-on-one meetings. Like speed dating, these 20-minute sessions allow an effective way to quickly decide the potential for a business match. These events involve an industry trade journal sponsor that coordinates keynote speakers and facilitates a discussion forum, addressing emerging industry issues and trends. From my perspective, the two days spent in this Xchange environment provide excellent learning and networking value.

ISSUE: Do the major trade shows still have value?

SOLUTION: The value is still there, but the focus has changed from the point of view of an integrator. Most integrators have major clients that attend ASIS, ISC West and some of the other major shows. If these clients decide to tour the show floor on their own, they may not get the information they want. The size of these shows can overwhelm them. They may not know which company booths to visit or they may not know how to ask the right questions to learn what they need to know.

This gives the integrator a chance to act as a guide. We are happy to walk the floor with our major clients and help them to get a better understanding of the product choices available to assist them in protecting their facilities. This is just another way to add value to the relationship.

Several factors -- such as the consolidation of equipment manufacturers, convergence and new technologies -- have combined in recent years to profoundly change the security industry. This, in turn, has changed the expectations of both exhibitors and attendees at the major trade shows. Nonetheless, these shows still bring thousands of end users, manufacturers, systems integrators, consultants and others together for a few days of networking and information sharing. That alone keeps the major shows booming, with attendance all but mandatory.

And remember, when you attend the next big trade show, take a few minutes to check out the back of the hall. There just might just be a real gem or two among the tangle of small booths that the big manufacturers are overlooking.

This Month's Question:

ISSUE: I am a safety director for a state-owned hospital located in a rural area. We do not have a large budget for security. But we do need to identify off-road vehicles being improperly used on our property. Also, we operate a farm where poaching and theft is a problem. I wondered if a "game camera," a small, weatherproof, high-resolution camera would work for us. If not, is there another cost-efficient system that might work for us?

SOLUTION: I have never heard of a trail camera being used as a security device, but have also learned the wisdom to never say never. These "game camera" devices combine an infrared motion detector with a wide-angle digital camera all in a weatherproof box that works off four D cell batteries. The $300 price tag is attractive if you're working under a tight budget. The investment could pay off if you set it up at the right location, but the typical, 50-foot capture range makes that a challenge. These devices capture high-resolution, megapixel images, but you have to go to the camera when you want to retrieve those images. The devices, also known as a "trail camera," uses a conventional strobe flash to capture images in low-light conditions, a feature that makes this approach somewhat less than covert.

The day/night IP video cameras with local storage cards and record-on- motion features may prove a better alternative, but will realistically require a local power source and a little more money. Of course, adding a 5-GHz, wireless IP link would allow you to beam recorded and real-time images back to the comfort of your office -- but now, we are getting out of the shoestring budget category.

It's important to balance the solution to the budget of your organization. That balance may mean to self-install a game camera and hope for the best. My advice is to request the online IP video wireless link approach as a homeland security initiative in your next budget and see what happens.

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