Using the Network for Security

Using the Network for Security

Is a retrofit security solution the answer?

Using the Network for SecurityJoe from ABC Company has had the same security management system for 15 years in all of his buildings. He likes it; he knows it inside and out, and he can give training classes to his security guards on how to use it.

Today, however, Joe’s integrator called to tell him that the access control manufacturer has announced that ABC Company’s system is at the end of its life. They will no longer manufacture the product and, soon after, will stop supporting it.

As the shock settles in, Joe begins to analyze his situation. In reality, the company is starting to outgrow its system from a technology standpoint, but he is comfortable with the system, and a lot of time and money has been invested into it.

The maintenance and upgrade costs, although high, were expected and budgeted. However, he soon analyzed that the system had actually been costing him money over the past five years.

Joe has a decision to make.

What is the next step? Rip out the existing system and start over? Start down a lengthy, labor-intensive, upgrade path? Both options are time consuming, expensive and full of unknown issues, and neither solution was appealing to management or other stakeholders.

Luckily, Joe has been hearing about retrofit solutions at recent tradeshows. These types of solutions offer all the benefits of a new system while avoiding a high cost, labor intensive, disruptive upgrade.

Maybe it’s time to consider a retrofit solution.

Provides All the Benefits without the Drawbacks

Many worldwide end users have recently learned their long-time, networked, security management systems are facing one or more of these dilemmas:

  • The product being used is discontinued, due to an end-of-life scenario.
  • The system has become antiquated and doesn’t meet the needs of the company any longer.
  • The company has outgrown the system, and it can no longer expand to meet the growth requirements.
  • Expensive, risky, labor-intensive upgrade nightmares are on the horizon.

Starting over means spending months researching new products and their capabilities as well as investigating new manufacturers, while embarking on the path of an upgrade is equally time consuming and could have unforeseen pitfalls and costs. Both solutions mean finding money in the budget.

The alternative is installing a security management system with hardware, software and processes designed specifically for retrofit situations. A retrofit solution allows a company to upgrade quickly, easily and affordably while protecting their current investment.

When a company chooses the correct retrofit solution, it can reuse a large portion of its existing network infrastructure, such as enclosures, hardware and wiring, along with other components like readers, badges and other field hardware. Reusing provides a huge cost savings for the end user and time savings for the end user and integrator. The drastic reduction in downtime minimizes impact on the business.

How to Choose the Right Retrofit System

End users can avoid the lengthy, complicated, expensive upgrade process when they choose the right retrofit security solution. Some retrofit solutions require multiple updates to software and complicated hardware analysis to determine viability. Not all retrofit solutions provide the same ease of use and plug-and-play functionality.

To choose the best retrofit system, look for a solution where the circuit board drops into the existing controller chassis. This allows the installer to simply unplug the old circuit board, and replace it with the new one. New boards should slide into the existing card cage, and connectors should fit the new controllers seamlessly, without the use of tools. Power can then be turned back on, and the new system should be operational within minutes per controller.

Choose a Trustworthy Company

Changing security systems is a stressful process, but when an end user does their homework and chooses a trust-worthy manufacturer with a history of stability, the transition can go smoothly.

There are several factors that help determine which manufacturer to choose.

Product development. Does the manufacturer control the product development? Many manufacturers OEM products and sell them as their own, and while this is perfectly acceptable in the security industry, it means the manufacturer does not control inhouse product development.

When a company chooses a manufacturer, they should examine its product development process. It’s much more beneficial to choose a manufacturer that completely controls all product development in-house, including hardware, software and firmware, because upgrades to their products can be done quicker and easier than companies that OEM their products. (Upgrades ensure optimum product performance within the system and with any third-party integrations).

Backward compatibility. Choose a manufacturer that offers a guaranteed, backward compatibility promise for its products. As companies develop new products, they should always work seamlessly with older products to protect end user investment(s) and eliminate expensive upgrades.

Scalability. Research how a manufacturer’s products work together. Then, choose one that offers flexible, scalable and upwardly mobile solutions to ensure the system can grow with the company as it adds to the retrofit security system.

Ease of use. Find a system with intuitive software offering the same GUI for all products. This makes upgrading easier, because the security staff is familiar with the product. Some manufacturers even make software that has a similar look and feel as Microsoft Office. It doesn’t get more familiar than that.

Exceptional customer service. Pay close attention to the customer service provided during initial discussions, presentations and site visits. Who is making the presentations? Is that person listening to the end users’ specific needs? How is the follow up? Has the end user met the manufacturer’s president or vice president(s)?

Personal relationships, and the effort that goes into forging them, can set a manufacturer apart. If a high-end executive flies out to meet the end user, that speaks volumes about the manufacturer’s customer service and personal investment in the project. It shows the end user they are important and their business matters. It also establishes a relationship with the high-level executive team, and the end user knows they can pick up the phone and call the president or vice president(s), knowing he or she will actually take the call.

Establishing a relationship between the end user and the president alone can help an end user make its decision on which system to install.

Do the Homework

It’s important to take time to examine tomorrow’s needs today to predetermine what security features and integrations may be needed in the next three to 10 years.

Doing this homework upfront will help determine the type of retrofit system to choose, ensuring the system offers deeplyintegrated physical and logical access control, IP video, intrusion detection, alarm management, badging and visitor management. Some access control manufacturers build many of these features into their base offering, providing a cost-effective solution for end users to grow into. (Buyer beware: some manufactures offering a base access control product charge additionally for each feature module, like visitor management or intrusion).

Be sure to ask for references when calling or visiting the manufacturer to determine its service track record. Investing in a retrofit solution means entering into a new, long-term partnership with that manufacturer; so, is the manufacturer likely to provide exceptional customer service at all times based on the references’ responses?

When an end user invests in a security management system, it’s critical that the system capabilities are leveraged to their fullest potential and that a maximum ROI is experienced. A good professional services department fosters a teamwork approach that brings the end user, integrator and manufacturer together to provide specialized expertise to ensure this is met. Does the manufacturer offer professional services assistance?

A lifecycle-management technical advisor helps manage the end user’s retrofit system by:

  • ensuring the current software is always up-to-date;
  • making sure the end user is using new features;
  • planning for unique system variables;
  • confirming system requirements meet retrofit requirements for optimum results; and
  • protecting data.

Does the manufacturer have a lifecycle management program to support the end user every step of the way throughout the retrofit path?

Finally, look for companies that have ISO 9001, ISO 14000, ISO 27000, RoHS, UL294 compliance and a CE certification. Does the manufacturer take pride in its products and maintain the proper certifications and compliances?

What are the End User’s Needs?

As the end user transitions from the idea of installing a retrofit security management solution to taking action, they need to make sure the chosen system is a reliable solution that has the feature set necessary to meet their needs including ease of use, an intuitive system that reduces training time and a cost-effective, scalable system that can grow as needed.

It can take a while to transition the old, obsolete system to the new retrofit solution. The end user usually cannot afford to shut down its security system for long periods of time, if at all, so the manufacturer must work with the integrator to ensure a smooth transition with no downtime. This is easily accomplished by choosing a low-risk, easy-to-install, plug-and-play retrofit solution that can operate alongside the old system.

At the end of the day, end users are looking for a trusted, long-term partnership with a manufacturer, where the manufacturer backs its system with quality products, provides exceptional customer service and believes in establishing and maintaining relationships.

Plug-and-Play Retrofit Solutions

While several retrofit security management systems are available, end users need to consider the installation process as they migrate to their new, networked system.

The best solutions on the market tend to offer a simple, circuit board replacement. The end user can reuse existing enclosures, fitting the same wall space without the need for additional real estate or new boxes. Simply change out the boards as all wiring infrastructure remains intact, eliminating the labor expense to remove and install new wiring. And, the backplane operates flawlessly with the existing wiring.

The system should support all existing communications topologies of the legacy system, including downstream controllers where multiple access control panels communicate with the host software through one Ethernet port. This should be supported through a plug-and-play procedure, with dial-up support also being a possible requirement.

The end user can use its existing reader infrastructure by choosing a retrofit system that supports legacy reader communication protocols, including proprietary protocols like F/2F. This allows the retrofit to leave existing readers (and badges) in place, greatly reducing the time, cost and disruption of a replacement.

The manufacturer should provide a support team to identify and plan the entire migration to minimize downtime and duplication of effort by being available to help with conversions and assist the end user every step of the way.

While many suppliers can assist with the conversion of cardholder data, it is recommended to investigate what else can be ported to the new system. Some suppliers can convert other information, such as access rights, greatly reducing the manual effort involved during the conversion. Don’t just consider database conversion as a yes or no question, but make sure the specifics are understood and agreed upon before committing.

When an end user chooses the right retrofit solution, they receive a new, state-of-the-art, hardware and software platform that meets their requirements, upgrades their system to modern technological standards, eliminates risk, protects current investments and reduces costs.

So, if you were Joe from ABC Company, what would you choose?

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Security Today.

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