Don't be a CCTV installer/dinosaur

Nov 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Charlie Pierce


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Analyzing and projecting the trends in any industry can be a tricky and detailed process. In CCTV system installation, however, it is a fairly easy thing to do. My projection is that CCTV installations are, and will continue to get, easier, less technical, less special-tool-dependent, and, consequently, more profitable. That does not mean the installer/service person can become less technical or valued. Exactly the opposite.

Now, before you throw your oscilloscope and/or hand-held meters away, please note that I said that the trend is going this way - it's not necessarily there yet. We still have a few years to go before the installer/service person is obsolete. So don't throw yourself into the prehistoric files just yet. Just be ready and able to change and move with the industry.

The need for educated, well-equipped installation/service personnel is growing at a record rate. The ability to fit the pattern and need will be more dependent on the individual as time goes by. We are moving into a period when credentials and experience will be resume gold.

The first issue is training. Over the next few years, as has become more evident with past experience, more and more states and possibly even Federal entities will require that installers and service personnel be certified. This means training in classroom and the field.

Just a short 10 years ago, training for the average installer/service person was considered ludicrous or a luxury. Training was either product- or manufacturer-specific or was presented from the view of an engineer or bench-level technician.

Today, however, the availability and emphasis on high-quality, generic, how-to training are good. Seminars, ranging from one hour to five days, are constantly advertised and attended in record numbers. There is a growing trend toward professional support to field technicians. There is also a growing recognition of the need for quality in both appearance and operation of CCTV systems. No longer is the word-of-mouth, field-hands-on training bringing value to the individual installer or service person's paycheck. In the end, I recommend you obtain all the credits and field time you can to maintain your value in the field.

A Need For Tools and Training Despite improvements in video equipment from a technical and size aspect, there has always been a need for three or four tools that the average installer either couldn't afford or didn't know he needed. The investment and understanding of the need for the tools is becoming a strong trend in the CCTV system installation/service industry.

There are two factors influencing the trend: the amount of training that is being introduced into our industry and the type of training. With training comes understanding. With understanding, frustration.

Frustration evolves from an inability to perform simple functions or attain quality results due to a lack of support and tools - more often tools. The old saying that "ignorance is bliss" fits nicely here. Before I knew that the image was supposed to stay in focus throughout the entire range of a zoom lens, I thought it was working well. Once I learned that it wasn't right, I learned that I needed tools. With that knowledge came the realization that I could not afford the tools, but at the same time could not afford not to invest. A real catch-22.

Obtaining consistent quality from a CCTV system is the direct result of having the proper tools and understanding how to use them. Fifteen years ago, an oscilloscope was a must-have tool for the average CCTV installer/service person. However, the $2,000-$3,000 price tag made it unobtainable for most. Add fear or intimidation of operation and lack of training to the equation, and it is easy to understand why 99 out of 100 installers/service personnel did not have an oscilloscope 15 years ago.

The trend in the past five years toward such high-priced, technical tools, however, has definitely moved in the installer/service person's favor. The first indication is that you can now buy a high-quality, portable oscilloscope for less than $1,000. Additionally, several hand-held video meters are available for field personnel. Improved training has added an understanding of the need for such tools. Net result? Our equation has now shifted and about 45 percent of installers/service personnel own some sort of video referencing tool. I base this new number on personal computations taken during my own seminars throughout the world over the past 15 years.

Let's project the future need for these technical tools. Will we need an oscilloscope or hand-held video meter in the field in the future? No! Please note that I said in the future. This does not give you permission to continue for the next few years without the proper tools. You must invest according to where we are right now. Since the equipment that we work with is becoming more sophisticated, however, the need for technical equipment to balance and maintain such equipment is slowly receding. If a camera/lens will automatically adjust itself to produce a one-volt video signal, under all circumstances, I don't need a hand-held video meter during the installation.

As the advancement and sophistication of equipment continues, we will find ourselves in a totally digital world within the next few years. Consequently, installation/service personnel will need different tools and training for equipment that can verify digital signals versus analog video.

This type of equipment will be smaller, more portable, and less expensive overall. The trend, therefore, will be that more installers/service personnel in the CCTV industry will be better equipped for the technical side of CCTV over the next five to 10 years. If you feel you don't need to invest in such tools, then you will be unemployed in the near future. At the very least, you will look at your associates and wonder why they are receiving a better wage.

The Popularity of Coaxial Cable Coaxial cable has been, and is still, the most popular method of transmission of the video signal. Consequently, the cable stripper and crimper are two tools that are considered to be necessary to CCTV installations. I am, however, constantly amazed at the numbers of installers/service personnel in the industry who do not own a cable stripper or crimper.

The trend is leaning quickly toward more efficient methods of signal transmission. We also are running head-first into digital signals. The net results of these two efforts will be that the coaxial stripper and crimper will become obsolete (for new systems) in the CCTV industry over the next three to five years. Fiber optics, twisted- or two-wire systems, low bandwidth microwave, Internet, and telephone line transmissions are fast becoming the popular methods of video signal transmission. Once we move into fully digital signals, coaxial cable will become a moot point in many cases. The trend, therefore, is to continue with what you have and mentally gear up for a complete reversal of what you're used to. Shouldn't take too much thought. For once it is a step up in simplicity.

Organization: A tool Of Timeless Value One tool that has not changed in more than 40 years and has become more valued today and will continue to be valued is organizational and documentary skills. The installers/service people who does pride themselves on well-organized jobs will find that they are increasing their value to their employer. While the cost of performing a job is going up, the amount to bill for the job is going down. In simple terms, the profit margin of a 10-camera system today, as compared to the same system 10 years ago, is about two thirds. If this trend continues, as is expected, the next five years will cut that profit margin by one third again.

The consequence of such cuts is obvious. You, the installer/service person, must be able to do at least one third more work today to make the same amount of money for the company that you would have made 10 years ago. Add inflation and you don't have a raise coming in the near future.

Organizational skills in the field increase productivity and profitability. Net result: you make yourself a more valued employee and a raise becomes feasible.

Documentation allows service personnel to do the same. There is no reason for a 15-minute service call to take three hours. Yet how many times have we spent that much time in the field looking for a broken wire or power switch? Good system documentation allows the service person to walk into a job cold and find the problem on paper and then prove it in reality. Net result: faster, more efficient service. Secondary result: continued profit from service contracts.

At the end of the day, we look into our crystal ball and say: "Where are we going? What are my options? Am I going to have a value in the future?" Well, the future is now and it is becoming automated, precision-driven and demanding.

The idea of a technician hitting a piece of equipment to shake it into operation is a lost joke in the new world of the installer/service person. Yet a short 15 years ago, we did our share of equipment banging. The idea of walking into the field armed with a screw driver and bit of ingenuity is antique.

The goal of today is to increase your education to make yourself necessary. At one time, we were necessary by virtue of the situation. My best advice and personal push is to read, listen, attend and learn about your predecessors and compare their situations to where you stand.

Since the camera will become a moot point in the near future, learn how the controllers and recorders operate. Find out what makes them tick, and you will be moving toward a long career. Train, learn, apply, and then train and learn some more and apply again. Ask a lot of questions. Cure your ignorance and survive your comrade's stupidity. Invest in the tools necessary to do the job today and look for tomorrow's hammer.

Organizational and documentary skills will be tools of personal ownership that will make you a more valued employee and professional no matter where you go. Last, but not least, don't fear the future, embrace it. Your level of understanding and education is the only thing holding you back from a solid future. Since you know that, fix it. Fix that and you are a qualified technician.

If you are an installing dealer or integrator providing solutions - versus selling hardware - we can assume your customers rely on you for good advice. But there are other resources your customer turns to before even contacting you. They are consultants, architects and engineers, andif you have not developed an understanding of who these advisors are, what their needs are, and how to build a bridge to them, you could lose sales because of it.

To gain the fundamental knowledge you need to add value to the team - and to win over the advisors - read on.

As security threats increase, prevention methods increasingly rely on divergent electronic equipment and systems. Security directors need new talent and skills to keep up with the changes as technology plays an ever-increasing role.

Even electronics suppliers find it difficult to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and equipment. Imagine what your customer is faced with when designing a new system or adding to an existing one!

As systems and preventive measures become more complex, thus affecting more departments, more people are involved in the buying decision.

The channels serving customers are also becoming more complex. More people are involved in the sale. Although relationships still count, today's end-users tend to be sophisticated, long-term thinkers; bottom-line accountability defines their needs. The customers' budgets are either remaining constant or growing as their management recognizes the need for security. However, spending decisions have to be justified, and there must be a measurable link to return-on-investment. Long-term relationships have value, but are not enough.

The customer's internal buying hierarchy has grown to include representatives who share computer databases, information, networks and budgets. An intriguing shift is the greater influence of outside consultants and design engineers. In fact, this influence is often greater than that of the integrator. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

Architects, engineers and consultants represent the client's interest while bridging their needs, culture, risks and mandates with the providers of products and services. These representatives have no product affiliations; nor do they generate revenue from the installation of a system. They work for the client. As the job of the security director or technical manager becomes loaded with additional responsibility, they will rely more on expertise outside their organizations. Buyers are already familiar with architects, engineers and consultants, but if integrators, dealers and manufacturers do not understand how to work with these "influencers," they are missing an important key to selling and satisfying security buyers.

Who exactly are these influencers and what is their role in the industry? A broad definition: One who gives expert or professional advice; one who consults another.

To understand the role of the consultant, let's look at some of the requirements for membership in associations specific to consultants, such as the International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC).

The IAPSC was founded in 1984 by a small group of security consulting industry leaders. The IAPSC defines "security consultant" as a qualified professional who works as a security management consultant, forensic consultant, security engineer or systems designer, a technical security consultant, or a security educator. The chief criteria of the IAPSC for security consultants are:

* Most of the consultant's time must be spent in the security practice.

* The consultant may not be associated, financially or otherwise, with any product or service other than the provision of consulting, e.g., cannot be a system or manpower salesperson, cannot accept any compensation from a sales company, cannot have any equity holdings in an equipment company and cannot pay or accept any referral fee.

The primary focus of these requirements is to ensure that the consultant is knowledgeable and has no vested interest in any product or service he recommends. The consultant should be impartial and owe allegiance only to the client who is paying the fees. Dealers and installers on the other hand normally have a bias or vested interest in particular products and manufactures. These biases may or may not be in the best interest of the customer.

Now that you know who they are and their role in the buying decision, it is important to understand how to be a good provider to them. After all, they are after the same thing you are: providing a solution to the cutomer. It is essential for you to get to know your customers, then learn how to help them.

How To Meet Customers In addition to IAPSC, these organizations are available to research specifiers and consultants:

* American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS)

* Security Industry Association (SIA)

* American Institute of Architects (AIA)

* Construction Specification Institute (CSI)

* American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)

* Council of Engineering Companies (CEC)

When meeting a consultant, we suggest a one-on-one approach. The benefit of the meeting for them-and the only reason they may take the time - is to find a great resource. Be prepared to deliver specific information about your company and its goals. Let them know who you are, who you have worked with and what markets you specialize in. Also, be prepared to share your company's history, mission statement and assurances of financial stability and sales volume. Point out the advantages your company offers over your closet competitors and provide a client/referral list. Having this information on hand at your first meeting will save time and add credibility.

When bidding on projects, in addition to knowing about you (the installer/dealer/integrator), the consultant will need to know detailed information about the products you represent. Make sure qualified technical staff is available to explain product functions and features. Other considerations include level of testing, research and development processes, backwards compatibility, expansion capabilities and customization features.

Finally, the consultant will need information concerning necessary operation qualifications, training and available technical support, product warranty information, and your organization's past experience with the products.

Remember that the security industry is constantly changing, growing and diversifying. To remain successful you must be diligent in following these changes.

Customers are leading the change in the industry, and attentive suppliers are moving with them. More manufacturers are recognizing that their channels are their partners (not their customers) and that by combining their talents, they can provide better services to the new corporate buyers. As the customer changes, participants in the market will change. Everyone in the supply chain will have to add measurable value to keep his or her market share. The security industry will continue to grow and the opportunities will expand for the companies that understand the industry and, more importantly, understand the customers.

The five most important points for an integrator/installer, from a specifier's point of view, are the following.

1. Be responsive to each opportunity. We have facilitated an integrator being invited to submit a bid, only to have them not respond - at all. They should make every effort to submit a bid. If they don't believe that it is in their interests to submit a bid, they should explain their decision. We never call a second time to a non-responsive installer.

2. Don't get greedy. This is especially important if an installer believes they already have a leg up on the competition, or even a lock. We generally intervene if an installer's bid is unrealistically high. I have never failed in getting a greedy bid disqualified or otherwise set aside. A fair profit is never a problem.

3. Be diligent and responsive when problems arise. During construction-period services, it is reassuring to a consulting engineer if the installing company is diligent in handling problems constructively. Whether the problem is real or merely one of perception, specifiers remember integrators who were constructive in how problems were handled. Finger-pointing and defensive postures are also remembered - negatively.

4. Read the specifications. One of the most common problems is that employees of installers often never bother to read the specifications, or they assume that the engineer and owner don't mean what they say. We do mean it. An engineer's job is to enforce specifications. Perhaps the most glaring failure is to ignore specifications that require "entirely complete" submittals that are delivered "at one time." I don't even bother to look at submittals that are incomplete or arrive in pieces. I send them back without review. That will eventually cost the integrator money.

5. Don't back-stab. If there are problems, they can all be worked out one way or another. Accusing the consulting engineer of problems to the owner's reps will be long remembered by the engineer. If you must criticize, do it in the open - but you better be right and that better be the only way the problem can be addressed. If it is a CYA tactic, you probably will never work on a project managed by that consulting engineer again.

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