Industry trends suggest business-savvy electrical contractors may procure additional work by educating staff members about programming software for security systems, allowing their clients one-stop shopping for access-control systems installation.

In recent years, security has become an integrated part of what contractors deliver, along with communications and power. However, within the security industry, the ultimate contractual decision may be a question of after-sale servicing of a security system. This service is typically not offered by electrical contractors but, rather, by many security-system integrators responsible for a system’s initial programming.

With the two trades involved, opinions are diverse about whether it is best to employ two separate companies or one that encompasses all the talent necessary to install a security system; the available options provide various possibilities for success in the security field.

Relationship building

The traditional relationship between the electrical contractor and the security system integrator has been one of separate trades providing different scopes of the overall project. The merging of these two specialties may become a reality sooner than expected with ambitious electrical contractors adding to their resumes with a variety of specialized software.

Debra Spitler, vice president of marketing at ASSA ABLOY Identification Technology Group, pointed out the different perspectives in the security industry and the roles they play in access control.

“There are always two different perspectives within the security marketplace: the role of the electrical contractor versus the role of the security integrator,” she said. “In many cases, the security-system integrator will do everything associated with the job to make the system whole.

“The other side of the coin is where the electrical contractor is much more involved, especially during new construction,” Spitler added. “The electrical contractor runs all the conduit and power for the job, and he may also have in his contract to run all of the wire for the job. Traditionally, this is where the electrical contractor has stopped. He’s run the wire and conduit for the job, but all the terminations, access systems, installations and hookups have typically been done by the security-system contractor.”

So where is this relationship headed? One theory suggests sharing duties between two companies that have contracted to work together; another asserts the ease of finding all duties under one company’s umbrella. Considering the various possibilities for the future, Spitler lists some of the likely scenarios.

“Right now, the big question is where is this convergence between the electrical contractor and the security-system integrator is going to come in. There are some scenarios that could continue where the electrical contractor pulls all the wiring and then stops,” Spitler said. “It could be the electrical contractors pull all the wire and hang the equipment, like the readers on the wall, and put the electrical strikes in the doors, etc., and then the security-system integrator does the final connections and system programming. Or, the electrical contractors who are savvy could learn how to become full installers, and handle putting in the hardware and the software and getting everything programmed and operational. There really are so many options available.”

Heightened technology

Since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, many companies that wish to increase security aren’t satisfied with just burglar and fire-alarm systems. They are seeking systems that require heightened technology for installation and operation, such as retina or fingerprint scans, sensors, closed-circuit television, smart cards with encoded data, touch-screen monitor interfaces and wireless data-transmission systems that operate by remote control.

“Technology is moving into smart technology with smart cards and multiauthentication technology, such as the use of a biometric and a card,” Spitler said. “Technology is becoming more diverse, and the diversity of the technology is even requiring a different skill set on the part of the security-system integrator because there are new software components.

Though everything is software-driven, she added, most electrical contractors could pick up a card reader or biometric device that came with a decent installation manual and understand how to mount the device.

“The big question is, ‘What do you do to make it operational?’” she said. “Does the electrical contractor have a staff computer-savvy enough to understand how to make a device operational, as well as to understand how to work with a client who may not understand the principles of access control? Electrical contractors are good at explaining what electrical components are required in order to make systems operational, but they also have to be able to move into the role of explaining to clients about access control.”

Outlook for electrical contractors

One question is whether the security industry will come to rely on the electrical contractor to become software-savvy or remain content to have the security-system integrator provide the benefit of one-stop shopping.

This issue has been reduced to which company will provide the necessary after-sale system maintenance. “Once electrical is installed in a building and operational, how many people need an electrician?” Spitler asked. “Once electrical is working, it usually doesn’t break. Security is different because the security system integrators provide the after-sale service. They are typically very software-savvy in terms of how to program the access control software. Electricians, on the other hand, have been known to get the job done, but they don’t come back to service it after the fact, and they are not typically thought of as software-savvy.”

Within the electrical contracting industry, the consensus seems to be if contractors want to move into full-service, full-support roles within the access-control industry, they must employ staff members who know the software. The electrical contractor’s future in access-control systems has become a matter of how far he or she wants to go in learning the actual hardware/software side of the business and in offering the after-sale support and maintenance. This may be a customer’s major factor in deciding, though many may consider doing part of the work with the electrical contractor and the rest with the security contractor.

There are additional aspects to consider based on the location of the project. In strong union towns, many security-system integrators who work on larger new construction projects subcontract to the on-site electrical contractor. On new construction, union regulations play a big part in what happens, giving the electrical contractors an advantage because the security system integrator is limited and cannot perform a large portion of the job.

Ultimately, a security solution should enable a business to operate faster, safer and on a profitable level. This means electrical contractors and security-system integrators should remember that communications, controls and client needs—when combined—provide the customer with an effective security solution they feel secure with. EC

SILVA, a Hollywood, Fla.-based freelance writer, can be reached via e-mail at bsilva23@hotmail.com.