SUVs, HTTPs, and PPOs. What do these three acronyms share? Nothing, except that they've become common to our vocabulary.

Similarly, the word "security" has become increasingly common to an electrical contractor's vocabulary. Your customers are asking for security, building management, and automation. And, you're taking the time to get up to speed on this important niche. With more than 80 percent of electrical contractors specifying security in the design-build stage, according to a recent Electrical Contractor magazine study, it's no wonder that many electricians are now requested to provide this type of work for their customers.

Do you have what it takes to add security and related disciplines to your power and wiring? You may. Here are some tips from others who were once where you are.

Pitfalls and pluses

If you have a true entrepreneurial spirit, you know there is always a downside, and the security industry is no exception. In the security industry, there are some definite technological principles at play. For example, do you know the principles of passive infrared technology to adequately and effectively specify protection with these devices? Do you recognize the principles of microwave technology, and where not to put these sensors? Do you know how to select and set a closed circuit television lens for optimal performance?

Depending on the niche you choose, you will need at least two things: competent workers and training. Niches are important. You should have a specialty, but that's the subject of another column.

"One of the pitfalls we've encountered is making sure our sales representatives know what they're selling and that our technicians know how to install it properly," says Paul Warren, senior vice president, MONA Technologies, Clinton, Md.

The Technologies Group of MONA, which also has separate Construction and Service divisions to handle its traditional electrical contracting business, installs security, integrated systems, access control, CCTV, fire, and building automation. It is also a value-added reseller for Lucent Technologies.

Security is only 5 to 10 percent of the company's total revenues, but it represents an integral portion of its business strategy. "Security is one part of our overall goal to be a bundled solution provider," Warren explained, adding that the company first began offering security in 1994 as more customers asked for it.

Warren said knowing national and local codes and what the end-result of an installation will be are both important. "Technicians and sales representatives have to be familiar with products, and go through training. We sometimes bring vendors in for educational sessions."

Looking for new products is a constant activity, especially with rapid technological advancements in computer and microprocessor technologies, according to Warren.

MONA Technologies is a member of the American Society of Industrial Security, which fits well with its 100 percent commercial base. It also licenses its technicians for low-voltage work in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. All its technicians are NICET IV certified for life safety system installations.

"With the shortage of labor, getting quality workers is key," Warren said. "If you're just getting started, it's crucial to examine your market area and your current customer base to see what areas of security might be best to expand into."

While security represents only a small percentage of Electronic Control Systems Inc.'s business, located in Miami, it too plays an important role. According to Neil Hart, president, "Customers come to us for design-build work-everything from power, wiring, emergency power, fire, security and building automation. It's a natural portion of the project. Customers don't want three or four different people coming in to do the work.

"Where other contractors fail in this work is that they don't look at the programming aspects of the work. Their technicians have to be highly skilled and have to work closely with the customer. They have to know how to execute the different levels of control available to meet the end-user's and the facility's needs."

Technicians from Electronic Control Systems attend seminars and manufacturers' symposiums. They also participate in groups, such as the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA).

Harris Electric, Dublin, Calif., said Cal Harris, owner of the company, has not found any true pitfalls in the 10 years it has been doing security. However, he has words of wisdom for those interested in the business. Getting qualified technicians is the first hurdle, which can be overcome with proper planning.

"Your technicians must totally understand the scope of the work and how the systems work together. You have to have credibility to install security…there's much more involved other than systems themselves. It's a big commitment. Your key personnel have to be on call when there's a problem. You have to be sure you will be there to respond to your customers. For them, it's life safety and the security of their personnel and the facility," Harris said.

O'MARA is the president of DLO Communications, Inc., in Chicago. She specializes in writing about the security market. She can be reached at (773) 775-1816 or domara @flash.net.