In response to the crime waves of the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, the security system service industry began with the simple installation of burglar alarms in banks, jewelry stores and warehouses. Since then, the industry has grown into a diverse, high-tech, $24 billion sector of the service economy, according to MissouriBusiness.net, part of the University of Missouri Extension program.
Today’s market is being directed, however, more by information technology (IT) professionals than by security directors or maintenance professionals, according to Kurt Brinkman, principal of Intrepid Electronic Systems Inc., Oakland, Calif.
“Most security systems now incorporate technology that the IT staff uses and understands and are being placed on the fiber networks that the IT staff is responsible for,” he said.
However, electrical contractors that engage in the security market can find themselves in the position of both installing systems and servicing them far into the future.
Driving the market
“The fastest growing segment in security system maintenance is the total service plan, which includes total labor and an extended warranty, as well as preventive maintenance,” said Steven Feldman, director of Spectrum Integrated Technologies, the technology division of J. & M. Brown Co. Inc., Jamaica Plain, Mass.
Several factors are driving the demand for security system service and maintenance; among them is the requirement from leading security management manufacturers that the systems be placed under a software support agreement (SSA). Otherwise, the system and the technician called in for assistance are not supported. Another major factor is building owners’ desire to know their expected costs for security for the year, so they can include it in the operational budget.
According to Brinkman, demand for security system service and maintenance stems partially from the rapid change in technology.
“Security systems require frequent upgrades, and it’s hard for building owners to keep up. They have a high expectation that the sophisticated system is operating properly, and they are demanding dynamic solutions to meet those expectations and looking for service providers to come in with high levels of knowledge of computer-based systems.”
What it takes
Electrical contractors in the security service and maintenance market need to ensure that the agreement they offer is comprehensive and includes preventive maintenance, which would encompass everything from database housekeeping and backup; updates to the latest version of the software; testing peripherals; and a comprehensive test of doors, alarms and cameras.
“Additionally, clients will want a trial emergency to ascertain the response of the system and of the personnel charged with its operation,” Feldman said.
“Contractors must understand that the security market is not [National Electrical] Code-driven and that they need to perform a complete assessment of the customer’s existing system to develop a full understanding of its age, its components and what the customer expects,” Brinkman said.
Some older systems will need technology and component replacement, requiring the contractor to remain current on the latest offerings.
“Once the system is assessed and the contractor understands how the building’s existing systems interoperate, it needs to become an expert in system upgrades, updates, expansions or additions, and know what to provide to become a valuable, competitive resource for the building owner,” he said.
Mostly, Feldman said, contractors need to know that true security management and video management systems are more than the cabling used to provide communication. These sophisticated systems are highly dependent on specific hardware and communications principles not generally required in normal electrical operations; instead, they are low-voltage specialties.
“Top-tier systems require a fairly deep understanding of databases and operating systems as well as a number of system utilities and diagnostics,” he said.
All this requires shaking off the belief that an electrician, armed with little more than an instruction manual and a comprehensive set of drawings, can complete a security installation and maintain it into the future.
“The successful contractor will have technicians dedicated to security and video systems as well as software specialists,” Feldman said.
Brinkman added that the successful contractor needs to be willing to explore different technology avenues and to make a certain level of investment in people who understand IT and databases.
“That investment can result in opening up new markets, new offerings, an increased market presence, new partnerships and improved competitive advantages for the contractor,” he said.
Security system service and maintenance builds a recurring revenue stream for the contractor and is predicted to continue to be dynamic, cutting-edge environment where clients constantly want or need to upgrade their systems.
“Electrical contractors already on-site that make the necessary investments and get the necessary manufacturer training will have the competitive edge in getting the work,” Intrepid’s Brinkman said.
BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and firstname.lastname@example.org.