How does IT affect the physical security buying decision?
With more physical security systems using Internet protocol and being connected to the enterprise IT network, it’s not surprising that the corporate IT department is more involved than ever in the buying decision – for better or worse. Does the IT department bring valuable resources to the table, or are they an impediment to the sales and integration process? It’s not a new issue, but an increasingly important one as the industry changes. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How is the increasing influence of the information technology (IT) department at an end user's company affecting the buying decision, and how should suppliers and integrators adapt?
The relationship between IT and physical security departments is evolving with many companies starting to realise the benefits of collaboration. High-profile hacking cases have shown a spotlight on cyber security, making it a high priority for most end-users. IT realises all systems need to be properly secured, and with some environments seeing more IP cameras than laptops on the network, physical security is becoming more scrutinised. While physical security usually determines camera placement and how the system is used, the infrastructure can be more cost effective when combined with IT’s budget. Too often we see separate systems, but fortunately that’s starting to change.
For many organisations, the IT department is now a crucial stakeholder in any security projects/decisions. This is largely due to the increasingly close working relationship between both disciplines but also due to shared risks. For example, the Internet of Things brings with it risk as well as benefits, with concerns that all these new end-points could allow intruders to bypass security (if it is not able to cope) and access the whole IT network. The IT influence is being felt across the physical security sector. IT installers are now quoting for security projects, and traditional installers need to understand IT protocols to compete on a value-add basis. As a manufacturer, the upside for us is that there are a greater number of potential partners to work with. We have also needed to upgrade our expertise, and IT is now a vital part of our offering too.
This is not something new. This has been going on for quite some time, and I think that the security industry has excelled in adapting to the requirements set forth by end users’ IT departments. It is, however, worthwhile to notice how the degree of adaptation to an IT department’s requirements varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, both in devices and systems. It is important to an administrator of a corporate network to be able to manage the devices on the network, regardless of the type of device. For this reason the industry needs to consider making products that adhere to existing standards like Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), which is an Internet-standard protocol for managing devices on IP networks.
I think it’s more than fair to say that we are seeing the lines between IT and security departments become increasingly blurred. One factor is the increasing value of surveillance data. Security footage is being fed more through a company’s data network, and so this has an impact on the speed, or the service level agreement. An immediate priority for installers to consider is the capabilities and benefits of various drives and systems. Of course, we all want good value, but we must invest as necessary. If you strip everything back, the integrator's job is to deliver data. If IT and security departments can keep this objective in mind, then “value” redefines itself. They must understand this key question: How can we deliver exactly what our customers want over the lifetime of the investment they are making? Upgrading systems after installation to meet capacity demands is expensive and time consuming.
The involvement of the IT departments at end user companies in buying, installing and operating security equipment and software is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, the IT departments bring expertise to the table in designing infrastructure and specifying components. IT departments can lower the cost of security systems by either running security applications on existing infrastructure, or using their superior buying power. One of the challenges, however, is that IT departments could delay security projects because they may be strapped for resources; and with security being a cost centre, sometimes it doesn't get priority. Suppliers need to adapt by making sure their products meet IT cyber security standards and can function within IT infrastructures; for example, software that can use virtualised servers and storage as opposed to needing dedicated components. Integrators need to increase the level of IT expertise within their organisations and engage with IT from the start.
The influence of the IT department is unlikely to go away. However, IT’s total domination of the security function – widely predicted in the early days of networked systems – also has not materialised. If anything, the buying decision for physical security systems today is more complex than ever, both because the systems tend to use network resources and because their benefits reach into other departments, thus involving additional stakeholders. More than ever, the buying decision for physical security systems today is a team sport, and the security and IT are important members of the team.
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