6 Jan 2021

Editor Introduction

What a year 2020 was for the security industry! There were vast challenges that could not have been foreseen at the beginning of the year. It is safe to say that the events of 2020 defied all industry prognosticators. However, is that any reason not to hope our expectations looking ahead to 2021 will be much closer to reality? Can we possibly benefit from looking ahead and trying to plan for the challenges of the year ahead? We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What will be the security industry’s biggest challenge in 2021?

David Barnard RS2 Technologies, LLC

In a statement: Leaving the challenges of 2020 behind. This year has been unique in the ebb and flow of business, solidifying a renewed focus on core industries like healthcare, government and education; but in 2021, one of the biggest challenges our industry will see is leaving behind what we considered to be the "norm." Fundamentally, the business has changed, and the organisations that aim to embrace new ways of adopting forward-thinking technology and delivering more service-based products to customers will wind up being the most successful. To that end, manufacturers may shift their products to serve more operational expenditure demands rather than larger capital investments, but this can only be successful if the broader integrator market fully embraces this way of conducting business. The challenge going into 2021, therefore, will be coaching dealer and integrator partners toward building up their service-based offerings and developing more recurring revenue models.

Tom Cook Hanwha Techwin America

As we emerge from the pandemic, I believe the video industry must hasten its shift to cloud-based solutions. Organisations are looking for alternative ways to minimise their operational costs. Many companies are recognizing they can operate remotely with fewer people in the office. Cloud or at least hybrid cloud/on-premises systems can reduce the number of devices that operations departments have to maintain, service and update. The security industry has been slow to move away from on-premises equipment, but COVID-19 has accelerated off-premises systems, and it’s clear that significant cloud migration has taken place in almost every aspect of our customers’ businesses. Investments in security must pay for themselves by becoming smart data capture and analysis tools that positively impact the prosperity, health and safety of an organisation. The new era of AI-assisted devices will help justify such new investments as businesses slowly come back to a solid economic footing.

Richard Brent Louroe Electronics

While it may be difficult to predict what 2021 will look like, we can be sure that COVID-19 will play a large part in the year to come and will undoubtedly be our fiercest challenge. No matter the vertical, from hospitals and schools to retail and industrial facilities, safety and adherence to virus-related regulations will be a must. For security technology manufacturers, this means developing solutions that enable hands-free entry, monitor social distancing, and ensure mask-wearing. Touchless technologies, like two-way audio systems that allow remote communication, will see greater adoption as tools to better protect our frontline, essential workers. We also expect integrators to face challenges when it comes to the physical deployment of these crucial solutions, as COVID-19 can complicate product availability and installation schedules.

It’s difficult to say what the industry’s biggest challenge will be in 2021 – with this year offering us a plethora of unforeseen obstacles and unprecedented changes. It’s hard to imagine what the future might hold, at this point. However, the security and technology industries were uniquely situated to react quickly and pivot solutions to assist in mitigating risks associated with COVID-19. At Security & Safety Things, our people-counting applications were primarily used to prevent unauthorised access and for general security purposes, but now can be utilised for critical occupancy management in retail stores and supermarkets. Object detection for weapons, or physical threats, is now being used to also determine the presence of proper facial protection. The challenge in 2021 will be how to create a long-lasting security infrastructure that will still be useful to customers in a post-pandemic world.

Jody Ross AMAG Technology, Inc.

The list of challenges in 2021 is long, and there are also many unknowns. The elephant in the room is COVID-19, and if and when people will be allowed back to the work facility while remaining safe. As companies follow government guidelines, they may have to make different investments to comply with regulations and ensure a safe working environment. Organisations have liabilities to consider in addition to financial pressures. They must decide what to invest in moving forward as the workplace landscape changes. They may decide to permanently alter their business model to support remote workers. This new environment would then require a different approach to protecting their data remotely and ensuring employees do not download sensitive information and inadvertently leave it unprotected. As a manufacturer, we must continue to work closely with our customers to provide support and the tools necessary to help them with their “new normal.”

Andrew Elvish Genetec, Inc.

Economic factors will continue to present significant challenges across all industries in the new year. Many businesses and governments are likely to be timider in terms of major capital expenditures – prioritising only those that can help them become more productive within a short horizon. Smaller companies within the ecosystem are likely to continue to face cashflow challenges as credit markets seize up. On the technology front, the security industry got a significant wake-up call to accelerate its digital transformation during the pandemic. In order to thrive, our industry will have to let go of the false division between cloud and on-prem and embrace hybrid deployment models. By doing away with this dichotomy, security leaders can make decisions about how they want to bring scale, redundancy, and availability to their business in a way that suits their deployment and ownership needs. 

2021’s one objective for the year is reinstating what used to be “the normal state.” 2020 has been extremely disruptive for so many people and activities in our industries; no exhibition or other industry events have taken place in person. There have been many virtual activities that perhaps kept things going, but there are elements of human interaction that still need to be improved and developed for the virtual arena. Without some of this crucial face-to-face interaction, we're missing out on the nuances and collaborative spirit that an in-person meeting can offer. In addressing these obstacles, 2021 will likely be a year that will continue to test our ability to adapt and be resilient in all areas of life, both work and personal. We are looking forward to working collaboratively with our industry partners towards a healthier, safer future in the new year.

Robert Moore Axis Communications

The security industry is traditional in the sense that it relies heavily on face-to-face interaction to do business with customers and partners alike. COVID-19 has put a hold on in-person meetings, trade shows, etc., and this trend is likely to extend throughout 2021. Virtually recreating these personal touchpoints, while cultivating and strengthening internal and external relationships, will continue to be both a challenge and opportunity for the security industry. Investments in tools and platforms to drive digital interactions have accelerated. Companies that proactively embrace these new, digital channels and find innovative ways to leverage them to interact with colleagues, new prospects, existing customers and partners will succeed in maintaining business continuity in this “new normal.” Finding other ways to interact beyond digital interaction is also important. For example, while they may be considered old fashioned, product samples allow customers to touch and feel a product versus virtually demo it.

Matt Van Alstyne Razberi Technologies

Cyber-attacks are on the rise. Organisations and their customers have become increasingly aware of the risks of having their data compromised and the potential downtime that accompanies security breaches. However, the organization's C-suite has yet to be held responsible. In 2021, CEOs will begin to be held accountable for cyber-physical attacks. They will be tasked with budgeting for cybersecurity, assembling a trusted team to provide awareness and guidance, and providing a seat at the table for CISOs. Threats can come from anywhere. Device networks in the back of an organization's minds, like video surveillance and internet-connected devices, have become an attacker's favorite target. Since the onset of COVID-19, Microsoft reports that phishing and social engineering attacks have increased to 20,000 per day. Ransomware can cause prolonged downtime. The use of Bots to aid in these attacks signals the use of even more sophisticated algorithms to achieve the hacker's end-game goals.

Sean Foley Interface Security Systems LLC

2021 could prove to be just as turbulent for the security industry as 2020. In Q1, we will continue to grapple with the fallout from COVID-19 with possible disruptions to the equipment supply chain and financial struggles for certain customers. Assuming we can keep our critical workforces healthy and an effective vaccine is deployed in Q2, the situation could improve quickly. The new challenge, then, will be to keep pace with pent-up demand. Imagine the challenge for a security integrator in late Q2 and early Q3 with restaurants, retailers, and sporting/entertainment venues reopening en masse. Formerly vacant commercial buildings will fill back up with workers. The reopening of America will require the deployment of unprecedented security resources, from servicing and refreshing existing systems to the deployment of new solutions. The second half of 2021 could set the stage for the biggest demand shock the security industry has ever experienced.

Julie Brown Johnson Controls, Inc.

The security industry’s biggest challenge in 2021 will be continuing to provide safe and healthy buildings while keeping up with an unpredictable climate. Organisations across all industries need to continue to prioritise the wellbeing of their occupants when planning their 2021 strategy and technology implementations, especially in K-12 schools and healthcare facilities. This means investing in leading security solutions that advance infection control and social distancing. From hospitals installing frictionless access control to schools integrating AI-powered mask detection solutions, to entire districts leveraging remote monitoring services – organisations must extend their healthy building initiatives into the new year to effectively overcome whatever security challenges lie ahead. 

Curt Wittich Quantum Corporation

Surviving budget cuts/doing more with less will go to the forefront in 2021 as we exit the global pandemic and try to recover economies. New, proven technologies are available to help address this, but they have had slow adoption. There are now NVRs on the market with up to 900TB of capacity in a single appliance. Hyper-Converged Infrastructure – HCI – appliances allow multiple applications to run on the same appliance, eliminating the need for separate servers for each application. Object storage is a newer, more cost-effective approach to storing large amounts of data, such as video. Its adoption has been slow for video because of the different protocols required, but several suppliers have now solved that problem. Tiered storage enables companies to create archival tiers on less expensive storage such as tape with retrieval functionality that is transparent to the user. Companies willing to consider these technologies can save significant costs.

Managing the COVID epidemic and helping to enforce social distancing in places of work will continue to be a key challenge for the security industry in 2021. However, this may be tempered by a contraction in the industry due to the economic fallout from the pandemic, with challenges in skills shortages as professionals find themselves moving to roles in other industries to “weather the storm” and not returning afterward. There also needs to be more honest with the public on just how much CCTV surveillance can do. It is often presented as the security panacea, sometimes promising solutions that it can’t achieve. As an industry we need to manage expectations, otherwise, it could damage our reputation. Overall, the security industry needs to continue offering sound and honest advice on solutions, to maintain trust with our customers rather than simply chasing short-term sales boosts which will be detrimental in the long-term.  

Editor Summary

Meeting the lingering challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic will dominate much of the security industry’s attention in 2021, our Expert Panelists agree. Some of these challenges will surround uncertain economic factors as the industry recovers. Others involve continuing to do business until we can return to a “new normal,” which hopefully will include face-to-face meetings and business operations that resemble those we were used to before 2020. There will also be a continuation of the recent increase in cyberattacks. Might the “new normal” be characterised by continuing turbulence?