The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a double challenge to physical security systems integrators. For one thing, they have had to adapt their own businesses to survive and thrive during the pandemic. On the other hand, they have also been faced with new challenges to serve their customer’s changing needs.
Global pandemic effects
One integrator company, North American Video (NAV) took the now-familiar steps most companies confronted to adapt their business model to operations in a global pandemic – they suspended all non-essential travel and face-to-face meetings.
At one point, NAV had a single employee in the New Jersey headquarters and another one in the Las Vegas office. The rest worked from home, with other offices opening as needed over the following weeks.
Another integrator, Convergint Technologies, was able to adapt its approach to the pandemic, location by location, across the United States. The integrator benefitted from its leadership structure, with local managers in various regions who are autonomous and could react to what was happening in each region.
“We saw a dip in April and May, but since then, we have seen business pick back up,” said Mike Mathes, Executive Vice President, Convergint Technologies. The Business of Integration virtual conference sponsored by the Security Industry Association (SIA)
“We already had tools and infrastructure deployed to support a virtual workforce. We had the software and the right equipment, and that has allowed us some flexibility to approach the repopulation of our offices in a gradual way.”
The impact of COVID-19 on integrators and their customers was the main topic of discussion at a session on The Business of Integration at the Securing New Ground virtual conference sponsored by the Security Industry Association (SIA).
North American Video also benefitted from having technical personnel spread across the United States. By assigning work duties on the basis of geography, they could travel by car with less risk than air travel. They also increased their use of remote monitoring and support to avoid extra visits to customer sites.
With 80% of the business in the gaming industry, North American Video saw a profound impact on their customers with the almost complete shutdown of casinos during the early days of the pandemic.
Even though gaming was impacted particularly badly by the virus, NAV stayed engaged working on four or five large casino construction projects that continued throughout the shutdown.
State legislatures will approve more casinos to help plug the holes in their budgets Other casinos took advantage of empty facilities to make needed upgrades without worrying about disrupting casino operations. “A lot of our strong, long-term clients have sought to perform upgrades during the downtime, including needed service and maintenance,” said Jason Oakley, President and CEO, North American Video (NAV). “When gaming was closed, you were allowed in the facilities to work.”
Oakley also sees long-term optimism for the casino business, which will offer a means for state and local governments to make up revenue shortfalls. “State legislatures will approve more casinos to help plug the holes in their budgets,” Oakley predicted.
Demands for technology
Oakley and NAV have seen an evolution in customer demands for technology in light of the pandemic. The trick is to differentiate between demand that is an immediate reaction versus technology trends that have more staying power.
Although customers were keen on purchasing thermal cameras, for example, NAV did the research and recommended against the use of the technology to some of their customers.
Artificial Intelligence for social distancing
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) for a variety of applications seems to have more staying power. “One area of interest at a high level is modification and repurposing of AI for face mask detection, social distancing and people tracing, including integration into existing cameras,” said Oakley.
“If the hospitality industry comes to terms with the new normal with smaller restaurant capacities, there may be an opportunity to use AI for social distancing.”
Contact tracing and visitor management technology
Mathes of Convergint sees a massive change as customers move toward managed services, accelerating the change with new use cases.
We have an entire group that focuses on new solutions and what customers are looking for"
As offices seek to repopulate when the pandemic subsides, customers are looking for new uses of existing technologies, added Mathes. “We have an entire group that focuses on new solutions and what customers are looking for,” he said.
“They need to understand who is in the building and where they go in the building. If we know someone was only in the cafeteria from 10 to 11 a.m., we can know who was in the cafeteria at that time.”
Opportunity for vertical markets to move forward
He predicts technologies for contact tracing and visitor management tracking who’s in the building and where will be around for a long time to come.
"Various customers and vertical markets are looking at the slowdown differently," said Mathes. "For example, while airlines have slowed down, the view from the airport market is more long-term."
“They have 15-year plans, and [the slowdown] is an opportunity to move forward. In the technology space, data centers are expanding. “We try to focus our resources on areas where the money is being spent,” said Mathes. “Our K-12 group has seen an 80% growth over 2019. The money is tied to bonds, so there hasn’t been a slowdown relative to revenue.” He said Convergint is cautiously optimist about 2021.”