One of the predominant and recurring themes I have come across during my 20+ years interacting with physical security professionals in a variety of vertical markets is “what makes a good physical security program.” While there are a lot of general principles I could share that would apply to every vertical market, the following four principles are specifically geared toward education, including K-12 and higher education.
1. Gain a Deep Understanding of School Challenges
More often than not, decision makers in the education market believe that their challenges are unique from other markets. To earn business in this market, it’s important that you demonstrate knowledge of those challenges. At the top of the list, school administrators are most concerned about physical threats such as active shooters, terrorism and bullying. Additionally, limited funding and internal IT resources play key roles that impact schools’ IT buying decisions.
Before pitching a physical security solution to this market, it’s also important to learn the terminology used by education administrators. To shorten the learning curve, spend time in the environments where school administrators go, including PTA meetings and education-specific technology forums. Another way to gain first-hand knowledge about their challenges is to invite a school principle or superintendent out for coffee and ask them questions (without trying to sell them anything during these meetings).
2. Avoid Technology Tunnel Vision
One of the issues that makes physical security so difficult for education decision makers is the wide range of technology choices among camera and access control manufacturers, as well as video management software vendors. As an IT solution provider, you can add value by developing a deep understanding of the hardware and software components that best meet your education clients’ needs.
Conversely, beware of the trap of taking shortcuts and getting too closely aligned with just one or two vendors and trying to make their products fit every situation. I’ve seen instances where a K-12 school purchased 25 PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) cameras for $50,000 but didn’t have the resources to have someone manage the cameras, which made the extra expense and functionality worthless. At a minimum, you should be able to present each customer with a “good, better and best” option that takes into account their specific needs as well as their budget.
3. Become a Prevention Expert
When schools face budget cuts, security personnel are some of the first resources to go. One of the ways physical security VARs and integrators can help education clients do more with less is by utilizing the latest security analytics technologies. For example, web-based physical security and prevention platforms such as TIPS for Schools by Awareity enables students, parents, teachers and staff to confidentially and anonymously report bullying or other potentially harmful student safety concerns. Once reports are made, TIPS provides a central and secure system for school personnel to proactively investigate the concern, objectively assess the situation, track and document all actions taken and monitor students with ongoing follow-ups and reminders. By combining this data with predictive analytics solutions, schools can hone in on problematic areas within their buildings or campuses and take further actions such as adding or moving cameras and/or alerting authorities.
4. Take a Long-Term Approach to Physical Security
Unlike other technology solutions and services your company may offer, selling physical security affects people’s lives in a very personal way, and it should not be entered into lightly. Over the years, I’ve seen VARs make forays into selling physical security by low-balling their competitors and selling cheap cameras and peripherals. The thought of my kids attending a school that has a cheap security system doesn’t sit well with me, and I hope that if you’re considering selling physical security that idea doesn’t sit well with your company either. If you’re going to get into this business, you need to have the mindset that you’re going to be in it for the long haul.
The global physical security market as a whole is projected to grow from $65.4 billion in 2015 to $105.3 billion by 2020, according to the latest research from Markets and Markets. The education vertical, whose budget is largely controlled by the government, will see an increase in physical security spending, especially in the area of mass notification systems (MNS).