Sifting through vendor promises
By Glen KitteringhamFeatures Opinion
The first ASIS International Exhibition and Conference I attended was held in Las Vegas in 1999. The only memory I still have of that conference was heading excitedly out onto the exhibits floor to look for digital video recorders.
We were looking to upgrade our control room CCTV recorders from tape so
I read up on what to look for. I stopped at the first DVR booth I could
find and started talking to the salesman there. I asked him a rather
easy question. His response was “I don’t know.” I tried a second time
with another question. I again received an “I don’t know.” I tried a
third time. This time his response was “Look, I just started here. I
haven’t received my training yet. They tell me it is a really good
product so why don’t you just buy it.”
Fast forward to 2004: I again was out walking the exhibit floor, not
looking for anything in particular. I had long since learned to avoid
eye contact with salesmen. However, I fell for a carefully laid trap at
a booth selling access control panels. There was a lovely young woman
from the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders in her hard-to-avoid tiny little
cheerleader uniform. Of course I made eye contact. The moment I did,
she said, “Are you interested in control access systems?” I said,
“Don’t you mean access control systems”? Her response was, “Is that
what they’re called?” I smiled and kept walking.
Again, fast forward to Atlanta September 2008: I had a 9 a.m.
appointment with a saleswoman for an organization selling “situational
awareness” software. Her sales pitch started but within a few moments,
I interrupted her. She was using the terms ”˜threat’ and ”˜risk’ as if
they meant the same thing. I told her I wasn’t trying to be rude and
asked her if she knew the difference between the two terms. This is a
pet peeve of mine as many people think they mean the same thing. She
admitted that she didn’t. I explained that a threat was a potential
event and a risk was the chance of that event occurring. She apologized
and stated that she had just started with the organization and she
hadn’t received any training on the subject.
Reminiscing about just three of many interactions I have had with
vendors got me thinking about the state of the security industry. Why
do we as an industry tolerate this sorry state of affairs?
Salespeople, who often don’t have a clue about security in general and
who may or may not have the barest understanding specifically of their
own products are selling systems, software, hardware and other
products, and making promises that often cannot be met. Too often
vendors sell products to installers who in turn convince some
consultant or end user that their system is the best. The product is
then installed without any real knowledge or understanding of what is
really required. Far too often security personnel are stuck with some
product that couldn’t possibly live up to the sales hype then they are
blamed because the product doesn’t work properly.
I am the first to admit there are many knowledgeable, ethical and
highly trained vendors with sales staff in the market place selling
products which they truly believe in but it is my guess that there are
just as many who are selling refrigerators one day and security
products the next. This is certainly a classic case of buyer beware.
This is why it is so vital for security practitioners and other end
users to thoroughly understand what they need, what the product is
expected to do, and more importantly what it doesn’t do. I realize that
this is not often the case and in fact, many end users often rely,
sometimes quite heavily, on vendors to help them through many a project.
After all, shouldn’t the vendors be the experts in their product and
shouldn’t they be the best resource to assist end users in an
installation? Again, this is a classic case of buyer beware. The end
user should not rely on vendors as the sole source of assistance. It is
absolutely vital that security practitioners understand as much as
possible about their organization’s needs. We have just as much
responsibility to protect the organization from unscrupulous vendors
and salespeople as we do to protect it against crooks and natural
disasters. As bad as it often is, I predict it will only get worse.
As technology continues to evolve at a faster rate I believe we are
going to see more and more vendors selling products that they barely
understand. It is the responsibility of every vendor out there to
invest in training their staff to not only understand what their
products can and more importantly cannot do but to also train them to
understand the security environment in which these products are placed
An introduction to security management, guard force operations, risk
management and physical security are just a few of the many topics that
come to mind that every salesman and women should be exposed to. I am
sure that many vendors when they read this article are going to become
indignant and claim that I don’t know what I am talking about, that I
don’t understand the vendor environment, that they do in fact spend a
lot of effort and money on training and that may be true to some extent
but I know what I know and I know that I have had too many experiences
dealing with vendors where I have walked away shaking my head in
frustration that I wasted my valuable time.
Glen Kitteringham, M.Sc., CPP, F.SyI. is Director, Security and Life Safety with Brookfield Properties in Calgary, Alta.
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