December 07, 2012 By Tom LeBlanc
The folks at Aronson Security Group (ASG) didn’t want to do a typical interview when I reached out to them for a March 2012 CI Profile. Instead of the typical series of one-on-one interviews with executives and others, Seattle-based ASG suggested a conference call and offered to invite non-ASG representatives from clients and other integrators.
That choice reflects what ASG is – a true collaborating integrator, unafraid to share credit (and revenue) if it means partnering with a firm with complementary expertise and results in an ultimately happy client. As audio, video, automation, IT and security merge on networks, a collaboration model increasingly makes sense to provide a single point of contact for clients.
ASG’s VP of strategic development and alliances group, Nigel Waterton, is more emphatic; after all, he’s the guy responsible for setting up his firm’s strategic partners and finding clients. “Integration is a methodology by which we bring in all the subject matter experts,” he says, adding that it occurs successfully when all the disciplines “come together to create a resilient and highly strengthened, adaptable organization. It’s really the only true way forward.”
Getting with the Times
Phil Aronson has been president of ASG since 1989 and working there since 1983, so the trend toward collaboration is one of many changes he has seen in the security integration realm. Another is the diminishing emphasis on product margins. IT integrators are generally good at embracing a service-based revenue model, but too many A/V integrators rely on product margins for profits. It’s telling that 87 percent of integrators surveyed by CI say that less than 10 percent of their revenue is under contract; it’s a safe bet that many of the savvy 13 percent are IT- or security-centric.
To be blunt, integrators can learn a lot from the way ASG has successfully read the market and managed to react by making significant changes to its business model. “Ten years ago, we knew product margins were going down and that we had to address that,” Aronson says. “We had to add value someplace else. So we put a methodology in place and we grew our engineering and project management disciplines. We needed to know more and add value through knowledge.”
This is not to pick on non-security integrators, or not just non-security integrators. Mike Kobelin, ASG’s VP of client management, is also chairman of the board for PSA Security Network, the largest electronic security cooperative representing security integrators. “I wish all the PSA members could hear the things we’re talking about,” he said during our conference call.
“The biggest risk in the security integration market boils down to two words: navigating change. Most PSA members created their business model when they got started in the ’80s or ’90s, and [the models] are no longer sufficient to drive client value. The changes that we’ve implemented at ASG we’re trying to share with PSA. We can help the industry evolve by sharing some of the things that we do.”
And no, ASG doesn’t see a conflict in educating other integrators, according to Aronson. “A lot of these PSA members are our partners. When we deploy systems across the country and the globe, they partner with us. To share with our partners helps us all.”