Selecting a Security Technology Provider

Colleges and universities are generally safe places. But in the wake of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, administrators nationwide are searching for new, more effective 
ways to protect their students and staff. College Planning & Management reached out to experts in the field to discuss some of the most important areas to consider when choosing a security technology provider and purchasing security services and equipment.

Experience in an Education Environment

Security experience in an educational environment is vital when choosing a provider. Look for providers who have knowledge of how their equipment is best used in educational settings. It is important that the provider understands not only his own equipment, but also the specific application of the equipment to campus. When it comes to access control, look for providers who understand the different needs of day-to-day screening versus total screening at special events, such as athletic contests.

“Compliance drives successful security and safety programs in education institutions, so experience in not only how to deploy these systems during the permissible improvement periods (usually summer and inter-semester), but the satisfaction of key education solutions. Contractors must have experience in deployment over the campus’s network and be able to comply with logical and physical infrastructure standards,” says Steve Surfaro, Strategic Channel manager at Axis Communications.

Steve Birdsall, vice president of Sales for Gamewell-FCI, agrees. “Reputation and educational experience of the company is of the utmost importance. If the company isn’t reputable and it doesn’t have a history of completing successful educational projects, it cannot be trusted to deliver on your project. Requesting references is recommended. Any reputable company will not have any trouble providing them.”

“Experience and a deep knowledge of educational needs are essential for selecting a technology provider. Colleges and universities have many unique groups of people they serve and may have local, state, and federal mandates that need to be considered. It is beneficial to select a solutions provider that understands all of these needs and can work with administrators to overcome these challenges,” says Russell St. John, senior vice president of Global Marketing for Datacard Group.

Certifications and Warranties

Look for companies that use nationally recognized standards in their technology and/or delivery of professional services (e.g. SAFETY Act Certification through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ISO-certified companies). Check flammability ratings and review independent approvals (UL, etc.). Find out whom to call if you need on-site visits, training, and warranty replacement, and how to get service after the sale if there is a problem.

“Find out if the contractor is a factory-authorized company,” says Birdsall. “This means the company operates with factory-authorized distribution and its employees are factory-trained. A company is only as good as its employees, so make sure the personnel are trained and reliable. As far as a warranty is concerned, ensure the product warranty comes from the product manufacturer. If the warranty comes from the contractor and the contractor goes out of business, the warranty is voided. Additional warranties from the contractor regarding service can be negotiated.”

Surfaro agrees. “The contractor usually passes on the manufacturer’s warranty if the start date coincides with the installation date; when it does not, the contractor usually will encourage the administrator to enter into a service contract that can include warranty and extended warranty service, product replacement, and preventive maintenance. After the warranty period, demand service is usually expensive, so it is wise to execute a service agreement.”

“When choosing a technology vendor for various products, it is important for a college administrator to consider what type of warranty that product has to offer,” continues St. John. Two types of warranties are usually available in the marketplace — one for a new product and one for a refurbished product. “Typically, an adequate initial warranty with the purchase of a new product is 24 to 30 months after you begin using it. This should give administrators and/or the individuals using such equipment the opportunity to gain a good understanding of the product and/or if there are any defects that need to be addressed. For refurbished units, the typical warranty period is 90 days from the first date of any use of the product. If these products prove to be defective in materials or workmanship during the warranty period, any technology vendor should repair, replace, or refund the price paid for the product. I recommend that the first step is to carefully evaluate and review the terms and conditions before you buy any products to verify it meets your satisfaction.”

Product Information/Total Cost of Ownership

The initial cost of a security system is only the beginning. There are several factors to keep in mind when making a final decision.

Birdsall suggests researching where the product can be purchased and how many companies can distribute it. “You want the product to be available from many providers, so the price of repair and replacement stays competitive,” he explains. “The more methods and means of distribution for hardware and repair that exist usually translate into lower prices. Establish the price of maintenance and service agreements up front, so there are no surprises in the future.”

“Leveraging the existing network infrastructure will always lower the total cost of system ownership, except in cases where the use of said infrastructure presents a liability or where it is not considered an asset and has not been maintained or improved,” says Surfaro. “Technologies like power over Ethernet (PoE) not only reduce cost by eliminating additional power supplies to be maintained and replaced, but are a way to supervise the health and operation of the infrastructure. In many cases, especially with smaller properties and remote facilities, managed services like hosted video, managed physical access control, and visitor management provide pay-as-you go solutions, lower initial costs, and create a more affordable long-term solution.”

St. John adds, “Examine carefully how products can save you time, money, and improve efficiencies over time. This is where the real cost savings come into play. First, determine what your needs are and what is most important to your program. Second, look at considering how the product will work on your established network. Make sure the product meets IT expectations and offers standards-compliant Ethernet and USB connectivity, as well as easily integrates card issuance applications. Finally, and most importantly, find the best value for today and tomorrow that reduces risk and total cost of ownership. Make sure that the investment you make today is flexible and can continue to adapt to meet your needs in the future.” 

Danielle Przyborowski is a Dayton, OH-based freelance writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.

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