First-Mover Partner Positioning with the Big Three

by Dan Dunkel - President, New Era Associates

Published in Today's Systems Integrator

If you are thinking automobile companies you are old school; I am referring to the Big Three of IT, i.e. IBM, HP and Cisco Systems.

I had the pleasure of introducing senior management of these Big Three companies via conference calls last week to Richard Chace, Executive Director & CEO of the Security Industry Association (SIA). I have been very impressed with SIA and believe they are well positioned in leading the physical security industry into the era of convergence with IT. The association offers a platform for professional partnerships between IT companies and their physical security peers.

What convergence means to me, in a word, is collaboration. Collaboration means partnering and partnering means combined value-add. But this begs the question, as a physical security vendor and/or integrator, "What is the unique value-add that you bring to a partnership with the Big Three?"

What was obvious to me during these discussions was the commitment to the security convergence marketplace from these IT companies. They see open IP networks solving everything from emergency communications (voice & video) to providing access to all security applications running across blade server platforms and utilizing redundant IT architectures. Needless to say, wrapped around these security solutions are a blanket of custom integration and consulting services providing interoperability. Making complexity interoperable is where the money is.

However, like any participant to a new industry, the Big Three don't have all the answers, or in this case the physical security solutions and market expertise. They look toward specific partners to produce combined value. This is why partnering provides a great business opportunity for forward-thinking physical security firms.

The initial step is how do you do it? A physical security firm seeking first-mover advantage in a partnership with one of these IT gorillas will not face an easy road. The reason is competition. Everyone is thinking about these partnership arrangements, however, the major IT firms have no vested interest in multiple, overlapping partnerships. They need to protect their channels and not dilute their security convergence strategies. The entry fee for a security partner is to provide some unique value and differentiation.

You need to step outside of your comfort zone and look at your company with the same critical eye that a prospective partner would. Remember, everyone in your industry wants to partner with these companies. Ask yourself a lot of questions:

How can you best position yourself? What skill sets do you have and which do you need? What do you bring to an IT partnership? Certainly you have physical security expertise that they do not, but how does that knowledge differentiate you from your traditional security competition? Best case, you may have a patented product that creates a large barrier to entry. Short of that, your value may be in your people. Think about what the IT partner needs: security convergence training and education for their channels. Perhaps this is exactly the same thing you need. How can you accelerate this convergence education cycle and drive sales revenue through mutual channel partners? How can your partnership guarantee execution faster then the other guy?

The key driver to a first-mover advantage in partnerships will be the up-front investment in IT personnel. This creates IT credibility and demonstrates a serious commitment to embracing the new convergence business model. It makes you unique to your security competitors with similar offerings. No one said this would be easy. In short, "put your money where your mouth is."

As a first step to your partner strategy, this is not rocket science. What it takes is guts and a bet on where the market is going. Like hockey great Wayne Gretsky's famous line about "skating to where the puck is going to be," anticipating the future in real time differentiates competitors. This is the established business model for the IT industry. Even the largest and best financed companies will fold in the face of a monetary investment without a guaranteed return or the comfort of existing market data to base decisions upon. This is why it's called "First Mover!"

It is also how competitive landscapes change and why large companies lose their nerve along with their market shares. This is a great opportunity for innovative companies with strategic foresight and business instincts. If you lock in a partnership with one of these IT gorillas early and execute efficiently, you will create a large barrier to entry for your competition -- one that large physical security vendors/integrators with proprietary products and no IT value add will find very difficult to break through.

Good luck and get moving!