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The Systems Integration Process: Avoiding Pitfalls and Improving Security

Understanding your resources, defining your goals, selecting the right integrator and working with your IT department will ensure you’re happy with your systems integration project.

By Zach Winn

Improved interoperability can make an institution's emergency response far quicker and more efficient.
October 12, 2015

Systems integration is something security officials at almost every hospital and school have considered. The interoperability of video surveillance, access control, emergency communications, alarms systems and even heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can make for a quicker, smarter response to problems and make any facility safer.

But even as the systems integration industry has grown and improved in recent years, the process of implementing major changes at a school, university or hospital remains a complex procedure. The prospect of the multifaceted integration process is enough to make any security official sweat, especially the idea of pitching that often costly process to higher levels of administration. Nevertheless, people around the country are realizing the need for integration at their institutions and recognizing the value it can bring. By walking through each step of the systems integration process with people who have experience, both as end users and manufacturers, Campus Safety magazine was able to pull together some lessons to help to ensure each institution’s integration journey goes smoothly.

Understand Your Goals and Resources
Usually some deficiency in a security network is what forces security officials to consider systems integration. Maybe they’re unhappy with their public safety department’s response time. Maybe their control center operators aren’t getting enough information. Maybe a major incident exposed shortcomings they weren’t previously aware of.

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Still, simply identifying a problem doesn’t make integration any easier. End users and members of the administration need to understand why integration is necessary as well.

“There’s always a challenge with systems integration because your customer base isn’t used to it,” says Tom Komola, the manager of MIT’s Security and Emergency Management Office. “With any sort of change, people get uncomfortable. There’s a natural pushback, so there needs to be an education process for everyone involved.”

Komola is a veteran of the systems integration process, having led MIT through the integration of its alarm systems in 2007 when its old vendor went out of business. Komola also recently finished the integration of the school’s access control and video management systems. He says patience is the most important part of a successful integration.

“In the beginning, we tried an awful lot of different products before we decided on what we have now,” Komola says. “We didn’t jump at the first thing that looked promising.”

Another important aspect of the process is having a realistic understanding of what your institution can provide. Sometimes people expect to get too much.

“The biggest mistake I see people make is setting too high of an expectation with too short of a period to execute and an unrealistic budget,” says Rob Welton, a business development manager for Siemens. “When those three things are out of sync, it can add up to disaster. Whatever functionality you want to achieve, maybe add 50 percent of the time you originally think it’s going to take and 25 percent of the cost. People just tend to think too lofty in the beginning.”



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