According to Greg Sparrow, director of system integration for SIGNET Electronic Systems, while the many benefits make it worthwhile, it's important that both integrator and client understand the complex challenges posed by integrating multiple systems on a single client network. "Integration can really optimize the client's experience," said Sparrow. "We want to be certain, therefore, that the client understands what's involved so we may face the challenges together."
Cost savings for the client is one of the primary efficiencies created by integrating multiple systems, and is most commonly achieved by reducing costs surrounding equipment and installation. "Leveraging the network equipment already owned by the client creates an opportunity for savings because they don't have to purchase new equipment and the cabling infrastructure is simplified," Sparrow explained. The client's unified network, which already supports all standard functions, can potentially support added functions such as IP security and IP telephony.
Another obvious advantage for the client is the increased capabilities that come with integrating systems. Access control technology can be integrated with IP video surveillance technology, intrusion detection technology, and building automation technology, for example. There is no end to the potential. By integrating IT systems such as Active Directory with security systems, the client can have unified user groups with defined access privileges; as users are added to or deleted from the IT Active Directory structure, they can simultaneously be granted or denied access as users to the security systems software applications. Having uniform configuration across the board is a huge advantage for the client.
Perhaps most advantageous, however, is that all of these systems can be integrated into a single network platform for simple, straightforward management and maintenance. A single network platform eliminates the potential for having to maintain and manage systems supported by separate manufacturers. It also creates efficiencies that can eliminate the duplication of efforts, as well as the convolution of having multiple users, using multiple passwords, entered into multiple systems.
After 18 years in the industry, Sparrow is vigilant when it comes to educating SIGNET's clients about both sides of the coin. "Every advantage also presents a challenge, but there's nothing we can't resolve as long as we all work together," he said. When he approaches a new project, Sparrow likes to make sure that SIGNET and all departments involved on the client's end are on the same page.
One of the most common challenges of integration is determining accountability. "The lines of demarcation are often blurred," explained Sparrow. "From the client's perspective, what matters is the performance of the installed application or system. From the integrator's point of view, however, the performance of the application or system is directly affected by the performance of the client-provided network or equipment. In such cases, the burden falls on the integrator to demonstrate the source of the problem." Troubleshooting can be challenging because the integrator has to be an IT expert as much as an expert in the application installed. Furthermore, problems with a network can be intermittent and difficult to analyze.
Demarcations can also be unclear between the client's departments, causing delays in contract closeout and warranty obligations. When integrating a security system into an existing client network, for example, the integrator often gets caught up in interdepartmental conflicts between the client's IT and security departments. If the integrator is dependent upon the client's IT department who may not be available, deadlines may be pushed out. The timely response of all parties involved is critical, and the more parties involved, the trickier that becomes.
Beyond blurred lines of accountability, interfaces between systems created by different manufacturers become critical to define and manage, giving rise to issues of compatibility. As multiple systems are integrated, the change or upgrade to one system can adversely affect the functionality of another system. Even more immobilizing, the desire to resolve issues with current software or to add functionality by upgrading a system to a newer version may not even be feasible as the new version of one manufacturer's software may not be compatible with another manufacturer's software. It is important for the client to be aware of these complexities at the outset of a project.
Optimal functionality can also be inhibited by overloading the available bandwidth of a network that was probably designed for lower traffic. By installing multiple systems, such as IP security and IP telephony, on a client's existing network that already supports all standard network traffic, there is a risk of overburdening that network. The client then has to decide which traffic is most important to the organization-standard corporate traffic (email, internet, file transfer, and printer spooling) versus security system or IP telephony data-and prioritize.
Despite the multifaceted challenges involved, SIGNET Electronic Systems strives to create the most efficient and user-friendly experience possible for the client. As the largest, privately held systems integrator in New England and with more than three decades in the industry, SIGNET has made it their priority to be at the cutting edge of emerging technologies and to embrace the integration of those technologies.