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8.16.19 – SSI

From “alarm dealer” to “security integrator,” security pros have gone through a lot of labels over the years. Here’s why it’s more important to focus on what you offer, rather than what you call yourself.

We humans loving putting labels on things. Doing so helps make better sense of what can be a confusing world. It can also be serious business in today’s hypervigilant climate of political correctness (outside the Oval Office) and social media where heaven help you if you commit a lip slip.

Sure, words matter; but by the same token the timeworn wisdom of not judging a book by its cover continues to ring true. Let’s consider that concept as it applies to today’s electronic security industry.

When I came into this field more than 20 years ago, this publication was brimming with terms like alarm dealer, burglar alarm, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and central station.

Through the years those evolved into security dealer, intrusion detection, video surveillance and monitoring center. A similar case could be made for home automation, which has become passé in favor of home controls or smart home.

To keep current, in recent times the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) became the Electronic Security Association (ESA) and the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) turned into The Monitoring Association (TMA). Even the name of this magazine has changed over time (Alarm Installing Dealer/AID to Security Sales to Security Sales & Integration).

Given SSI’s diverse systems provider audience (basic residential security to complex integrated industrial solutions), coining a catchall term to encompass all dealers and integrators has proved challenging. The best alternative has been security contractors.

Although some detractors aren’t as intense as they were, for a time it was almost as if the industry’s foundational term — alarm — had become a bad word. It had become tarnished and largely associated with being unsophisticated, outdated, a nuisance due to false alarms and too narrowly focused.

Adding to that denigration was a segment of the market — perpetuated by mismanaged dealer programs, low barriers to entry, incompetence and cons — that was lumped into the same alarm dealer group.

That gave rise to the derogatory phrase trunk-slammer, and hell hath no fury like a conscientious security company so besmirched. Today the agents of change are zeroing in on the security industry like never before, thanks to new technologies, convergence, services, economics, business models, competitors and customer proclivities.

Thus some are asserting or at least asking whether those firms that install, often monitor and increasingly manage electronic security and interconnected systems should adopt new nomenclature to better describe their breadth of offerings and more effectively differentiate them from competitors not rooted in security or those focused on DIY and MIY markets.

To fully assess this disruptive landscape, I conferred with industry thought-leader colleagues George De Marco, Peter Giacalone, Merlin Guilbeau, Bob Harris, Matthew Ladd, Kirk McDowell, Mitch Reitman and Ivan Spector. Despite being separately queried, a united front emerged.

They all see ongoing great opportunities for full-service, customer-centric security companies that execute at a high level and implement continuous improvements. Firms up to those challenges need fret little about the DIY and MIY threat, say these experts, but instead can exploit the expanding market with a superior offering.

Another potential benefit will be those competitors helping weed out the aforementioned trunk-slammers. As far as playing the name game, whether for business or societal gains, the group subscribes to the adage that action speaks louder than words.

“Each company needs to define its brand experience, customer experience and employee experience. That is what truly differentiates one company from another, not an industry term or acronym,” says De Marco. “No matter what we call ourselves, most important is how we can change and impact lives,” Spector says.

Harris adds, “If we are doing a good job educating the public, a terminology change isn’t necessary.”

That is encouraging news that makes a lot of sense. Nevertheless, I have heard it suggested physical security reclaim the managed security services provider (MSSP) moniker from the IT world, where it has come to be known for cybersecurity and data protection.

Other ideas: security services engineer (SSE), managed security specialist (MSS), security as a service provider (SaaSP), pro security monitoring services provider (PSMSP) or full service security provider (FSSP).

Any of those float your boat? If you have a different title in mind, send it to me. Are we fine sticking with security dealer and security integrator? I don’t think we are ever going back to alarm dealer.

About the Author


Scott Goldfine is Editor-in-Chief and Associate Publisher of Security Sales & Integration. Well-versed in the technical and business aspects of electronic security (video surveillance, access control, systems integration, intrusion detection, fire/life safety), Goldfine is nationally recognized as an industry expert and speaker. Goldfine is involved in several security events and organizations, including the Electronic Security Association (ESA), Security Industry Association (SIA), Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), False Alarm Reduction Association (FARA), ASIS Int’l and more. Goldfine also serves on several boards, including the SIA Marketing Committee, CSAA Marketing and Communications Committee, PSA Cybersecurity Advisory Council and Robolliance. He is a certified alarm technician, former cable-TV tech, audio company entrepreneur, and lifelong electronics and computers enthusiast. Goldfine joined Security Sales & Integration in 1998.