The modern security industry is fast-paced, flexible and can deliver intelligent and credible solutions. Many of the benefits of today’s solutions go beyond the role of security, and introduce value-added benefits for the customer. The pace of change is high, and looks set to continue as interoperation with IT, networking, communications and advanced connectivity become essential requirements. The Devil’s Advocate talked to Gerry Dunphy to see how the exhibition concept can fit in with this new direction.
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here was a time that the only way to stay up-to-date with what was happening in the electronic security sector was to visit exhibitions. Manufacturers scheduled new launches to coincide with their national events, and if you did not attend you’d find yourself behind the competition. In today’s world, the multitude of communication options makes such a state of affairs seem ludicrous.
In recent years technology in the security sector hasn’t just accelerated; it has rocketed and shows no signs of slowing. The move to more open architecture means we can enjoy advances in other sectors such as IT, networking, communications and connectivity.
In a sector driven by constant innovation, does the concept of an exhibition still make sense?
Last year IFSEC moved back to London; what was the thinking behind that?
It was a case of looking at how we could reboot what was a successful event in Birmingham. We did have strategic reasons for the move based on insight from customers and visitors. We did a lot of research for three or four years prior to the move to get a feel for where the business opportunities were, and London kept coming up.
Excel is a modern purpose-built venue, with great services and transport links, so it was a natural move. IFSEC had been at the NEC for 20 years, so there was an argument that we needed to keep it fresh.
The move to London gave us a new plateau to change things and do something different.
In terms of visitors, you’re never going to please everybody all of the time. While we might not have seen certain visitors, we did attract more people from other parts of the country, so it panned out quite well and we did see a five per cent increase in visitors.
The vast majority of exhibitors and visitors are system-based, but the seminars and educational programmes focus more on ‘blue sky thinking’. Why is there such a disconnect?
You’re actually spot-on. Content for us is very important, and we can let it run away from us sometimes. There is so much to discuss that you can lose yourself.
What we’ve decided to do is analyse what IFSEC is about as an event, and in our eyes it is very much about the products and technologies, so in 2015 you’re going to see some radical changes in what’s available for seminars. There will be a lot more about technology, with innovation to the fore.
Is your thinking based on the argument that in the past it wasn’t that beneficial for technology-based visitors to attend IFSEC?
No; the primary thing about IFSEC is that it’s driven by its technologies. It is the duty of the exhibitors to really push what they’ve got on their stands to the fore. Part of the project we have for this year is to tell the exhibitors to enforce what they have on their stands. If they want a prime discussion about solutions-based technology, then the stand is the place to have it. All the experts will be there: the R&D people, the technical sales, the solutions drivers and project managers. They’ll all be on the stands.
The security sector has advanced technologies which allow the streaming of video, audio and data, we have remote connectivity and control, networking and diverse communications options, all of which deliver an advanced and seamless solution. Is an exhibition, which is essentially a lot of stands in a big shed, the best environment to present this technology?
I think so, because if you go right to the nub of what an exhibition is about, it’s human interaction, it’s face to face social contact. Human beings are reliant on that. They do have a need to see what they’re going to be specifying and purchasing.
They like to see products in action, and they’ll also have questions that will come up on the spur of the moment. We aren’t seeing a decline in demand; in fact, we’re seeing growth.
Exhibitions are a core way of getting a product to market. You can have all the videos you want, but its not going to replace seeing a product in action, seeing how to install it, asking key questions in real-time. That’s the essence of an exhibition.
The visitor knows what they’re after. They are going to come with a ready-made list of questions and areas they want to look at. They view any solution that they’re working on as an amalgamation of systems anyway. They’re wise enough to go from one stand to another to piece together the solution they need for a particular project.
The manufacturer obviously gets a huge return on investment from it because they continually invest and continually see value in coming to the event.
Is there an argument for IFSEC to become a more interactive event for the visitor?
It’s difficult to say. If you’re looking at it from a features-based point, we could construct the perfect smart building scenario to highlight the technologies that are available.
Ultimately we have to consider that IFSEC is a collection of 600-700 exhibitors with independent agendas, all with the primary aim of marketing products to their customers. The customer is coming with a list of requirements which they can source for integrating into their solutions.
Does IFSEC have a responsibility to fairly and impartially present the new technologies to the visitors?
Absolutely. I think any exhibition needs to be a snapshot of the here and now. It is three days of what is going on at that precise moment in time. That is one of our key roles.
A second role is to have an eye on what is the near attainable future. We can then be a provocative platform to show what is just around the corner, because we have to keep it as fresh as possible for the visitor.
For this year’s show we’re trying to bring innovation to the absolute forefront. From the research we’ve carried out the interest is in innovation, and finding out what will give businesses an edge.
One of the key things we’re looking to introduce is the Innovation Arena, which we feel can draw out from the manufacturers what is going to be cutting-edge. Even if the innovations are not readily apparent, if it’s something that could make an adjustment to a current solution and take it to a new tangent, highlighting them is a job that IFSEC can perform for the visitor.
How can you ensure you filter out the hype and only deliver information about true innovations?
A lot of it comes from the insight programmes that we do. From the minute we open the doors we’re constantly asking the visitors about their key areas of interest.
What we then present in the following shows will be the areas identified as key concerns. That might be at odds with what the manufacturers are looking to push, but they have to understand that the customers might be looking to satisfy different requirements.
The visitor can use us as a platform advising back to the exhibitor as to what the issues are. There have been occasions where, via the shows, manufacturers have made adjustments to what they’re doing. In that regard, an event like IFSEC is very powerful because it is a sounding board.
Do you foresee a situation where IFSEC would refuse to promote limited technologies, even if they’re being pushed by a major exhibitor?
I don’t think we’d presume to tell them about their business. They know the market and the industry that they’re in. What we can do is tell them that we’re hearing from buyers that they are looking for certain innovations. We’re not in a position to select what course they are going to take for manufacturing. Being informed enough to make decisions on the validity of technologies is a critical issue for us. As we move forward we have to focus on what is coming through that might cause a gear-change in the market-place.
Existing technology is the bed-rock of the event, but as we move forward we’ll be looking towards innovation.
How can an exhibition help to highlight multi-vendor solutions?
One of the new developments this year is the Innovation Arena. This allows innovations to be seen first-hand, almost as a product demonstration, allowing the innovators to explain how, for example, the use of Widget X can enhance the system offering.
It’s our duty to ensure that it’s a primary focus of the event. We’ve always had an innovation aspect to IFSEC, but probably haven’t brought it through to the highest level. The arena will include a space where the innovators can stand up and make that connection.
Do you foresee a point where that idea could be developed to include hands-on workshops and development sessions for visitors?
Yes, that could be the way it goes. This year will be the introduction of the feature, and we are dedicated to making it operate to its optimum level. It will deliver quality output over the three days.
In terms of our strategic planning for IFSEC, the innovation angle will be absolutely key, a cornerstone of what we’re looking to do. We want to engage with as many exhibitors as possible, whether they’re key clients or new exhibitors.
Security is a critical issue and a global concern, and innovation is going to drive the safety of society in the future. A concentration on innovation and product development will become a key part of IFSEC.
One of the hurdles to a wide adoption of emerging technologies is the industry’s attitude to change. How can this be addressed?
I think it is critical that the idea of security being a grudge purchase needs to be addressed if we are to move forwards.
The IT and emerging technologies, especially in a smart building scenario, is very important, and the industry needs to push the adoption of building information management.
You cannot view security systems in isolation, as they will become a part of building management services. This will be advantageous, as security and fire will be part of the bigger system.
Is an emphasis on business intelligence vital in creating a return on investment?
I think what’s interesting is that a lot of the systems which are going in can be used in a very benign way, particularly if you look at how retail can repurpose their cameras to assist with store layout, for example. Heat mapping how people move around a site works very well.
There are other things like behavioural analytics that are very interesting from a surveillance point of view. It’s almost future-proof, looking at how people are behaving, especially in environments with large crowds. What was initially a very singular offering, a security system, can also be used in a different way.
The way that access control is utilised in new buildings is interesting. For example, the number of people in a room can influence the levels of the air conditioning or heating.
Alongside the security functionality from access control, intruder detection and video surveillance, the data generated by these systems can also be used to help manage buildings in a more efficient way. Funnily enough, the people that will benefit the most will be the CFOs who will see an improvement in the cost base.
The critical thing for the security industry to say to this whole range of very influential people is that with the right adoption, the technologies that the we offer can actually help your bottom line.
Maybe we don’t make more of what’s on offer because people want to protect their businesses. If more end users highlighted how they’ve enjoyed additional benefits, that could help.
The industry has changed from selling commoditised products to delivering bespoke, flexible and intelligent solutions. With technology advancing at a rapid pace, surely exhibitions are not fit for purpose?
Never! Exhibitions are where communities meet. It’s a complete happening where you can bring everyone together in one space, for three days, and the entire focus is on solutions, products, purchasing, meeting people, peer-group networking and so on.
They are one of the most robust ways of marketing products to an audience. You can launch products, you can engage with people. They are a robust way of doing business, and long may that continue!