Shooting a Fly With a Shotgun

My previous blog entry, “To Bid or Not to Bid: That Is the Question,” received a number of comments, and I would like to take this opportunity to respond to another one of them here. I neglected to mention the last time around how much I (and other authors) appreciate your feedback. Writing, whether in print or via the Internet, is a solitary occupation and it’s gratifying to know that someone else is reading your words and, on rare cases, thought enough of them to inspire commentary.

Aaron Zebrook wrote questioning the wisdom behind the proprietary nature of certain systems, and the willingness of consultants to cut and paste from manufacturers’ specifications (my words, not his). I liked his comment that this approach is “akin to shooting a fly with a shotgun.” Often the products have limited distribution as well, effectively boxing certain integrators out of the bid opportunity.

I have two thoughts in response to this. First, I am not a big fan of proprietary systems. We’ve had too many clients get boxed into systems where manufacturers were acquired, support suffered, or they just didn’t keep their promises. It’s expensive ripping out and replacing systems, both in terms of pain and cost. Fortunately, this is becoming less and less of a factor with IP video systems as the hardware, edge devices and infrastructure are becoming more interchangeable. Unfortunately, the practice is alive and well in the access control arena of which Mr. Zebrook speaks. I profess to having no expertise in fire systems and cannot speak to his assertion that it’s a problem there as well.

Our firm has found a solution to this problem for our access control systems that works well for our clients; we specify products that work with panels made by the OEM manufacturer Mercury Security Corp. At last account, Mercury made the panels used by more than 15 access control systems manufacturers including Honeywell and Lenel. This means that with a firmware upgrade and software change out, the system becomes a different brand without the forklift upgrade. To my knowledge, this is currently the only way to have an “open” system in access control, and it’s not really open — it just has a lager proprietary pool to draw from. But to Mr. Zeebrook’s point, it is easy to provide an “or equal” in this manner and our clients benefit from a more competitive bid process.

My second thought speaks to feature bloat, and again Mr. Zebrook raises an excellent point. The fact is that most manufacturers repeatedly add features and complexity, whether they are needed or not. I understand that it is easier to add features to a common software platform than to customize systems, but we truly see some arcane features that have limited value to the majority of the customer base. We try to specify only the features that are needed on all products to make it easier to provide equivalent substitutions, and we avoid the temptation to cut and paste the entire A&E specification provided by a manufacturer. If we don’t want an “or equal” we would rather just say that, so prospective integrators don’t waste their time. But I fear there are a limited number of firms that do this, and perhaps more shotguns than fly swatters out there.

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