If anyone happened to wander off the street into this year’s Securing New Ground conference, held October 17-18 in New York City, they would have been forgiven for thinking they had come to an IT conference — not a physical security one. Co-founded more than 25 years ago by Sandra Jones — who made a surprise post-retirement appearance this year just to check in — SNG bills itself as the “TED Talk of the Security Industry.” The bulk of this year’s focus was dedicated to a technology the industry has been talking about for several years but really took a turn this year following the huge popularity of AI-generated engines such as ChatGPT.

“From a broader sense, the impact of technology into our industry has accelerated dramatically,” said Scott Dunn, senior advisor for strategic initiatives at Axis Communications Inc., and incoming chair for SIA beginning in March 2024. “AI, cloud, cybersecurity — it sounds like we are going to an IT conference. The industry has changed so much in the last decade or so.”

Current SIA Board of Directors Chair and Operating Partner of Lee Equity Partners James Rothstein added, “The beauty of this conference is it brings together end users, integrators, manufacturers and tech partners.”

This year, SNG planners chose to take a more in-depth look AI, with other key topics sprinkled throughout the sessions.

 “The direction we took was to focus on AI this year,” Steve Van Till, Brivo president and CEO explained to SDM. “We felt that this has so much been the year of AI with everything happening, particularly with generative AI.”

In his day one presentation on the Security Megatrends report, Van Till and his team broke out AI in to three “T” buckets: “Tools” that can help the security industry, such as incident and false alarm detection; “Training,” such as using the technology for on the job training; and “Threats” to be aware of. And these three themes were seen throughout the conference sessions.

A Sea Change

More than one person used the term “sea change” to describe the speed and depth of the impact generative AI has had on the security industry, even in just one year.

“If you think about the surveillance camera first being introduced in the 1940s and the IP camera in 1996, and now we are talking about generative AI, the pace of advancement is accelerating,” Tara Dunning, vice president of global security at Wesco, told SDM, noting that just a year ago nobody at the conference had yet heard of ChatGPT, which launched November 30, 2022. She also noted the “sensorization” of everything, with the video camera becoming the ultimate sensor.

 “There has been an exponential increase in the proliferation of sensors and edge devices. By the end of 2023 there will be 17 billion IoT devices on a network. By 2028, the network edge industry will be worth $800 billion and a few years later in the trillions. … It is a complete sea change. It has opened the door for the notion of the camera as a multipurpose solution. It can be safety, building controls — the list is endless. What we are finding is if you attach a camera to a bunch of sensors the use cases start to increase by 10 times. AI becomes the apex of the megatrend.”

In one the first day sessions, “What AI Means for Your Business,” SNG delved further into AI use cases.

“I think there is a huge sea change going on in AI, fundamentally changing AI from artificial intelligence to assisted intelligence,” said panelist Jumbi Edulbehram, global business development, smart cities and spaces, NVIDIA. “[AI has] the ability to take large amounts of data, process it in a sensible manner, and what generative AI has is the ability to very rapidly, using natural language, analyze a situation.”

Panelist Kurt Takahashi, CEO of Netwatch Group, added, “We are processing millions of video alarms per month and using all different layers. Our use case for it is we couldn’t succeed as a monitoring company without it. You can’t scale and stay in business. We are a user of it and partner with many different AI companies. It is the heart and soul of what we do.”

Hamish Dobson, corporate vice president, enterprise physical security, video security and access control at Motorola Solutions, added, “The power of AI is to automate the mundane. Humans have limited attention spans and the idea of a wall of monitors is somewhat absurd. The power of AI is to focus the attention for our security professionals and lean on them to do what they do best, which is to assess a situation and determine the right course of action.”

What is ‘AI’?

Throughout the two-day event, SNG also featured a number of “executive interviews,” with the likes of Wesco’s executive vice president and general manager Bill Geary, Axis CEO Ray Mauritsson, head of HID Global, Bjorn Lidefelt and Genetec CEO Pierre Racz. Racz had much to say on the topic of AI — and anyone who knows him will not be surprised by his take on the term.

“I don’t like the term AI; it stands for absolute ignorance in my opinion,” Racz told attendees, noting that even the much touted ChatGPT can’t tell the difference between a string of numbers and a name.

“Thinking of it as intelligent is wrong thinking,” he said. “We do use it at Genetec but we don’t call it AI. We call it machine learning. We have to be cognizant that it is mindless. The best AI today has achieved the cognizant abilities of an earthworm.” 

Like Racz, many other presenters and panelists expressed some concern about the expectations and threats AI presents, along with the opportunities. 

Takahashi stressed the need for integrators and sales people to really understand the customer’s pain points and not just sell a product. “Salespeople will oversell the technology,” he said. “One of the concerns I have with AI is it is the next big thing and it will solve all these issues, but can you deploy the right solution and implement it in the right way? We all as practitioners need to be very cautious of that.”

Another concern Racz and others brought up was privacy issues. “We do need regulations around this artificial intelligence, and I use that term pejoratively,” Racz said. “The true danger is when we put the systems out there and we think they are intelligent when in fact they are not. …The internet today is an open sewer. What we have to do is actually put in sanitation systems in the internet. When I am walking in the cyberpark with my daughter, I really don’t want to stumble on some of the garbage out there.”

This is one reason Kasia Hanson, global director, security ecosystem strategy and partnerships for Intel Corp. said that cybersecurity and AI really should have the same weight in the SIA Megatrends rankings: There is no AI without corresponding cybersecurity.

This topic came up in “The Future of the Security Integrator” panel as well. Panelist Julaine Simmons, vice president, security and electronic systems for M.C. Dean Inc., and integrator that predominately operates in the government sector, shared, “Now that everything is touching cyber we have to keep it up to standards.”

She also added that like Racz she is skeptical of the wonders of AI. “Analytics are only as good as we can configure it, maintain it and keep it working for the customer. I am super skeptical about the magic button of AI. What is your objective? What are your operational goals?”

The need for consultative, “trusted-advisor” selling as well as moving beyond the silos, were other big themes from the integrator session.

Angie Barnes, executive vice president, sales, for NAVCO, pointed out that AI is one new technology but by no means the only one competing for end user interest and dollars. She encouraged integrators to think long-term about their role.

“We went to see a customer recently employing robots with AI. … That future we think is a long way off may not be that far away,” she said. “Will integrators sell that? Will they sell gunshot technology? Pedestals? Is that the role of an integrator? The robot tech is an interesting one that we will see where it plays. And by the way that robot is going to compete with camera budgets, so we had better do a good job of understanding what the customer needs.”

Economic Outlook

As has been the tradition for years at SNG, the last two sessions were dedicated to the economic and M&A outlooks. The popular keynote speaker from last year, Nasdaq Chief Economist Phil Mackintosh was back for a review of what did and didn’t happen and what the predictions are still saying — that there will be a “soft landing” downturn, eventually.

“It’s a little confusing right now; the 10 year rates are rising faster than the two year rates, so the market is saying we will have much higher interest rates for longer,” he told attendees. “Jobs are still really strong and consumer spending is still high. Those two stories are the big reason we aren’t in a recession right now. … The questions is, for how much longer? Everyone keeps asking when we will suddenly hit the credit card wall? People are now dis-saving and revenge traveling. … Everybody thought last year we were going to have a recession. What is more likely at the moment is to have a stalled out economy, or ‘stagflation.’ We could have a weak economy that feels like a recession but there are still 1.5 jobs for every person.”

The last session, “Investment Insights for the Security Industry: Perspectives from Wall Street and Private Equity,” also noted some slight softening, with John Mack, executive vice president, Imperial Capital, noting that there have clearly been some headwinds in the M&A market. However, valuations still remain relatively high and good, especially for cloud and SaaS models.

Alper Cetingok, managing director, head of diversified industrials, for Raymond James, agreed, but gave attendees a positive note to leave on. “Overall M&A is down over the record high, but it is a normalization of the markets, which is a good thing, not a bad thing. On a relative basis, activity is up for the security industry. We are bullish on the trends and expect them to continue.”

For more information, visit: sng.securityindustry.org.