On a recent flight to Las Vegas for a convention, I struck up a casual conversation with the passenger in seat 2A over some bad airplane salmon, and we discussed our prospective careers. I mentioned I was a security consultant, and he said he works for a large amusement park company that needed some help with its video surveillance and access control systems.

We spoke at length about the pros and cons of his current system and his options to enhance it. By the time we landed, I had a meeting set up for the following week, and in a short time, seat 2A became job number 09.478B.

While most of us don’t build our business models based on an airline’s random seat generator, I was happy to have a new client.

But one thing still bothered me; when we got off the plane and exchanged pleasantries, he said, “I would have never thought of needing a security consultant. I always assumed my security staff, or engineering personnel, handled all that.”

A security consultant provides end users with a system that matches their wants, needs and budget. While many users may know what results they want to achieve with their video surveillance systems, it’s a security consultant’s job to ensure that users get what they need. An experienced security consultant can sit with a user and provide options based on expertise and experience to achieve the user’s security goals.

One of the most beneficial parts of having a security consultant is the performance-based specifications a consultant provides.

A user may bid a project out to several companies, but each of those companies may not offer the same equipment or level of expertise. The user may go with the lowest bid, only to find that they were sold low-end products that do not achieve their goals.

By preparing a performance specification, and bidding the job on the user’s behalf, the consultant can confirm that bidders are being compared objectively, the solutions are appropriate for the application and the systems are comparable. The bidding process also keeps prices competitive, and the majority of the time a security consultant’s fee will be covered by the savings obtained through the competitive bid process.

One of the core benefits of working with an established security consultant is their technology expertise. New technologies, integration and interoperability capabilities are coming to market faster than ever. Hardware manufacturers and software developers are racing to be the first on the block with the newest, fastest and sleekest solutions.

Resellers, often tied to the specific brands and solutions they’re most familiar with, are struggling to stay on top of new developments, let alone understand all the nuances involved with the installation, integration and implementation of new systems technologies.

And as networking continues to gain traction for video surveillance, the demand grows for higher levels of integration with related systems like access control and even previously unrelated systems like point-of-sale. Without a clear understanding of what’s actually available to solve your specific application needs, there’s a good chance you may not get the best solution at your budget level.

One of the responsibilities of a security consultant is to provide expertise on the latest performance and functionality attributes new technologies and products have to offer. With the day-to-day responsibilities of managing a security operation, most users simply don’t have the time to thoroughly research the myriad solutions available, as they are constantly changing. Nowhere is this more evident than with software-driven control and management solutions, which provide the platform for interoperability.

Without a firm grasp of today’s most current capabilities, it’s impossible to establish parameters for a new system build or existing system revision.

Another critical function a consultant will provide is project coordination. There are countless stories about integrators showing up to install systems only to run into obstacles that could have easily been prevented with better planning. A consultant ensures that the correct field devices are chosen for the correct area, the correct wire is available and the correct installation methods are applied. A consultant also ensures that power, HVAC and room requirements are designed accordingly for the specified system components with contingencies for system expansion. We’ve been called numerous times to assess a new installation that promised to accommodate growth but cannot accommodate the addition of a single camera just months after going live without incurring tremendous costs. This is usually a result of poor planning and coordination.

Overall, a security consultant can help ensure end users get the most system for their money, using the latest technologies with the lowest total cost of ownership. But as with any professional service provider, some consultants are better than others.

The first step on your project “to do” list should be to call your peers and inquire about the security consultants they’ve worked with. Seek out security professionals responsible for installations similar in size and scope to yours. Security managers with good systems in place love to talk about them, so don’t be shy about picking up the phone. There’s nothing better than selecting a good resource based on third-party recommendations. At the end of the day, you’ll most likely wind up with better overall security.