What’s New at ISC West? (S2:E55)

March 23, 2023

Our guest today is Steven Oplinger, Senior Business Development Manager with GC&E Systems Group, Inc., instructor for the Security Industry Association’s (SIA’s) Security Project Manager Class, and mentor in SIA’s Mentor Program. Steve joins us to offer up expert insight into ISC West, the largest security industry trade show in the U.S.


Full Transcript

Voiceover: You are listening to Humans in Tech. Our podcast explores today's most transformative technology and the trends of tomorrow, bringing together the brightest minds in and outside of our industry. We unpack what's new in physical access, identity verification, cybersecurity and IOT ecosystems. We reach beyond the physical world, discuss our digital transformation as a species and dive into the emerging digital [00:00:30] experience. Join us on our journey as we discover just how connected the future will be and how we will fit into that picture. Your host is Leigh Dow.

Leigh Dow: Thank you for tuning in today. We're joined by Steven Oplinger, senior Business Development Manager with GC&E Systems Group. Happy to have you with us today, Steve.

Steve Oplinger: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Leigh Dow: Steve's here to offer up some expert insight into ISC West. If you don't know, ISC West is the largest security industry trade show [00:01:00] in the United States. It takes place in Las Vegas during the last week of March and it explores all the latest technologies in access control, alarms, monitoring and surveillance, as well as emerging trends in drones and robotics IT, IOT security, smart homes, and I'm sure the list could go on and on. Steve, I understand you've been an active member of the security industry for over 35 years and you recently unretired. So tell us a little bit more about what [00:01:30] that's like.

Steve: It's been fun, I think I'm in my 38th year now in the security industry and my wife has retired and she says, "Why don't you go ahead and retire?" So I retired and I'd been retired for about a week, when a friend of mine who was with GC&E and he and I were just chatting and he said, "So what are you doing nowa-days?" And I said, "I retired." And he goes, "Really?" "Yeah." He goes, "Well, why don't you come work with us?" [00:02:00] I said, "I retired." He goes, "No, why don't you come work with us?" I said, "No, really. I retired." And he says, "I'll have HR call you tomorrow." And so I went back to work for a while. I told him I'd give him a couple years and then we'll see.

Leigh Dow: That's awesome. So you've really worked with so many large general contractors and government agencies in design and budget and deployment of systems for multiple facilities, I'm sure of all shapes and [00:02:30] sizes. And you've really been responsible for design and implementation of security CCTV systems for shopping malls and other commercial platforms as well. Can you share a little bit more about that work?

Steve: Sure. I'll give you a little bit of history. When I first started out in the industry, I was pretty much doing close circuit video systems and that was it. And then we expanded into intrusion detection and burglar alarm systems [00:03:00] and I managed to bid a jail project and won the bid. And that led to a career of over 110 jail projects, 59 US Federal Courthouse projects, probably a dozen county courthouse projects and eight or 10 federal building projects that I've done along with land port of entries along the southern border. And so it [00:03:30] kind of evolved. It wasn't anything that I set out and said, "This is going to be my vertical market." Because I didn't know at the time. It just kind of evolved and it's been fun, to say the least.

Leigh Dow: Those are really large scale projects. So can you maybe break down a little bit about what's exciting about working on large scale projects that have such a big footprint?

Steve: Sure. [00:04:00] The most fun thing, or the most exciting part about me is sitting down with the actual operators of the systems. Yes, I do meet with architects and engineers and construction managers and yes, I do meet with clients, security directors and what have you. But to me, especially on a large scale project, the one thing that I learned years ago is that if the person operating the systems [00:04:30] cannot fluently operate those systems. And by that I mean if something happens, they know how to react to it and do it seamlessly. But if they can't do that, then we didn't do our job.

Now, technology has evolved in the 30 some odd years I've been in the industry and I know you've you folks, well know that. Our technology has evolved multiple, multiple, multiple times. It's just expanded and grown tremendously. And with the advent of IT technologies being brought [00:05:00] into our security world, it's really expanded all of the capabilities and capacity that the electronic security industry provides. But if we put in systems where the operator cannot operate it fluently and effectively then, we're not really doing our jobs. And so I've always taken it upon myself to meet with those people as well and [00:05:30] make sure that we get their feedback and their input into what they want to see, how they want it to operate, what works best for them. And that has been a recipe for success in just about every project that I've ever done.

Leigh Dow: How long have you been attending ISC West? I've only been to I think three now. And the first one I went to was the first, well it was, the first post Covid ISC West. So I think [00:06:00] my experience there is a lot different from someone like you who's been to the show over a much longer period of time.

Steve: I'm guessing 25 years, somewhere in that range.

Leigh Dow: How have you seen the show evolve over that timeframe?

Steve: I will say that the one thing that has evolved in the show is the advent of new technologies and modern technologies. And we've [00:06:30] brought in robotics, we've brought in drones, we've brought in the IT world. We've brought in more software platforms onto the show floor. The one thing that ISC now does, I think better than anybody, is through the Security Industry Association of course, they offer some excellent educational opportunities prior to the show. And I was told by Security Industry Association this week that right now [00:07:00] they are anticipating the attendance to beat pre COVID numbers.

Leigh Dow: Oh wow. That's huge.

Steve: It's going to be huge. I can promise you that.

Leigh Dow: Even though you've been attending for so long, you must still get excited about new products and technology innovations and just myself, I've noticed, I've only been to three so far, but I've noticed a big shift from my first year attending where it was [00:07:30] still very access control, physical access control cards and readers focused and starting to get into more video surveillance to the last show, a big shift in messaging to a lot more intelligence, AI, analytics.

Steve: I agree. I think that as our industry migrates into different facets and different things and as our clients are requesting and looking for smarter technology, I guess for [00:08:00] lack of better words. I think that's driving a lot of what the technology and how the technology is moving and progressing. The show is, it's the largest show, the largest security show in the world.

And it's massive there probably 15 to 1600 vendors at that show, at the Sands convention center, and that's massive. [00:08:30] I actually think we're going to talk about this a little bit later, but I actually do a session before the show at ISC called What's New, and some of the things that we talk about are the new technologies, and by that not necessarily a new version of a widget that a manufacturer has, but something that is new to the industry. For example, when we brought drones into the industry, we highlighted that in [inaudible 00:08:58] session. When robotics came [00:09:00] in, we did that. When analytics came in, we did that. Just to give you an idea, we look for the, not necessarily the new better widget. We're looking for a new version of technology that might enhance what we currently are using.

Leigh Dow: So that session, what's new at ISC West will be Tuesday, March 28th from 10 to 11:00 AM Do you usually get a really good turnout for that session?

Steve: We do, obviously during covid [00:09:30] and then the first year of post Covid, our numbers were down, but then again, the numbers are down everywhere. Last year, even though it was considered post covid, I think we had probably 300 to 350 people in the room. And the surprising thing was, I've been an instructor for CIN for ASIS for 25 years, and one of the first things I always do is, I poll my audience to find out what my audience is. So in this session, we always ask, " [00:10:00] Is this your first ISC?" And by a show of hands, typically we will get 50% somewhere in there of this is their first ISC West. Last year, I would say it was probably 90 to 95% I wasn't expecting those numbers.

Leigh Dow: That's great. And that's a great turnout. That show is so busy and kinetic and there's so much to see. It's such a large footprint. To get that kind of turnout is really impressive.

Steve: Oh yeah. We were shocked [00:10:30] to be honest with you. But the one thing that we do, in addition to talking about the new technologies that are out there, one of the things that I like to do is, especially for those that it's their first ISC West, for many of them, it may be their first time in Las Vegas, and my wife and I have been going to Las Vegas for 30 years and we go two, three times a year. So we are very familiar with Las Vegas, and so we try to impart a little bit of [00:11:00] common sense wisdom, things like give yourself an extra half hour to get anywhere because Vegas is huge.

Leigh Dow: Yeah, it's true. The last time I was there for ISC West, as I was leaving to go to the airport, I realized I had not been outside in five days. Yeah.

Steve: Well, my wife and I've been staying at Venetian for 15, 16 years now. Just to get from our suite at the Venetian to the convention center is 20 minutes, [00:11:30] at minimum.

Leigh Dow: Right yeah.

Steve: And the other thing is we tell people don't plan on taking a 30 minute lunch. It's going to take you 30 minutes to get out of the convention center to where the restaurants are.

Leigh Dow: It's very true, very true.

Steve: So just wear comfortable shoes.

Leigh Dow: Yeah.

Steve: It's the desert. It's dry. Stay hydrated.

Leigh Dow: I'm a native dweller, so I'm based out of Phoenix. So for me, the climate part of it is not [00:12:00] any big change from where I live day to day. But Vegas itself, it's such almost like an overwhelming environment. And those trade shows are big and they're vast. And like you said, it takes a lot of time to get from place to place. So yeah, so having said all that, it's great to see speaking engagements and sessions that people hold are well attended, and it speaks to the value of the content and the quality of the content that you're presenting.

Steve: Oh, thank you. And [00:12:30] we've been doing this, I think this is probably the 15th or 16th year in a row we've done this. And I think that the Security Industry Association finds value in it. Our attendance numbers certainly prove that. And again, it's not a true education session in the sense that ISC is doing education. It's more of an informational session and we try to get it done before the show opens, obviously, so that we [00:13:00] can get people engaged.

We do highlight certain products. We will tell them where their booth is located by booth number, so if they want to make notes and when the show opens, go out and researched that particular type of technology. And sometimes there are multiple booths depending, so we try to give them the guide. We'll also show them the map of the show floor and how the show floor is laid out because they try to keep the show floor laid out in some type of a [00:13:30] reasonable organization. Video systems here, access control systems here, intrusion [inaudible 00:13:36], what have you. They try to keep it kind of concise. So we try to outline that and so people can, since you've been to an ISC and many people go ISC, to walk that show floor is probably two solid days.

Leigh Dow: Oh definitely.

Steve: And that's if you don't really stop, it's huge. And so one of the things that we try to do is if people are looking [00:14:00] for a particular technology, I study the show floor, I look and see who the vendors are. I will spend time this month looking through the vendor list and just making mental notes of who's there. Because after our session is over, I will have people come up to me and say, "Okay, listen, I'm looking for this particular technology. You didn't talk about it, but I'm looking for whatever." I said, "Okay, that's going to be probably over in this section." And I'll point out to them on drawing where it's going to be, [00:14:30] so at least they're not wasting time wondering the show floor, trying to find something because a: the show floor is crowded. You can't really see everything that you need to see if you do it that way.

The other thing that is interesting about ISC, and Vegas in particular is time. You're there for a very, very finite amount of time. The education sessions are two days, the show is two and a half days. So your time is limited. And that's [00:15:00] one of the reasons why we advise you, give yourself an extra 20 or 30 minutes to go somewhere, plan on lunches. If you're going to have a dinner with someone, plan on that, taking extra time. I had the occasion many years ago at an ISC we had 20 people at a dinner, it was five hours.

Leigh Dow: It does, you're right though, it takes forever to do anything there.

Steve: And that was five hours of my life, I'll never get back.

Leigh Dow: [00:15:30] So true.

Steve: Again, one of the things that we try to concentrate on is time. So we're trying to help you save time.

Leigh Dow: You currently serve as an instructor for the security industry association's security project manager class, and I understand you're on the education committee and will be educating attendees and offering certifications at ISC West.

Steve: SIA will yes, I am not teaching that class at ISC. I have, [00:16:00] we rotate through, there are several instructors that do it and Roger Schmitt with [inaudible 00:16:06] is teaching it this year. But yeah, there is a class that's being offered for security project management, and if an attendee wishes to sit for the certification test afterwards, obviously with the right background and what have you that they need to complete it, they're certainly welcome to sit for the test.

Leigh Dow: Along with educating your mentor in SIA's mentor program, [00:16:30] which definitely mirrors what you do at ISC West, as well as within your career in the industry. So what do you as a mentor, what about mentoring is important to you both for the mentee and for yourself?

Steve: I will share with you something, when I first started out in this industry, I want to tell you a little story, I like tell stories. When I first started out in this industry, I met a gentleman named Charlie Pierce. And for a lot of folks that'll be hearing [00:17:00] this podcast, they will know who Charlie Pierce is. Charlie Pierce was at one point in time, the world's leading authority on closed circuit video. Charlie's my best friend in the industry. I had just met Charlie and he had done a session he was teaching for Panasonic.

And to give you an idea of how brilliant this man was, he taught a class on close circuit video on a stage for two and a half [00:17:30] days with no PowerPoint, no whiteboard, just Charlie Pierce and a microphone. And he captured every member of that audience. And there were about 400 people in the audience for two and a half days solid. So I asked Charlie one day, I guess I've known him for a year or so, and I was still new in the industry. I had been in the industry, I don't know, maybe three years, something like that. And I was making a living, but I wasn't setting the world on fire. And so [00:18:00] I asked him, I said, "Charlie, how do I make an impact on this business? What can I do to become successful like you are?" And he gave me three word answer, and that was become a resource.

Leigh Dow: Interesting.

Steve: I did not understand what he meant. I'm not going to lie to you. Matter of fact, I actually got angry with him about it. I was like, "That's easy for you. You've written books, you travel the world, you do this, do that. I'm just trying to make a living here, dude." I figured [00:18:30] it out. My mentor folks with SIA.

Leigh Dow: Uh-huh.

Steve: One thing that I do stress to them is become a resource. People look to us in our industry for answers, for solutions. We may not have the answer or the solution at our fingertips, but in all likelihood, we know someone or of someone that does. By becoming a resource, [00:19:00] you're answering those questions. You're doing it in a timely fashion. You're doing it in an effective fashion. One of the things that I tell my mentees is, "I understand you have a life and you're busy." And most of the mentees that I've dealt with are my grandkids age.

They're in their twenties. And I said, "Look, I know you're busy." A lot of them are, they're just getting married. They're buying their first homes. This is their first real job. [00:19:30] So there's a lot on their plate. I said, "But people are going to look to you for answers. Be sure you respond in a timely fashion. That's very, very key. Answer your emails in a timely fashion, return phone calls, things like that that are, not only just courteous, but it demonstrates back to the people that you're working with that you honestly do care about your profession, [00:20:00] about them as a client or as a friend or whatever." I said "It says a lot about your character." And so that's one of the things that I very much in part on the mentees.

Leigh Dow: Along with that, is there anything else you want to share with our listeners today about ISC West?

Steve: Couple of things. Have fun with it. Don't get too serious about it. I have [00:20:30] seen attendees at ISC West who are very businesslike. First of all, it's Las Vegas, okay? So you can't take anything in Las Vegas too seriously.

Leigh Dow: Fair.

Steve: It's Las Vegas, have some fun. If you have the time, go to a show. Even if it's a small show, you don't have to go see Celine Dion or anything like that. Go to one of the small shows at one of the smaller venues, relax a little bit. Take a little bit of time [00:21:00] for yourself. Don't let the show overwhelm you. And every vendor that hears this is probably going to get upset with me for saying this, but be very, very judicious about the swag that you carry off the show floor.

Leigh Dow: That's great advice.

Steve: Well, my wife and I, many years ago, we're at a trade show, at a security trade show, and we [00:21:30] were collecting all the little toys for grandkids. Now you understand, this is probably 20 years ago, and our grandkids were babies. We had collected so much stuff that we had to ship it home because couldn't get a suitcase. And it was about $120. And we looked at each other and said, "We're not going to do that again." So first of all, I've seen people on the show floor and I can't fathom it, but I was one of them one time. So please understand, they've got [00:22:00] two big bags over their shoulders just stuffed to the gills with stuff. I tell people, I have enough ink, pens and notepads that probably will outlast my grandkids.

[inaudible 00:22:11] and I use them, don't get me wrong, we use them. But my goodness, it's just be careful. Be judicious and be cautious. I've seen people honestly, I had a friend of mine who was his first ISC West, he picked up something from every booth that had something to offer. He must have had 60 [00:22:30] pounds of stuff. That's just a little bit of wisdom. It's nice to have a couple little trinkets. That's great. But the show is busy. It's going to be very, very crowded this year. Again, from my association, told me they're beating the crap out of pre pandemic numbers. So there's going to be tens of thousands of people there, so it's going to be crowded.

Leigh Dow: Well, that's exciting [00:23:00] to see because it definitely, I've just seen the uptick from every couple years that I've been there. Like I said, I started at a weird time, so it was really seeing post covid numbers, which were still pretty low. And then I have seen it start to increase over the last couple years. So that's exciting to hear. It's going to be sort of back to full force or even bigger.

Steve: Right. Well, and again, like I said, because of that, if [00:23:30] you're going to ISC West, just be prepared that it's going to take you some more time than you anticipate and it's going to be crowded. So I've seen some of the booths where there's a technology that people want to look at. There may be five or six people deep just waiting to talk to a rep.

Leigh Dow: Right.

Steve: So you have to be patient.

Leigh Dow: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Steve. And if you enjoyed this podcast, please like and subscribe. We drop new episodes every week.

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