INTERVIEW: Sherida Sessa, Industry Vice President, ISC West

INTERVIEW: Sherida Sessa, Industry Vice President, ISC WestISC West is just around the corner and we are preparing for another year of live event coverage here at FindBiometrics. In 2017 FindBiometrics entered an exclusive premier sponsorship with the world’s biggest security expo, and our managing editor Peter Counter recently spoke with Sherida Sessa, Industry Vice President at ISC West, beginning with talk of how the world’s premier security conference has evolved over many years of record-breaking growth. The conversation touches on new facets of the event that surfaced as end-user experience has become more important in security solutions, and Sessa offers advice for new attendees planning their ISC West itinerary. After discussing the increasing role biometrics have played at the conference over recent years, the interview turns to the increasingly important subject of education in security, and the leadership role ISC West takes in this matter by hosting SIA Education. The discussion concludes on the topic of new technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics, and the opportunities they bring to the security landscape.

ISC West 2018 runs April 10-13 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Stay posted to FindBiometrics for live event coverage straight from the exhibition floor.

Read full interview with Sherida Sessa, Industry Vice President, ISC West:

Peter Counter, Managing Editor, FindBiometrics: Year after year ISC West breaks its own attendance records, what is driving this constant growth? And as it continues to grow how do you see the exhibition evolving?

Sherida Sessa, Industry Vice President, ISC West: ISC West has been very lucky, and has been growing in attendance year after year, and I have to say it is the result of a lot of work that our team does in planning the event. We are constantly looking at new segments of attendees to add to the show and we have brought in several high value end users to the event over the last five years. Specifically, we added an end user VIP program a handful of years ago now and we have a VIP manager who actually goes out into the marketplace – it is her full-time job – attends industry events, networks with industry attendees and actually collects information about what projects they have for the year: what open projects they have, what budget they have for certain products, and recruits them to come to the show. So, it makes a difference because it is not necessarily the numbers going up, although they are, but it is the quality of the attendees we are bringing to the show as well so we have also done a lot of recruiting in specific vertical segments. So, that’s been helpful. As we see end user segments growing in their appetite for security products and their budget for security projects every year, we recruit in those specific segments.

On top of that, we are seeing quite a bit of crossover from between the traditional physical security professionals and the IT professionals as IoT has really come onto the scene. So, we have been seeing an increase year over year in the IT professionals that are coming to the show as well.

FindBiometrics: In some of the other conferences that we have been going to, based on that end user outreach that you were mentioning, we’ve been noticing that there has been a big shift, specifically in biometrics, towards the end user experience focus first rather than prescribing this larger idea of security. Do you see that happening with your attendees interests as well?

ISC West: Yes, we have definitely seen that over the last handful of years. The integrator is still the crux of ISC West and are still largely responsible for all of the systems that get designed and installed throughout the country. Their level of expertise is really something you can’t compete with, but with that being said, you are absolutely right that there is a movement toward the end user wanting to come and see the products first hand and really see what is on the market versus taking an integrator’s word for it.

Where we have actually seen a lot of success with the show is that we have a lot of our large integrators come and bring their customers with them and walk the floor with them and I actually think that is the best of both worlds. That way the end user is not having to figure it all out for themselves but they have a really high-level expert with them to walk them through the different technologies and the pros and cons of each.

FindBiometrics: That is really a fascinating approach that I think would work really well. In terms of bringing new people to the conference do you have any advice for people attending their first ISC West as it is becoming such a big conference and there are a lot of different networking opportunities there?

ISC West: Yes, absolutely. ISC West is an amazing event but it is big so if you don’t plan for it in advance you can become a little bit overwhelmed on site. So, that would be my first tip: number one you don’t want to walk in blind, you do want to do some homework and prep for your trip in advance. We also offer you a lot of technology and resources to help you do that in an efficient way. We have a show planner on our website that lists all of our exhibitors with a full profile with what they are going to be showcasing at the event. We actually also – and this is a proprietary technology for Reed Exhibitions and for the ISC West show – in that when you register for a trade show many times you are asked to fill out demographic information and also what products you are interested in and a lot of times attendees don’t know why we are asking this question. But the reason that we ask the question at ISC West is because we have software that will match you up with the exhibitors that have those products that you are interested in. So then our show planner on our website makes recommendations to you on which exhibitors that you should see and those translate right over to our mobile app and we also send those recommendations out via email several times before the show. Just to be clear, these aren’t not sponsored in any way, there is no financial tie for the vendor, it is just a resource for the attendees to help them find what they are looking for at the show. So, I would highly, highly suggest that people take advantage of that.

FindBiometrics: That sounds amazing!

ISC West: Yes, it is and I don’t know of any other shows that are able to do that. So, it is definitely something that can help you make the most of your time.

Then of course we have our mobile app which is available on site as well and a printed directory if you prefer that but the mobile app is very sophisticated in that it can help you make a smart route from booth to booth if you favorited exhibitors in advance. So again, it just helps you to be more efficient.

We also try to organize the show floor with certain featured areas so that certain products are grouped together. So, we have our general security exhibits but then we have a designated area for the IoT security and network security that I had mentioned before; we have a dedicated area for public security and safety; we have a designated area for connected home; for unmanned security and robotics; and then new this year we have an emerging technology area which is all companies newer to the industry. So, we do try to group things to make it less overwhelming and a little bit easier for attendees to navigate when they get there.

FindBiometrics: As far as I know you are the only event that sort of has that hands-on integrated planning experience, that’s really fantastic. In addition to the growth of ISC West, the presence of biometric technology is also becoming more prominent, not only in security but across the board. Biometrics have been a major aspect of the exhibition for many, many years now. How have you seen things change concerning biometrics at ISC West over the years?

ISC West: I think you hit the mail on the head with how you led into that – it’s not only the security industry that is becoming more receptive to biometrics. We all live and breathe as just general consumers. It started with unlocking our iPhones with our fingerprint and that has now gone even further to actually be facial recognition. And those consumer based technologies help pull everyone into the fold with the technology, so I agree with you that it is growing across the board. It is a huge part of ISC West; access control is one of our top two categories at the show in terms of products and then biometrics within access control is absolutely huge for us as well. We have over 65 biometric companies that are at the show and at least 30 of them focus on fingerprint and facial recognition as well. So, it is definitely a big component of what we are seeing at the show and I would say in tandem that the appetite for it among attendees has been increasing year over year.

FindBiometrics: You certainly set the bar for us in terms of access control discussion, a lot of what we see is sort of based on those attitudes so it’s good to see you see that happening too. On that note, ISC West has its reputation in the industry for setting access control trends for the whole year and in 2017 a lot industry thought leaders were really interested in highlighting the convergence between mobile, physical and information access control; what access control trends do you expect to be on display this April at the Las Vegas show?

ISC West: You know that is wonderful question and the manufacturers do a great job of keeping the lid on all of their all of their product launches up until the show so it is a little bit hard to say as this point. But as you know at the show last year CrucialTrak, which is a biometric access control company, won our SIA Best New Product of the Year award and that is really exciting, I think, for the biometric marketplace. I would expect that to continue, we are still gathering a lot of submissions but I think we are going to have quite a few submissions in the New Product Showcase program focusing on the biometric marketplace and I definitely expect that it is going to be a real highlight for the show overall.

FindBiometrics: We recently published our Year in Review survey, it’s a big event that we do for two months at FindBiometrics, and our security expert respondents — we had about 200 of them participate – they overwhelming agreed that education is a key industry challenge. Once again ISC West is going to be hosting SIA Education, the event that you have had for the past few years. Can you please tell me about this and why education is important in the access control industry overall?

ISC West: Absolutely! The education program is one of my favorite parts of ISC West and the Security Industry Association (SIA) is once again producing the education program for us. We have three full days of education lined up for this year’s show and in a whole variety of tracks. Actually, I think we are at a record of over 85 sessions being produced as part of this year’s program. This is common for us, we have an entire track of content dedicated to access and ID management so we will definitely be seeing at least five sessions that are specifically dedicated to that topic as a technology.

I should also tell you that our program is divided by theme by day. Our Tuesday sessions are specialized education sessions, so we have an entire track of education produced by PSA Security network that day; we have a strategic management session that day; there are workshops, hands-on workshops, they are more intensive sessions on Tuesday which is the day before the show opens.

Then on Wednesday of our event we have all tracks based on your role in the security industry. So we have sessions specifically designed for the dealer and installer community; for the integrator community; we have tracks on technology and business development for them; and then we have tracks for end users based on their specific vertical within the industry.

On Thursday we typically call that our technology day and that is when you will see the specific sessions dedicated to ID management as a technology, and you will see a full track dedicated that day to those courses. We also cover video surveillance that day, and several other technologies, but it is very exciting for the access and ID management.

FindBiometrcs: I think it is really great that you have that segmented for every different type of audience member that is coming to your event because I think overall, in the biometric industry at least, we can get a little bit focused on internal things. It is also nice that you are including those end users who you are bringing to your event as well.

In order to educate people, you have to identify challenges and I was wondering: what are the challenges you see facing the security industry, and what is ISC West’s role beyond education in addressing these challenges?

ISC West: One of the big challenges that we are seeing from our attendees is something that we have already kind of touched on a little bit and that is the whole industry of connectivity, and you mentioned the mobility of all of our products, is that everything is connected at this point and that has implications absolutely for security across the board. And our attendees and the entire industry is still really trying to figure out the implications of that and how to install really cyber-hardened systems in this world of IoT. That has been at least for the last 12 months, a big challenge for our attendees. So, we listen to that and we try to do a lot of research with everyone that comes to the show and really identify those challenges and then create solutions around them to your point. So, it goes further, actually, than just the education program. But of course, the education program is instrumental in assisting with that, but we really try to leverage our exhibit floor and our technology to overcome those challenges as well. As I mentioned, we have entire area of our exhibit floor called the Connected Security Expo which is all technology and solutions that come together to assist with this integration between the IoT, the cyber world and the physical world in light of IoT. So, we have about 50 exhibitors this year that specifically focused on that and they all offer customised solutions. What really sets ISC apart is the combination of the classroom learning and then the ability to walk upstairs and see the technologies in a working environment. That is where I think ISC West is really special.

FindBiometrics: That interactivity of being able to apply the information you are getting across all the bases is really good. It is also really good that you have so many types of people who experience security in different ways in their lives coming together in the same spaces. Are there any other specific networking events? I know in the past you have had fun runs and things like that that people have enjoyed.

ISC West: As much as we love being on the exhibit floor it is nice to get off the floor and see people in a social environment so we definitely try to offer that as well throughout the three days of the event and there are a whole array of special events that go along beginning with the Tuesday before the show opens we have the Alarm Industry Research and Education Foundation (AIREF) they have a golf tournament before the show opens; the SAMMY Awards take place the day before the show opens; there is a SIA Market Leaders Reception and also takes place that day so Tuesday is a very social day for us.

We also do quite a bit throughout the show days as well: we have several different awards programs where people can come together and chit chat or have a drink with us; we have our Grand Opening of the show which again allows everybody to get together and where we actually open the exhibit hall; and of course, as you just mentioned, a huge highlight of ISC West is the Security 5K Run / 2K Walk which benefits Mission 500 and that is an event that is near and dear to our heart. That takes place Thursday morning of ISC West and is off sight at a beautiful park in Las Vegas and we typically see over 500 participants at that event which is really amazing. It is a 5K run or you have the option of doing a 2K walk which is absolutely the route I go! We see a lot of support from our exhibiting manufacturers that come out in mass and really bring their entire booth staff and their entire team to participate in that event. So, it is a really nice way to get outdoors and get some fresh air and then it is just an amazing cause so we are really excited to participate and support that event again this year. And even if you can’t get outdoors to actually do that and participate, it is a little early in the morning, we have other events that take place on the show floor through Mission 500 where they do kit builds and they do backpack stuffing throughout all 3 days of the event so you can always do some good even if you can’t get out to the run.

FindBiometrics: What are some of the big opportunities in the security industry right now? You mentioned IoT and mobility, are there any others?

ISC West: There are always a ton of opportunities in the security industry which is one of the most exciting things about the job. You touched on one earlier which is mobile everything and that offers a lot of opportunities for the security industry at this point. It is actually one of the mega trends that the Security Industry Association identified as one of the top things happening in the industry this year and I think you will see a lot of solutions for that on the show floor.

We also haven’t talked too much about what I think is a very big opportunity coming down the pipe here and that is robotics. That ranges from unmanned aerial vehicles and then the ground robots that we are seeing having a lot of impact in the industry. We added to ISC West the Unmanned Security & Safety Expo last year to address these new technologies and we are seeing growth in them this year. So that is sure to be an exciting area at the show; we’ll have some demos and a full education theatre to focus on these technologies as well. There is definitely an appetite from our buyers to understand how to better use these technologies and to better complement what they are already doing in security.

The other opportunity I would say is that there are so many new and emerging technologies coming out and sometimes it is hard to find those at trade shows with so many different exhibitors so ISC has added in an Emerging Technology Zone this year which is dedicated companies that are new to market and hopefully have the newest technology to show.

FindBiometrics: Fantastic! And a note on those robots, I remember we reported on them last year and you really have to see these security robots in person because it is such a new concept to try and get your mind around just the size of them, and the efficacy of their facial recognition biometrics is really something that I think is really necessary to have at an exhibition.

ISC West: Absolutely and you know the integration with the AI, artificial intelligence, and the applications for the robots to combine with that it is very different and it is very interesting. I don’t think it is a replacement for anything that we are doing now but is certainly a complement to a lot of different security organizations and security systems that are being installed. So, there is a lot of opportunity there and they are becoming more and more sophisticated; every month that goes by they become more sophisticated. What you saw last year is not necessarily what you’ll see this year, it has come a long way in a twelve-month period which is exciting.

FindBiometrics: Yes, it is really incredible how quick everything is getting better especially in terms of AI. We also believe at our organization that automation isn’t anything that is going to replace people it is only going to make our jobs easier.

Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us today.