Many years ago, NSCA led an industry-wide effort to determine how many systems contractors/integrators are in North America.
Directed by our industry advisory board and the late John Stiernberg of Stiernberg Consulting, we set out to discover how many companies work with communications, life safety, security, network infrastructure, AV, and other low-voltage technologies as defined by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat standards, Divisions 27 and 28.
We didn’t go to this effort just because we were curious (although we definitely were). The driving force behind this effort was the U.S. Department of Labor: This data is important for the occupation classifications that serve as the foundation for prevailing wage and workers’ compensation rates.
Over the past few years, there has been much industry debate about what we call ourselves. There are strong reasons why we should use the term “integrator.”
Plenty of companies define themselves as “systems integrators” or a company that performs the work of an “integrator.” The term “integrator” was recently chosen by the Connected Technologies Industry Consortium as the preferred descriptor for the company and individual performing this type of work, so “integrator” was used as the basis of our SOC filing.
Companies can choose to use a descriptor before the word “integrator” to further describe what they do:
- Security integrator
- AV integrator
- Life safety integrator
“Integrator” would then replace the EST designation.
How Many Were There?
At one point, we determined that there were over 12,000 technology contracting companies (5,500 referred to themselves as systems integrators in North America). Those that didn’t identify as integrators worked as a single-system provider, with fire alarm and structured cabling being the largest groups identified.
On average, these 12,000 companies had an employment level of 28 staff members. Our (somewhat) scientific method of determination was to profile the 50 largest North American cities and discover how many companies performed the scope of work identified by the two MasterFormat divisions we most commonly provide (Divisions 27 and 28).
Then we determined that, on average, one systems integrator is required for every incremental increase in population of 50,000. For example:
- A city of 50,000 has one integrator
- A 100,000-population city has two
- A city of 2 million would have 40 integration firms
Sound about right?
Manufacturer reps were involved, and we did deep dives into 18 cities to prove our theory and determine accuracy. It came out surprisingly close. But that was several years ago …
How Many Are There Now?
Once again, we have a need to determine how many people work in our industry. A major driver today is the fact that business opportunities are under attack by emerging legislation aimed at limiting “low-voltage” integrators’ right to work on Power over Ethernet (PoE) systems. Many of these proposed laws are influenced by electricians.
There is power in numbers (pun not intended), and it’s important for integrators to know the tally.
We assume there are fewer companies with larger employment levels (the average is now over 40) due to the dramatic merger and acquisition activity over the last few years. But does that mean there more players than we think?
We also have a more diverse product and technology mix, with companies crossing over into multiple disciplines (especially in smaller-population centers). IT companies are doing huge numbers in AV and security. Fire alarm companies are doing paging and emergency communications. Should alarm monitoring companies, cable TV, and internet service providers be considered integrators? They certainly carry the same licenses or exemptions.
We still have more questions than answers. In 2021, NSCA—along with the Connected Technologies Industry Consortium—is working to change that. –Chuck Wilson, NSCA Executive Director