Like so many other manufacturers, AMAG Technology will arrive at ISC West in April eager to voice a story about how its latest offering can help solve your end customers’ pain points.
Marketing hyperbole aside, AMAG will make a compelling case when it lifts the curtain on the Symmetry SR Controllers, a product line engineered with a pluggable backplane architecture geared toward upgrading legacy access control systems. You can hear all about the official release in Las Vegas and its aftermath. What piqued my interest, however, is the backstory to how the retrofit solution made it from a cocktail napkin to the stock room at what might be considered breakneck speed in the manufacturing biz.
I got wind of the new release during the company’s annual Security Engineering Symposium (SEC), held March 1-4 at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa near San Diego. Matt Barnette, executive vice president of sales and marketing, demo’d the solution for the gathering of consultants and systems integrators during a presentation about the company’s product roadmap. I later sat down with him to learn in what manner the solution was conceived and the feverish behind-the-scenes machinations to get it to market in time to seize, as Barnette said, “a once in a lifetime opportunity never before seen in the access control market.” What follows is an abridged version of how the company’s new offering came to be.
The seed for the SR Series was first planted in September 2011 at the ASIS show in Orlando, Fla. An end user sought out AMAG’s booth to express uncertainty about their organization’s legacy system in the wake of UTC acquiring GE. Then a couple more end users would visit the booth, expressing the same lament of the unknown.
The system in question was GE’s Casi-Rusco Picture Perfect brand for large-scale installations. The end users, like other industry observers, wondered how UTC’s Lenel division would reconcile its own product lines with the newly acquired brands. GE had been dropping some products, including Secure Perfect aimed for smaller-scale projects. Would Picture Perfect suffer the same fate?
Jump ahead about six months to AMAG’s booth at ISC West in March 2012. The trickle of end users who conveyed their concerns in Orlando “had now become a tsunami,” Barnette said. UTC had made it official: Picture Perfect was being discontinued. Panic is an apt word to describe the users’ predicament.
To sum up their anxiety, Picture Perfect runs on Linux, unlike the majority of industry systems designed for the Windows platform. Therefore the support infrastructure is completely different. The system has been deployed for about 15 years. Its vast installed base includes many Fortune 500 companies. Rip and replace a legacy system of such scale? In this economy? Picture Perfect users were scrambling for a resolution.
“This is mission-critical stuff. It’s not only integrated into access control but the provisioning of new employees and other business processes,” Barnette said. “It has the potential to be very disruptive to these organizations.”
As AMAG viewed it, end users could be faced with a two- or three-year process to change out their existing systems. Unless, of course, a robust retrofit solution could be provided instead. Enter the cocktail napkin.
A few AMAG executives huddled one evening at a site away from the ISC West show floor to discuss the urgency they saw in coming up with an answer. After all, the affected end users were surely visiting competing vendors as well. The imperative was to be the first to pounce.
In the normal course of business, projects are won one customer at a time. With Picture Perfect reaching end of life, an entire population of large customers was now in play. On the napkin, the executives sketched out how they could take an existing product that was in development and put it into the form factor of the legacy product.
This wasn’t rocket science. AMAG had all the technology; the engineers just needed to rearrange it physically. It was more a matter of deciding what the right approach was in order to be first to market with a solution. “The opportunity is finite,” Barnette said. “If we don’t solve the problem, somebody else will.”
The executive leadership met with their troupes to state the undertaking would be green-lighted and given the highest priority. If something had to be dropped in engineering, so be it. It was all hands on deck. AMAG decided to take a two-door PoE controller it was developing for smaller markets and use it as the foundation to remake a 16-door retrofit solution that would essentially be plug ‘n’ play with existing systems. The engineering department outsourced additional help to expedite the work.
By the time ASIS rolled around again last September in Philadelphia, the company had in tow a CPU board in a makeshift enclosure that would simulate a legacy system. This provided the ability for AMAG brass to explain the benefits of their solution-in-the-making. It was shown only to a select group of integrators and consultants in a separate building away from the exhibit hall.
By December, the engineering department completed its work and delivered a 16-door, scalable solution with eight plug-in circuit boards in the product line. A site was outfitted with a beta system immediately, followed by more than a dozen. Just as the engineer staff was beefed up, so too was sales and marketing. Normally the business development team is out cold calling, trolling for opportunities. Now they are attacking as broadly as possible a known base of potential customers.
Barnette’s demo kit at the SEC event included an operational legacy controller, reader and proximity badge. He presented the legacy badge … access granted. The system was powered down and the old cards removed. All the wiring was left intact. In went the new SR Series cards, and connectors were reconnected and power applied. The old badge was presented to the legacy reader and, voila, access granted. The whole process took about two minutes.
As Barnette explained, the SR Series leaves intact a great deal of the legacy installation to minimize the impact on the customer. “You don’t need a screwdriver to do a retrofit of the system … this is a pin for pin replacement.”
All told, it took about one year for the product to be conceived, developed and shipped. The product release date is targeted for the end of March with the official public unveiling saved for ISC West.
Rodney Bosch | Managing Editor