If you asked managers of today’s successful security integration businesses to lay out their top challenges, maintaining customer service while growing, keeping up with the blistering pace of new technology, finding smart and eager personnel, and instilling IT as a core competency would rank highly. In fact that’s just what we did — ask some of the industry’s sharpest executives to offer candid insights on those and other pressing issues.
A cornerstone of SSI’s annual Bright Ideas Issue, this year’s roundtable features company Presidents Brent Franklin (Unlimited Technology, Chester Springs, Pa.) and Chris Stuart (ArCom Systems, North Little Rock, Ark.); Vice President Steve Piechota (Netronix, San Jose, Calif.); and Business Development Director Brian Minner (AlphaCorp Security, West Valley City, Utah). The animated and lively face-to-face discussion was once again staged during this year’s PSA-TEC event outside Denver.
As you will see, this relaxed, in-depth and interactive forum brings forth uncommonly detailed and exceptionally revealing frontline accounts of the battles being fought and the strategies being deployed to win the security integration wars. Read on for their inspiring stories of guts and glories.
What issues are keeping you up at night and putting more gray hair on your head?
Steve Piechota: Finding good people in this industry is getting tougher as the economy speeds up, and there’s more of a need for security. It’s had us have to do more subcontracting, which wasn’t our base business plan. But it’s allowing us to stretch quickly, and it’s been a real benefit for us. Now we’re managing subcontractors as well.
We also are finding that things we could do a year ago we can’t do any longer. We have to put more processes in place. It’s taking more administration. It’s like we’re growing up. We expect to hit about $25 million this year. We don’t want to grow too quickly. We’ve seen what’s happened with some of our competitors. They outstrip their talent, and they fail. Reputation in this industry is everything. If you fail, your competitors are going to talk about you and let everyone know. I know what every one of my competitors is doing and where they’re failing, and where they’re losing people and so on. It’s critical for us to maintain our level of quality throughout our growth periods.
Brian Minner: We too have had a lot of growth and it causes some gray hair. We grew about 30% two years ago and 70% last year. There’s a lot of growing pains that go along with that. We’re working hard on improving our processes, our communication within our teams, across teams and throughout the structure of the organization. We’re fortunate to have some talented and experienced people on the leadership team. That is great and it causes challenges. They’re popular in the field, so they end up spending a lot of time working in the field with customers, which reduces focus and time spent on management at times.
One of the challenges several of us on the leadership team deal with is the constant assessment of new technologies and new opportunities. There’s a lot of very interesting products and solutions out there. How do you stay on top of that and decide whether it fits, or whether it’s right for a particular customer need? It takes time, energy, a lot of meetings and getting people aligned.
Brent Franklin: As an installation integrator, we’re struggling a bit with sales cycles. With the deployment of services, we have seen the struggles that Steve mentioned in finding good people. We’re all about finding exceptional people, and that’s getting harder and harder. So we are looking backwards to hire young people and train them to do what we need them to do, kind of bring them up, but that doesn’t help with the immediate needs we’re all faced with. We have customers expecting more from us with less cost, but we’ve got a great team and we’re combating that pretty well.
The other thing is the IT and technology we’re going to bring forth for the customers. The customers are much more educated in the systems and what’s out there today than they were even a year to three years ago. They’re coming to us and saying, “What about this technology and that technology?” You actually have to put people out there in the R&D mode to sniff it out so you can get back to the customer with the real skinny on what that product is. You don’t want to be behind the wave. You want to be at least able to talk informedly with them.
Chris Stuart: Our goal is to vet and deploy the planet’s best-of-breed products for our clients. I love to get perspective from our engineers, project managers, IT guys, salespeople, and then we will collectively bless it. At some point I will make a go/no-go decision after we’ve talked through it and vetted them out comprehensively. We have to do that fast because technology is progressing so quickly. You have to be a quick study. I will bring something to my IT guy and say, “Power read that.” It’s like the Navy SEALs say, “We don’t know everything, but we can know everything within about 48 hours.”
As far as gray hair, I spent a lot of time building and launching our sales team. For the size organization we are, I had to do a lot of heavy lifting recruiting new talent that you can’t readily find. We test them, profile them, and some of them are what I refer to as ab initio, they’re from scratch. They don’t know anything about the industry, because we don’t like retreads. We’re like, “Are you just going to be an average performer, or are you going to be a star player?” If you’re average, we don’t want you.
More recently I am spending a lot of time managing our cash flow, receivables, payables. I am looking at our material costs, labor costs, making sure we’re getting all of our discounts; that our guys are really being aggressive on the management of labor to enhance profitability. With our service techs, we benchmark how much revenue they bring in. We want those guys to be billing out 95% plus their time each week.
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