How to Open Up Opportunities With Open Architecture

Joe Grillo, founder and CEO of ACRE, discusses a range of access control topics including the holding company’s M&A strategy.

Joe Grillo, an SSI Industry Hall of Fame inductee, founded ACRE in 2012 as a platform to consolidate acquisitions in the electronic security industry. He joins the conversation to discuss trends in the access control market, among other topics relevant to the channel. 

Where do you see opportunities for systems integrators in the access control market over the next few years?

The integrator that chooses to go all-in to continue to develop their overall level of expertise in IT/IP-related areas will open the door to many opportunities as we move forward in the network IoT world.  The end user wants all the facets of their security solution networked and easily managed, including remote management of their security. Video surveillance, access control, intrusion — all on one secure network.

Adopting smart technology offers great advantages to access control. Smart access control combines the advantages of a traditional access control system with flexible and smart online control via the web or an Intranet and achieving greater control over door openings and door hardware. Being the Integrator that understands the threat of unauthorized access — cybersecurity — and how to protect the network and the systems they install is going to become paramount.

The integration of sub systems and wireless technology are and will continue to be more prevalent as a part of a seamless system. These relate to both the video [communication networking] segment as well as access control.

Looking longer term, where do you see technology disrupting the access control market?

Most of these new technologies — mobile credentials, wireless locks, biometrics — are, in reality, less intrusive and easier for the people using them vs. traditional access control products used in the past. At a point, this new technology provides a great opportunity for integrators if they keep up with the additional training and knowledge requirements. The net result is greater use of these technologies resulting in a higher number of doors being electronically controlled.

At the end of the day we all are for better security and if new technologies make it less intrusive, easier to install and maintain, it’s a benefit to us all. The integrator that adjusts their model to proactively support the adoption enjoys a great advantage when competing for new business projects.

Where will systems integrators be challenged most in this evolving ecosystem?

We think the big challenge facing integrators is being sure all these systems — access control, surveillance, intrusion — operate seamlessly from the design to installation to daily operation over a network. All this technology is advancing rapidly, choosing a supplier-partner who can help by confirming what works with whose equipment gives an advantage.

One of the reasons we at ACRE acquired ComNet was to offer the transmission media part of the equation to integrators in addition to the access control portion. All in an effort to add value for the integrator and all to make sure by selecting any of the ACRE companies, you gain an interoperability advantage.

With the growing momentum behind Cloud-based systems, many integrators will need to revisit their billing methodology, adopting pay-as-you-go service vs. a capex one-and-done traditional invoicing. This may prove to be one of the biggest challenges since it requires a business change in line with the technological changes.

What is your near-term M&A strategy and where will look to complement the current ACRE portfolio?

I believe opportunities exist for ACRE to continue to consolidate in our areas of focus. That is electronic access control and communication networking. These are still fragmented, competitive landscapes. There are many really good companies in the security industry that can complement our current offering, and together provide greater value to the integrator.

Our philosophy is that we look for successful companies, understand what made them successful and bring those values to the market. Our recent announcement regarding the purchase of Open Options is an example. Open Options’ open-architecture access control solutions will add additional value to all of the ACRE solutions and makes our access control portfolio more complete.

In a market that has traditionally been proprietary, the open-platform solution offered by Open Options helps deliver more opportunity allowing us to offer customers a full-scale solution based on their needs.

One of my challenges in 2019 will be to continue the search for companies that can complement our existing companies and offer greater value to all our customers.

Once you achieve your strategic growth initiatives, how will the ACRE value proposition evolve?

The ACRE companies will evolve as the market requirements change. As a larger organization ACRE can help with more resources to enable the portfolio companies to evolve and compete. My goal with ACRE has always been to position ACRE as the parent company without detracting from the focus on and value earned by our brands: Vanderbilt, ComNet and now Open Options.

All of our companies have a well-deserved reputation for providing valuable solutions. For the thousands of ComNet, Vanderbilt and now Open Options customers doing business with us day in and day out, we want to make sure they feel the value the ACRE portfolio provides. We’ll keep the spotlight on our brands and solutions they offer, and not lose sight on “What’s in it for me, the customer?”

Nowadays many end users eschew independent, siloed systems. What stresses do you see this is putting on integrators? What new opportunities are opening up for integrators that are adapting?

This is a theme that has been developing over some period of time. There will always be some end users and applications where siloed or maybe more aptly put, proprietary, independent systems are appropriate and others where integrating the functions seamlessly makes the most sense.

Choosing the right partners — not too many! — allows integrators to help navigate, figuring out which is the appropriate path for the particular customers. Expanding the ACRE portfolio of access control companies will give integrators a choice or path to go down depending on ultimately what best suits the end users’ needs.

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About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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