2021 SSI Small to Midsize Installer of the Year: scDataCom Breaks Mold, Wins Gold
A new standard of security integrator is emerging, and one of its torchbearers calls Savannah, Ga., home. There, the 25-strong team at scDataCom is piling up victories that include a 2021 SSI Installer of the Year Award.
This isn’t your father’s security integration business — or any father’s for that matter. Shattering historical and preconceived notions of what a solutions provider looks like and can be is scDataCom, founded in 2013 by Alaina Meyer and operated in partnership with her mother, Kathleen Ford.
In a field in which the overwhelming majority of company owners and managers have traditionally been men (89% according to SSI’s 2014 data), and many women in those positions spouses or children of family-run businesses, scDataCom is a most welcome symbol of progression, inclusion and exciting new possibilities.
“I retired from the army in 2012, happily trading in my boots for flipflops, and was busy vigorously pursuing my hobbies when my daughter had a big idea and asked me to help,” says Ford, who spent 26 years in the service. “A new college grad and a retired army nurse starting a security company? What could possibly go wrong? It’s a good thing we didn’t know what we didn’t know — made it much easier to charge forward and figure things out.”
Initially struggling to take scDataCom to the next level, Meyer reached out to her mother to capitalize on her decades of strategic talents and leadership abilities. Their subsequent success has allowed their compelling story to supersede gender references. Coming onboard in 2014 as co-owner and business partner, Ford has proved instrumental in growing the fledgling enterprise. The Savannah, Ga.-based company has expanded to a staff of 25 (more than half of whom are veterans) and achieved 400% year-over-year growth.
“In scDataCom’s early days, I was operating on momentum and brute force of will — after all my resume is certainly atypical for this industry,” says Meyer, who after college worked as a fine art consultant. “But I knew there was a place in this market for a disrupter. When I was able to convince my mom to join, she helped shape us into that disrupter. Now we are having so much fun learning and conquering this industry together.”
Those maneuvers, efforts and results have led to scDataCom being named the 2021 SSI Small to Midsize Installer of the Year. Among the many virtues that shine through is the firm’s determination and tenacity, which is exemplified by what Meyer calls scDataCom’s “honey badger spirit” to get things done.
Persevering a Pandemic
Alaina Meyer: My mother and I were both feeling the weight of the responsibility for keeping this business and the families that depend on it safe. We were keenly aware of how vulnerable our employees were — if we opted to cut costs by implementing layoffs, at a time where there may be no other jobs, what would they do? The health risks were frightening enough, but the demise of a person’s livelihood is no small thing, and we felt honor bound to do everything we could to figure things out quickly and to create stability for our team.
As the impact of COVID unfolded, scDataCom got busy crafting our pivot strategy — finding a new way to aid our customers while simultaneously securing our own future. In March 2020, we launched a free pilot of our SafeCity initiative. This program was designed to provide subscription-based shared video coverage of busy retail corridors in Savannah as threat deterrence, forensic evidence of unwanted activity and an element of community policing through shared responsibility.
Armed with a stockroom full of IP cameras and a tech team we had a responsibility to keep busy, we installed cameras throughout the business sector and provided free footage access to the business community. This offered them the peace of mind of having “eyes” on their business during closure.
Though the pandemic did affect scDataCom’s revenue, we took the loss in stride and made sure we used our time productively. And when COVID-19 closures reduced our workload we continued fulltime pay for all our staff for a period of 12 weeks. When there was no fieldwork for our technicians, we enrolled them in relevant training and certification courses to provide them paid hours and increased knowledge.
Kathleen Ford: The communication style we used with our staff was crucial. It was essential that they trusted us to pull out the essential pieces of information from experts. In effect we were saying, ‘Here’s what we’re asking of you. If you don’t feel safe doing it here are your alternatives. We’ll work with you.’ And to a person they showed up every time to every job.
Coaching Builds Teamwork
Ford: To realize our ambitious growth targets for 2021 we have engaged the expertise of a coach who has helped us draft our strategic goals, set priorities, and create the results we are seeking. This process has dramatically improved our accountability for focusing on the most important things that will create phenomenal results for scDataCom.
Meyer: This business coach is guiding us through the Rockefeller Habits Scaling Up Program. We have formed a three-year plan to grow our business quite aggressively and have already rolled out several organizational changes, including new roles and responsibilities and process improvements.
We’ve promoted two field managers as well as a service manager who now oversee the technical teams and lead small to medium installations. They report to a director of operations, who provides departmental and project management services as well as quality control. We’re also empowering each team member to do more.
We’re aiming to double our commercial business this year. While we will always keep a foot in the federal marketplace, we’d like to increase our presence in our local area and become the “go-to” integration partner for agencies in Southeast Georgia. In support of these goals and our Scaling Up program, we’ve implemented an accountability structure that emphasizes the importance of teamwork.
Every morning, each team member participates in a five-minute huddle where we share what our priorities are and what we need help with. This transparency has been effective in unifying our departments and smoothing out communication throughout the organization. The managers from each department also meet with their team weekly for a more in-depth review of weekly progress toward established goals and brainstorming to resolve any outstanding issues.
We’ve also defined our company core values to ensure that, as our organization continues to grow, we are making decisions that reflect our ethos and corporate culture. To roll this out to the employees in a fun way, we established a bi-weekly competition for “core values champion,” which is a peer-nominated recognition program. The reigning champion is gifted temporary custody of our Core Values Trophy that features a golden honey badger and it’s an inside joke that that’s our company mascot.
Meyer: scDataCom set a strategic goal to become a “best in industry” employer by 2021. In the past two years, we have added a 401K pension plan and full medical, dental and vision benefits for our fulltime staff, differentiating ourselves from similarly sized companies in our industry. We’ve been in a growth cycle the past several years so we are constantly on the lookout for industry superstars. Our best advertising is word of mouth — whether that’s suppliers, other employees or client referrals.
Our defining feature is the “honey badger spirit” — someone who gets stuff done. This applies to every position as we all do hard things every day. The key is finding the kind of person who revels in the challenge rather than shrinks from it.
Those are the kinds of people who do extremely well at scDataCom, and their contributions are rewarded with endless upward mobility. There is no glass ceiling here.
We invest heavily in technician training each year and take pride in having a team that applies this to their daily work by understanding industry requirements and regulations to ensure every task exceeds standards. We are proud of our collective achievements and believe these are our differentiator.
We are among just some 126 companies nationwide to have a Certified Systems Engineer ICAM-PACS [CSEIP] on staff. Additionally, we have techs certified at every BICSI level to include RCDD, BICSI Installer 1, Installer 2 and Technician, have our team Fiber Optic Association certified, and boast numerous manufacturer certifications on specific system installation and networking competencies.
Pride in Problem-Solving
Meyer: scDataCom has sought and secured partnerships with key industry manufacturers such as Pelco, Avigilon, Axis, AMAG and Genetec to deliver hardware and software solutions from known industry leaders offering the very best in video, server solutions, analytics and access control.
If our customers aren’t raving about our people and products, we have not achieved the level to which we strive. scDataCom seeks to “delight” customers every chance we get. That means building clear, executable and repeatable processes for customer communication throughout the entire organization.
I’m passionate about this aspect of the business — I believe it’s critical to be the architect of your customer experience. Even though we are a technology company, we’re using these solutions to solve human problems. As a small business, we’re able to be more mobile and leverage our size to form personal connections with our clients.
They know us, they trust us, they like us and that’s powerful. We’d lose that spark if we automated everything to death. Instead, we strive to put the ‘human element’ into every interaction. Even little things, like removing the robotic auto attendant from our main number and routing all calls to a team member, have a big impact.
We’ve standardized our sales process to include regular check-ins, including a quality survey at the conclusion of a new installation. This survey includes a simple numerical rating for the various touchpoints throughout the lifecycle of the job — from sales to project management to the installation. This feedback is gathered by our business development department and reviewed monthly by management.
Supporting Women, Vets
Meyer: We seek to be a contributing member to the communities we serve — this extends beyond geographical boundaries and includes an entrepreneurial network of both women and veteran entrepreneurs across the county. Locally, we sponsor several charity events and I am closely involved with an entrepreneurial nonprofit, The Creative Coast, that seeks to empower technology organizations in Savannah.
scDataCom has sponsored many pitch competitions for local startups and I was a featured panelist at June’s She Hustles event, which celebrates and inspires female entrepreneurs in Savannah. I love to see women jumping into entrepreneurship. Few things bring me more joy than cheering them on, especially those working in traditionally male-dominated verticals.
In addition, Kathleen and I are graduates of Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families [IVMF], which offers educational programs and career planning for service members, veterans and their families. Kathleen completed numerous executive leadership programs though IVMF and was in the inaugural Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans Accelerate class at Florida State University.
She has served as a mentor to other participants and as a panelist for a number of their events. That includes VeteranEdge in 2020, the country’s largest convening of established military-connected business owners and supporters.
Ford: I was honored to be selected as a person whose business insights would be of interest and provide value to other entrepreneurs. IVMF’s offerings have uniquely contributed to scDataCom’s growth by providing us opportunities to bridge and link with a deep bench of entrepreneurs and other helpful humans who are devoted to making good things happen for veterans in business.
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