Honeywell’s Sohovich Brings Unique Perspective to the Security Business

Honeywell recently appointed company veteran JoAnna Sohovich head of its Security & Communications for the Americas division. She will report to her predecessor, Ron Rothman, now president of the Honeywell Security Group. Sohovich previously held positions in Honeywell’s Automation and Control Solutions (ACS), Aerospace and Specialty Materials businesses. Most recently, she served as vice president and general manager of Commercial Control Systems, a business within Honeywell Environmental and Combustion Controls.

I caught up with Sohovich at the ASIS show in Dallas to discuss her new role, how her experience translates to the security space and what tops her list of priorities.

Coming over from the Automation and Controls side of Honeywell, how do you now relate that experience to the Security Group?

Joanna Sohovich: So ACS, Automation and Control Solutions, is a strategic business group in which Security falls under as well as the business that I came from. It’s a $14 billion business under Honeywell and the business I came from is called Environmental and Combustion Control. So we pretty much dealt with temperature as an overarching theme. I was responsible for the commercial side of environmental and combustion control, so any non-home building automation that controls the equipment – air conditioning equipment, heating equipment, and so forth. Where I think it relates is that we begin to observe and experience integration of disparate systems and commercial buildings. And even the progression toward convergence was a little bit faster on the ECC side. We converged our technology with security particularly as it relates to access because it really provides a compelling energy efficiency play. If somebody badges into a commercial building and you know where they sit, you can control lighting and environmental temperatures in their area, but not necessarily the entire unoccupied building. So it was exciting for me to move over to the security side because I get another technology in commercial buildings as well as homes under my belt and I think that with our industry moving toward conversion that’s important for Honeywell as a company and for our customers.

And the other piece is I get insight into residential homeowners. I was strictly on the commercial side before. In the end, it’s all buildings and as technology progresses you begin to see the technology, particularly in the large commercial space, blur from residential to commercial in the light commercial installations. So being able to bring that to my new job is exciting. Being able to apply the technologies that we have at our fingertips across the Automation and Control businesses in our technology lab. As well as learn new things about our customers, our channels, on what security does and means to people and end users in the homes or the commercial buildings side value.

How would say that resellers differ in your former role versus security dealers?

There’s a lot of similarity. Their sales fits the profile of independent entrepreneurs who built their business, really know their technology and their geography and their customers. The difference is the dealers or integrators on this side of the business have the RMR component as something different. It’s the reoccurring revenues stream that maybe shifts their focus differently, more towards the service and the monitoring and recurring that they may not be, depending on the type of installer that we have. They may not be as focused on the initial install relationship as the HVAC side is. On the HVAC side that’s all they’ve got is the install. They are focusing mostly on that and on preventing service calls.

So I guess the difference too would be that every building has environmental controls but not necessarily security.

That’s an advantage on the security side actually. Every building in the U.S. goes in with an HVAC system. So you know that it’s going to be installed, however, the new construction phenomenon in both homes and buildings drives the construction companies to minimize their costs. If you’ve built a new house and you have a list of upgrades you rarely find a thermostat on that list of upgrades. And you rarely even think about ‘Could I get a better thermostat than this round thing on my wall?’ So it becomes very hard to sell value in the new construction process on the HVAC side. It can be done and our homes group has done a very good job of that but it’s difficult.

On the commercial side, if the building is not owner occupied, again, it becomes very hard to sell value because you know the owner is not the one occupying the building and they may or may not care about the features. On the security side, it’s very much, with some exceptions, an aftermarket-type place where you get to meet the homeowner and you can sell value. You have the opportunity to sell value because the homeowner is selecting the system. Even though there’s not a security system in every home in America, far from it, that’s opportunity, as well as opportunity to sit in front of a homeowner and understand what they value and give them what they value.

What’s at the top of your agenda to get accomplished in your first six months in this position?

I have two main objectives starting out immediately. The first main objective is to spend as much time with customers, and that includes dealers, national accounts and users, homeowners, building owners and occupants, so I can understand what creates value for them and how we can help them with our technology. The second piece is to work on our roadmap, our many new products in production. We have a lot of technology projects in place right now and it’s important to me to resource them appropriately, prioritize them appropriately and get them out. And then begin to put into the funnel some real game-changing technologies that take advantage of technology resources that Honeywell has, as well as the experience across multiple technologies.

What have you been finding so far?

Talking to customers, I find two things. One is they’re looking for differentiators. Something that will make them unique in approaching customers and can give them a reason to approach customers. And you know, sometimes that takes the form of, ‘Why don’t you have this particular function or this particular function?’ Those functions are important, but really, I find that they want to sell value and they want something different than the standard security system that we may have seen for quite a long time. And that’s very relevant to what my priorities are, to begin to understand what needs are and how we can design something that fulfills those needs.

The second piece is they’re looking for integrated systems. Particularly from a company like Honeywell where we do design thermostats and we do design security systems in a home, why don’t our thermostats talk to our security systems? I don’t know how many homeowners are actually going to buy that. I think it could be a very compelling offering to be able to arm your alarm and have the setpoint go to the unoccupied level rather than having to rely on your programming foresight of when you’re going to be in your house and when you’re not. And then if you connect that to the smart grid and you can see what the variable pricing is, that can be an added reminder as you’re leaving your house should you want to set your trips to that. So that’s another piece we’ll be working on, particularly given that the thermostat side of the business is the business that I came from, we should be able to make that connection and provide that offering. It’s not unusual for a business to say yes to
everything that makes sense, but in a world of finite resources you can’t always accept everything that makes sense.

And so my first month on the job has been looking at our MPI pipeline. I find how it’s been resourced, what the priorities are, and then drawing the line at where do our resources end, what are we going to say yes to and deliver to our commitment and what are we going to say no to.

What was the approximate R&D time on a new product today?

It depends on whether it’s a major platform or a minor platform or a tweak. It can be on the major platform, it can be up to three years. I think we need to get down to a more world-class level of less than 24 months, but really, the first order is to increase your say-do ratio, get it out when you say you’re going to get it out, and then you can begin to work on compressing your timeline and getting better at going faster, at your velocity. For a minor program it should be 180 days to one year. So sometime in that range and I’m not sure we’re there yet either. But again, increasing our say-do ratio, getting things out when we say we’re going to get them out, getting better at predicting how long it’s going to take us to move from one stage to another along the critical path and then you can begin compressing activities, working things in parallel, planning for these sort of unforeseen circumstances and get faster.

You have to be more nimble than ever nowadays, I think.

And there are also development strategies that you need to employ that help take advantage of the rapidity at which technology changes. Such as being able to update your software remotely rather than burning in software at the factory and from thereafter it never changes. You can’t afford to do that from a software development standpoint and that it’s very difficult to anticipate and predict all of the bugs and how your system interacts with other software, so you need to be able to make updates from a quality standpoint as well as technology progression. As you come out with a new app or new ways to interact with other systems, to be able to download new software without or either worse-case scenario is pulling it back into the factory and reflashing it, poor compromise is rolling a truck and doing it locally. But really the ideal situation is being able to connect to the network and do your updates accordingly.

Do you see any crossover in some of the HVAC contractors with them maybe branching into security, or with security dealers expanding more into HVAC?

I do see the HVAC integrators, the more sophisticated integrators moving into access and video. Again, being able to use the data from the access system in order to help the energy efficiency play and green buildings. They’re doing that today. And there are systems and brands that do use that today. I have not seen very many intrusion dealers venture over into the HVAC, either building automation or on the residential side, thermostat piece. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way that the two trades could work together on an installation in the short term or that we couldn’t make the technology more robust to whoever is installing it. So that you don’t need to have all of that specialized knowledge for them to do it. For sure the two trades could work together to complete a successful installation in the home.

Is there any other message you want to get out to the installing security dealer and integrator community?

Really, our overall priorities remain the same. We talked about them over time, lowering the install costs, reducing attrition, increasing the RMR for our dealers and bringing technology that people value. All of those priorities remain the same. It’s really taking advantage of other resources around technology and prioritizing and understanding what end users need so that our dealers and national accounts can remain more successful. They can get out there and differentiate themselves, and increase the number of homes and buildings that have security systems because we’re providing something compelling.

Scott Goldfine


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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is the marketing director for Elite Interactive Solutions. He is the former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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