Rich Froning Jr., a surprise competitor in the 2010 CrossFit Games, was poised to win the title of “Fittest Man on Earth” with one event left: a rope climb. Lacking the proper technique and preparation, he tried to power through using only his arms, but fell multiple times, finishing last in the event and second overall.
The event had included 13 different sets of exercises, all chosen to prove that the winner truly was the fittest athlete by exposing any weaknesses. “We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable,” states CrossFit, a style of exercise that is explosively growing around the globe. With that in mind, competitors at the CrossFit Games do not know what physical challenges they will face until right before the competition, so they must proactively prepare for anything and everything.
What does that have to do with SDM’s Systems Integrator of the Year? In the annual awards program, judges review applications that showcase all of the work, or “training,” integrators have been doing over the past year. Those companies’ efforts are considerable, and we’re honored to review them. The winner is the “fittest” integrator overall, demonstrating unmistakable success, a high level of innovation, the use of industry best practices, and notable growth and accomplishments in the systems integration industry — showing it also has prepared for anything and everything the market has to offer in the past year.
This year the SDM Systems Integrator of the Year, Unlimited Technology Inc., Chester Springs, Pa., stood out for its decision to add a tremendous amount of engineering muscle to its offerings and team in 2014. This was a committed plan to strengthen the company’s capabilities and transform it to meet the demands of a changing market, so that anything and everything it experienced in the complex projects it takes on would be possible. The result is a robust networking company that is prepared to handle the most intricate of projects. Unlimited Technology, which specializes in heavily scrutinized critical infrastructure projects, networks two or more systems in 90 percent of its projects. The company has established strong processes and an internal infrastructure that will allow it to scale up in the coming years without sacrificing quality, and it maintains an outstanding reputation. Along the way it has produced double-digit growth every year.
“Not many companies have the discipline or the patience to expend as much time and dollars as we have in anticipation of the future and really build a solid foundation for growth,” observes Chairman Richard Rockwell, who has run, invested in, and sold a number of security companies before joining Unlimited Technology in 2013. Bringing in Rockwell was a strategic move by the company to help determine and pursue business growth opportunities.
With the future in mind, the company developed its internal IT infrastructure, added to its engineering capabilities and staff, upgraded its ability to do innovative research and development (R&D), and deepened its ability to vet and adopt the early leading technological components to provide an integrated environment and value for customers, Rockwell describes.
“Today we are very confident in our strength and ability to continue to deliver a high-quality result as we scale up because we have spent the last year building and making a very significant investment in our pure internal infrastructure in order to make sure that we have the situational awareness with regard to our jobs, our customers, and ourselves that is needed in order to win the game,” Rockwell contends.
The company has been transforming since the day it was founded in 1989 by President Brent Franklin as Unlimited Lock, a company specializing in the lock and emergency lighting market. As the company developed into a top-level integrator focused on critical infrastructure, it changed its name to Unlimited Technology in 1999.
“The company, from its inception, has recognized what relevant competencies were needed in order to address the current and future needs of our customers and it has committed to developing them,” Rockwell observes.
The CrossFit Games attempt to expose any weakness in the fitness abilities of its competitors in order to truly crown the “fittest” man and woman on earth. Likewise, any high-level integration project will quickly expose any integrators’ discomfort with pure integration and engineering. Yet, project after project, no matter what complex challenges are thrown at it, Unlimited Technology has maintained a level of high excellence, displaying comprehensive engineering fitness.
“We are truly experts in the products we present, and customers see that we do not drop the ball through the entire process. Our standard for quality is carried through from the beginning of a bid proposal through the life of the system,” Franklin describes. He maintains the company has earned a reputation of quality and accuracy with its proposals, and while it may not be the lowest priced, it does strive to offer the best value. “What we often see if we lose a project to a competing integrator is that they may have had a great price and presented their solution as if it was a complete offering, but then they dropped the ball on the installation and delivery side,” he says.
To ensure a flawless installation, Unlimited Technology has built finely tuned engineering skills and processes. It is the kind of engineering muscle that cannot be built overnight, but only comes with unwavering commitment.
The company has spent considerable time perfecting its processes for engineered drawings to the point that one large access control manufacturer called the company’s drawings the best it had seen in 30 years of being in this industry, recalls David Fernandez, vice president of engineering. “We detail out the landing on our point to points of every single conductor for every single cable that has been run. There is nothing that is left unanswered,” Fernandez emphasizes. (For a description on how the drawings are produced, see “Detailed Drawings Ensure Success” below.)
“We don’t leave a project’s success up to other trades. Instead, we engineer all aspects of the project that will touch the security system, ensuring everything will work from the get go,” Fernandez describes. The company checks and verifies that all components will work together prior to ordering and installation. By testing all integrations and functionality prior to deployment, it helps eliminate future change orders and saving client’s money. “Plus it makes the engineer who designed the project look great,” Fernandez adds.
Unlimited Technology Inc., Chester Springs, Pa.
Employees:........................................ 69 full-time; 5 part-time
Revenue:............................. $25.5 million in 2014 (estimated)
New project starts in 2014:......................... 640 (estimated)
Year Total annual Percent change
revenue from previous year
2012 $18.3M 21.3%
2013 $21.8M 19.2%
2014 $25.5M* 17%
2015 $29.5M** 15.5%
Unlimited Technology’s total annual revenue derived from security-related systems and services increased more than 19 percent in 2013, and it is estimated to increase another 17 percent this year. The company finds ways to grow its total revenues every year, despite a challenging economy and strong competition.
The Management Team
Years in the Industry
Richard Rockwell, chairman.............................................30+
chief executive officer.......................................................... 8+
Brent Franklin, president................................................. 34+
John Palumbo, senior vice president of sales ................ 18+
senior vice president of engineering.................................. 19+
vice president and general manager, Pennsylvania ......... 30+
senior vice president and general manager, New York .... 38+
vice president human resources & business services ...... 16+
chief innovative officer....................................................... 11+
chief financial officer ......................................................... 10+
Charles VonStetten, operations director......................... 10+
director of marketing.......................................................... 28+
TIGHT SYSTEM INTEGRATION
Unlimited Technology’s approach is a precise flow from beginning (proposal discussions) to end (as-builts).
“If we look at the process from the inception of a quote, our application engineers are engaged and assist our sales associates for confirmation and vetting of all equipment and software compatibility from version conflicts to an API that may be required. When we are awarded a project the Unlimited Engineering team becomes fully engaged. The project goes from conception to a full set of engineered documents within this team, ensuring that all components will work together in order to exceed our customers’ expectations,” Fernandez describes. (See “Engineering Documents to Perfection” below.)
This year the company hired additional sales and engineering staff, keeping the ratio of sales to engineering high. In fact, Unlimited Technology has twice as many engineers as sales people, and half of its sales people have engineering/technical backgrounds. During the hiring process, Unlimited Technology was equally as interested in finding engineering-qualified sales staff as it was in finding actual engineering staff. All of this was spurred by the long-term plan for growth that included company-wide engineering awareness designed to carry the company into the future.
“Our larger, public competitors may have to take more of a quarter-by-quarter view of things, but as a private company we’ve been able to execute investments across the company with the long-term view in mind,” says John Hopkins, chief executive officer. “We have a growth plan and knowing that we are going to be doing more sales and bringing in larger projects, we’ve spent this year preparing for that,” he reports.
Almost 50 percent of Unlimited Technology employees, 69 total, are certified in a variety of subjects. Total certifications tally up to 356 individual certifications throughout the company. These certifications include most major access control, CCTV, and PSIM systems as well as a variety of networking and software certifications. Today the company believes it has one of the largest pools of competent technical expertise in the industry.
Franklin emphasized that the company achieves its “outstanding quality” by having highly trained individuals for all aspects of each project. “We are truly experts in the products that we represent. This is proven by one simple statistic that we believe represents our company’s ideals: We have twice as many engineers as sales people, and half of our sales people have engineering/technical backgrounds. We are truly a resource for our clients,” Franklin shares. “An example of this is that we represent a high-end PSIM product and instead of just ‘picking up the product line’ by having one single technician trained just to allow us to sell the product, we have more technicians certified in this product than almost any other integrator throughout the country,” he says.
In addition to engineering muscle, new sales staff was brought in to enable the plans for overall growth, and also respond to a longer sales cycle the company has experienced for projects through the recession.
“Clients are taking longer to pull the trigger. We are bringing on more sales engineers to bring in more opportunities, and we’ve increased proposal production more than 30 percent from 2013,” described John Palumbo, vice president of sales.
The company also brought on a team dedicated to business-to-business sales with the sole goal of generating RMR-type sales. This group is focused on small business, retail chains, and banking, Franklin shares. Through these efforts, RMR organically grew 6 percent, while higher education, corporate and critical infrastructure accounts also increased. Unlimited Technology also landed three large master support clients with five-year contracts.
The company has achieved double digit growth over the last four years — including a projected 17 percent this year — all while focusing on strengthening its own infrastructure. Building the engineering and sales team was not easy an easy task in a highly competitive market for the right employees.
Unlimited Technology also restructured this year to become more vertically focused and diverse.
“We are looking to expand in the verticals that we’re best at and grow that with teams of people that have done it before and know how to get the installations completed,” Franklin describes. “I’m leading the charge on the critical infrastructure and we have other people leading on education, health care, transportation and corporate accounts.”
In addition to offering traditional maintenance and monitoring services, Unlimited Technology has a Technical Service Center that allows customers to log into a portal and generate service tickets, request live support, review engineering documents (drawings, etc.), and view invoices. Global customers are offered an in-house service agent dedicated to their security, where the customer’s employees can call in as if they were calling their own internal security help desk.
“We are also now offering remote network monitoring and are alerted to down network devices (such as IP cameras) immediately. This allows us to begin to service items before our customers are even aware they are an issue,” describes David Swartz, director of marketing.
Interdepartmental policies and procedures are all aligned to improve performance and service.
“The centric, smooth working team relationship that we all have and bring to the customers — and seeing the customer’s face light up when you tell you him you’re going to deliver on something and you’ll also deliver it with certified professionals who know what they’re talking about — is the most exciting result to me this year,” Franklin says.
The company believes that the best way to grow business and to have sustainable revenue is through operational excellence and through innovation. “That is the best marketing tool that you can have,” Rockwell asserts.
Unlimited Technology is also very committed to changing the way end users interact with integrators. “I am very convinced that the tools we’ve been working on, the R&D that we’re doing, and our internal investment — that continues as we speak — is all developing different expectations as to how customers can interface with their integrator by virtue of how we handle opportunities for our customers and satisfy their needs going forward,” Hopkins shares. “We have the chops the make magic happen and change what end users believe integrators are capable of doing.
“I’m excited about changing customer perceptions. I’m excited about changing the perceived value of what your integrator relationship is, and I’m excited about somebody being able to put their finger on what that value is and be able to deliver back to their shareholders in the most compelling possible way,” he adds.
That kind of performance and support will get people talking. Franklin shares that the company has customers that are seeking it out today because of the strong, comprehensive capabilities that it has demonstrated.
“They’ve heard from our customers that have our systems in place about the successes that we’ve had. They’re coming to us because they’re talking amongst themselves and they’re hearing about everything we successfully do and we’re damn proud of it.”
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
The rope climb at the CrossFit Games exposed a weakness in Froning on a very public stage, but he chose to positively respond, leaving the competition focused on building more a comprehensive strength so that he could be better prepared for whatever was thrown at him in the next CrossFit Games. This past July, Froning was named the “Fittest Man on Earth” for the fourth consecutive year. In a competition including involving everything from running, swimming and rowing to 345-pound squat cleans, handstand push-ups and more, his commitment to training (he works out up to eight times a day) and continual transformation have truly prepared him for anything.
Unlimited Technology has likewise worked hard to set itself up for the same domination.
“Our origins started with very technically challenging projects (critical infrastructure, large-scale education and global enterprise). It conditioned us to be the best that we can be and also made us a valued resource to our customers,” Franklin says. “We’ve put the time into perfecting and building our infrastructure and engineering expertise. We are one of the few companies who can confidently present a solid return on investment for security to our clients and actually meet their expectations.”
The company’s best is yet to come, Hopkins predicts. “Our technicians are getting stronger. Our tools are getting better. Technology is getting better. Our resources are getting deeper. So our aspirations for our customers will only grow with the available technologies and opportunities of the modern world to deliver better value to our customers and better value to our employees as well,” he shares. That value is founded on the strongest possible engineering and the belief that Unlimited Technology can handle anything and everything its customers and projects demand. That is what the “fittest” integrators such as Unlimited Technology do.
“We have a unique and self-vetting process that provides a drawing package that is second to none in the industry,” Fernandez shares. “This is a process that throughout my career has been developed and refined to produce a standard-heavy product that is widely accepted by the organization as well as the industry. “
Fernandez shares several reasons for the process:
• It ensures that the proposal to the customer is accurate in order to offer the best value and to provide the solution that the customer expects.
• The upfront work allows project managers to stay focused on the management of the project and not the design and engineering of all the components that are necessary for a successful implementation.
• It provides an accurate and approved schedule of equipment that the engineering team can provide to procurement so there is no chance that incorrect quantities, wrong colors or wrong models of equipment are ordered.
• It proves to clients and customers that Unlimited Technology has a full understanding of the project — providing everything from exact equipment locations, cabling requirements, BTU and electrical loads for equipment, scaled elevations of the wall fields, racks or other enclosures for proper coordination between all trades, and more.
• Engineered documents flow into the company’s service and support team so that the service desk can tap into as-built documentation to support technicians in the field utilizing drawings on their PDAs for real-time updates, adds, moves and changes.
“When our team provides a set of drawings they are so dead on accurate that the final close out of a project to provide ‘as-builts’ only requires little if no additional time to be assigned other than to change our title blocks to say ‘as-built,’” Fernandez says.
Everything is detailed on the drawings that Unlimited Technology creates. Every conductor is shown landed on both the floor plans and the riser. Instead of depicting a “cable typical,” each and every actual conductor is shown. CAD files of the products are shown instead of “generic camera” or similar labels. In addition, tables are created for network addressing and assignments so that the labeling will be correct for all devices from both a naming convention and for setting it up with IT. PlanGrid is used so when technicians are in the field, they can mark up a drawing and the CAD engineer can edit it live, to ensure an accurate and up-to-date set of plans.
While Unlimited Technology considers itself a strong player in the Northeastern market, it covers all of North America, and works internationally via strategic partnerships.
Unlimited Technology integrated a three-building corporate headquarters for a global electronics company. The campus is controlled from a main command and control room where a wall utilizing Christie Digital IP Phoenix Nodes supports Sony Top Line LED monitors. The displays watch over the enterprise-level Software House access control system, IP vascular readers, 105 IP cameras that feed back to an NVMS system, and 15 Commend IP intercoms. An enterprise identity management system is being utilized and Unlimited Technology is currently designing several other modules with the owner for phases to be released in the first quarter of 2015. The facility also has been designed for other sites to be migrated over and monitored.
Unlimited Technology worked through a challenging project at a college that involved a large number of integrations on a complex network. Unlimited Technology overcame all the potential challenges a project of this nature could present by planning and testing the system in advance of installation. Any post-installation issues were further minimized by working with the manufacturers to test prior to deployment.
“This was possible due to our technical staff’s expertise with software and hardware, understanding of programming languages and knowledge of such a broad range of hardware. We were able to proactively address potential problems before they arose,” David Swartz described.
The college was currently in the process of an access control conversion. The campus had 111 faculty and staff housing units, as well as commercial properties that housed such businesses as a coffee shop, pharmacy, market, and the college bookstore. This represented roughly 2.5 million square feet of structures on campus. This project consisted of the installation of a new access control system with the integration of existing campus intrusion detection points and databases. There are more than 375 card access doors and several thousand intrusion points that are being converted to the new access control system. Unlimited Technology also completed the integrations of all of the following systems that the college requested: PeopleSoft, CBORD, Innovative Interface, and Locknetics/Persona. These integrations enabled the sharing of information between every system.