As anyone who’s ever started or seriously contemplated starting their own business knows the going can be tough, particularly in the beginning. However, the roots of entrepreneurship run deep in Oliver Keeling’s family — his father teaches on the subject at Iowa State University, and several relatives own and operate their own businesses. U.S. Air Force and Army veteran Keeling said he was fortunate to have this strong support system when he left the large national security company where he’d grown comfortable in his role as a local technician and founded Astra Security LLC in July 2013.
In just over a year in business, Astra Security has grown tremendously, particularly since March, Keeling says. That’s when the company abandoned its previous customer management, billing, payment processing and inventory system — multiple systems, actually — and implemented AlarmBiller, a Web-based management software solution designed to streamline invoicing, payment processing and work order management for security dealers of any size.
“For the first eight months in business, we had credit card processing but no inventory system or customer management software,” Keeling recalled. “So we were looking for a combination credit card processing solution with customer management software and inventory management system to track numbers, margins, the work we’re doing from month to month.”
Just how much the company has grown between March and August of this year is staggering.
“We’ve easily added thousands in profits, and our gross monthly profit has doubled,” Keeling said. “At the time, I was very skeptical about spending the money, but in hindsight it was just a pinprick in our profits.”
So how has AlarmBiller contributed to this growth? For starters, Keeling said, the software combines the functions of what had previously been several separate systems into one convenient system that’s easy to use and operate.
In the past Keeling would find himself with downtime at various points throughout the day. With AlarmBiller, he said he was able to fill downtime that had previously been a drain on the business with activities that will generate profits. When Keeling or another security consultant enters leads into the AlarmBiller system, they created a proposal and a work order for an on-site consultation for the customer or potential customer. Best of all, Keeling said, AlarmBiller allowed him to review and follow up on leads from anywhere, at any time — something he did with whatever downtime he had throughout a particular day.
“It gave us a way to funnel accountability and figure out how to take leads and prospects and funnel them into customers. With AlarmBiller, I could be anywhere on my phone, prospecting or looking at the company’s overall numbers,” he shared. “It enables us to do more work and because it doesn’t sit on the network, we can easily fill downtime.”
Created by the makers of SedonaOffice, AlarmBiller offers a number of features, including professionally designed documents and a built-in Web portal for customers to pay their bills, sign up for auto pay or create services requests. Keeling said these and other AlarmBiller features help him avoid the stigma that’s often attached to small companies.
“It’s awesome that this is all cloud-based because if a technician says to a customer or a prospect, ‘I’ll send you something when I’m back at the office,’ that’s the worst close in history. With AlarmBiller, we can be standing in front of them with all the numbers in a professional-looking document and a pen. That’s why we close 70 to 80 percent of our customers,” he said. “Thanks to AlarmBiller, I don’t deal with the perception that I’m a guy doing this out of my garage.”
Because the system can be entirely automated, Keeling notes AlarmBiller is a great alternative to incurring the expense of hiring a full-time employee just to manage invoicing and billing. “AlarmBiller automatically processes all our recurring invoices each month, and then we get an email listing each payment that was processed and which payments were declined,” he describes. “I could go on vacation for six months and not lift a finger — AlarmBiller does all the work.”
In some cases, customers request quarterly rather than monthly invoices, which is something Keeling would have struggled to provide in the past. With AlarmBiller, he doesn’t give it a second thought.
“How would I even do that? I have no clue how to even track that,” he admitted.
Given the success Astra Security has had using AlarmBiller, Keeling would recommend the solution to other security companies, particularly those that may be resistant to change.
“For a lot of companies, especially companies that have done something one way for 10 years or so, change is not easy. But it can really help if you’re willing to take that step,” Keeling advised.
PROJECTS IN THE NEWS:
A total of 47 Toshiba IP cameras were mounted and configured by integrator SOAV at Seed Dynamics to support 100 percent coverage of the business’s operations.
When Seed Dynamics management first approached Toshiba ProfitMAX™ dealer and system integrator SOAV, it had an unusual request: the company wanted to install a video surveillance system not for premise security or theft protection, but for monitoring every step of its seed treatment process — from receiving raw product through final shipment — to assure superior quality control.
“Their goal was to monitor the entire manufacturing process in real time, both locally and remotely, and to save unique events for future reference,” explained Stan Overweser, owner of SOAV. “Because of the need to remotely stream video and the massive storage requirements, IP was the only way to go.”
A total of 47 Toshiba IP cameras were mounted and configured by SOAV to support its aim of having 100 percent coverage of the production operation. SOAV deployed a Toshiba NVSPRO recorder with RAID5 protection and 48TB of storage to capture the video. SOAV installed enough cameras to monitor all three of Seed Dynamics’ buildings. The cameras were easily integrated using the company’s existing network, incurring little in the way of additional costs.
Specifically, five Toshiba IK-WR14A dome cameras are mounted in the company’s shipping building, as well as outside its front parameter. Another 14 IK-WR14A cameras are deployed inside the main building that houses the warehouse, cold storage, administration offices, and coating process room. In the third building, the company’s lab and research center, there are 24 IK-WR14A cameras monitoring cold lab storage, seed coating processing, and the packaging department, with another four Toshiba dome cameras installed to view the test lab.
The IK-WR14A is a two-megapixel IP network dome camera that reduces upfront installation time with its incorporation of remote optical zoom, one-touch remote focus, and a new cable management system based on time-saving Power over Ethernet (PoE). Once installed, the camera captures 1080p full HD resolution video at 30 frames-per-second in virtually any lighting condition. H.264 saves valuable bandwidth while offering enhanced image quality.
As tough as it is smart, the IK-WR14A features a vandal-resistant IP66 outdoor metal housing, along with an electronic tamper-detection system. The camera is completely dust-proof to prevent dust created by the open-air processing of millions of seeds from entering into the cameras’ sensitive electronics.
As part of a system commissioning service Toshiba now offers to its ProfitMAX dealers, a Toshiba technician, Tom Pappas, visited Seed Dynamics three weeks after installation was complete. Pappas toured the site where he inspected cameras, recording equipment, software, network switches and Ethernet cabling to validate it was configured to the project’s initial specifications. In addition, he conducted personalized training with Seed Dynamics management and the human resources department to teach the effective use of Toshiba Central Station Video Management (SCS) software.