Kastle Systems Wins SDM's 2015 Systems Integrator of the Year With Their Strong Platform for Success
In the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield on the faith that “if you build it, they will come.” Kastle Systems’ founder Gene Samburg pre-dated that film by several years when he built his company based on a belief that security as a service (SaaS as Samburg created and defined it) was the wave of the future. The original mission was to provide a service that enabled Class A multi-tenant office buildings to take advantage of the latest in technology without having to become experts themselves. In 1972 there was no cloud. There were no personal computers. Everything Kastle did had to be designed from scratch — there were no off-the-shelf solutions for a model that didn’t exist yet.
But come they did. And by 2007 the Falls Church, Va.-based company was so well known in its local Washington D.C. market that the majority of office buildings in the city referred to their access control card as their “Kastle card.” By that time Samburg was looking to retire, but despite meeting with several prospects, he hadn’t found the right buyer.
Mark Ein and Piyush Sodha had been partners on several business deals by then. Typically Ein would start the process and Sodha would buy in later, the two building value until someone else wanted to buy it. This opportunity started in the same manner, but Ein knew immediately this wasn’t the typical project.
Like “virtually everyone” who works in D.C. in an office, Ein had been a Kastle customer. “I was introduced to the previous owner by a mutual friend and I jumped at the opportunity. Kastle was an iconic company in our community and known for being very forward-thinking and innovative with a huge following. In our first meeting Gene and I really clicked and I left that meeting thinking, ‘Not only is this just a special company but an incredibly special person who built it. I want to be the caretaker for years to come.’”
Ein was so impressed that when he returned to his office he told his secretary to cancel all his appointments for a month so he could focus on nothing but purchasing this business.
“I have been an investor and business owner my whole life,” Ein, now chairman and majority owner of Kastle, says. “What is so hard to find is a business that has such good fundamentals and such a great culture and brand, customer following and is durable enough that you can own and grow it for decades. I was looking for a company I would call a ‘platform company’ — one that could be a long-term holding but also be a platform for other things, whether that means acquiring other businesses or organically creating new businesses or one ripe for expansion; one with a business model that generates cash flow that lets you generate those investments. What was incredible was Kastle had all of those things. The minute I met the company I dropped everything else in my life.”
True to their pattern as a team, a year later Sodha, Kastle’s CEO and co-chairman, did indeed buy in, recognizing the service aspect as a particularly natural fit for his own background. “One of the foundational things that intrigued me about Kastle is I had spent many years in telecommunications,” he says. “Telecom included a lot of SaaS (software as a service), so when I looked at this company it felt similar and I immediately understood the value proposition. I had an instinctive comfort about what we were going to do.”
In 2008 the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) had been coined but was not in the general lexicon. With his technology background, however, Sodha was not only aware of it, but — looking ahead — recognized the potential impact on Kastle’s core customers and beyond.
“We saw this tsunami of innovation coming,” he says. “The telecom model had taught us in an elegant way how to take new technology and integrate that. Here was an opportunity to take this nice piece of canvas, with enough places to put our own colors in it and build it out with the simple mission of being great at what we do and being as innovative as we could afford to be.”
Flash forward to today and it is easy to see that Sodha and Ein not only added that color, but they have built on the original Kastle model in ways that the original founder, with his focus on innovation, would be proud of. With a measurable model for service, employee-centric culture, strong commitment to design and a revolutionary new IoT platform due to launch this year, Kastle Systems was a clear choice for SDM’s 2015 Systems Integrator of the Year.
‘Ritz Carlton’ Level Service or Better
Sodha is particularly passionate about the managed service model aspect of Kastle Systems. Where many integrators today are looking to this model as a part of their strategy, it is all Kastle does. Today it is not only just as relevant as it was in 1972, but Sodha believes it is more important than ever.
“The pace [of technology] is increasing,” he says. “Imagine a building owner or tenant trying to integrate to what is coming. I think they will struggle with that, which is exactly why I personally believe service models work best in rapidly moving technologies. ‘Parts and pieces’ work well when technology is mature. We are at a point where we are moving at a rapid rate towards IoT.
“The concept of managed services is no longer that unique. But it is our fundamental belief and what our business is entirely built around. Our focus is always service. While we do it leveraging technology, we innovate with great new services. It is our bread and butter. Innovation will buy us a few years of business. Killer service and culture will buy us decades of business.” (For more on this, hear Sodha talk about the managed service model at www.sdmmag.com/Kastle-Approach.)
Even eight years ago, “cloud” as a term was not prevalent in security. Today that has changed and many more integrators and manufacturers are offering it and talking about it both for access control and video. Yet as the original SaaS provider, Kastle employees don’t dwell on “cloud,” even though that is how they do it (see related article, “A Unique Sell,” on page 58). Perhaps that is because, to them, it is nothing out of the ordinary.
“The funny thing here is that ‘cloud’ may not be used often as part of the vocabulary,” says Brian Eckert, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “We were country before country was cool, or cloud before there was a cloud. For us it was always about storage off-site and what we could do through the Web to push those innovations to customer interfaces as opposed to rolling a truck. We have always done that, even when they didn’t have a word for it. They do now. We define it more as ‘managed,’ because it truly is. It is not just about the architecture; it involves both people and technology.”
To put an even greater focus on the service aspect of managed services, Kastle enlisted the help of the marketing and research firm J.D. Power and Associates in 2011 to measure in a concrete way the level of customer satisfaction across all aspects of its business.
“I think, collectively, we all wanted to be great but we all had different impressions of what that meant,” says Tom Radigan, chief customer officer. “We couldn’t really measure our progress, but we knew we wanted to be one thing: our customers’ best service provider.”
That first year’s results were enlightening, Radigan says. “We looked at it and knew we had work to do.” Radigan and his team immediately set about making some changes.
The company’s myKastle portal had been the interface between Kastle and its customers since 2000. “We changed myKastle as a result of the J.D. Power results,” Radigan says. “What they told us was if we are courteous, fast, take work away from our customers and even be a little heroic at times, we will have happy customers.”
Today’s myKastle is the embodiment of that concept, constantly changing and evolving according to customer feedback and needs. “We are all about managed service and as customers have ideas that make sense for our entire customer base, we are able to put that into the software,” Radigan explains. “We try to take care of 80 percent of everything we can do for a customer within that portal.”
While Kastle’s primary customer is still that multi-tenant facility or property manager, the company also secures individual tenants, including 80 percent of the AMLAW 200 law firms in the U.S., technology companies, national companies and government offices. Many of its customers today include directors of security, as well as office managers, CTOs, COOs, and facility managers. These customers often want some control of their day-to-day operations, while still offloading the upkeep and technology maintenance issues.
Accordingly, another thing Kastle added to the service was co-monitoring, or the ability to monitor (or not) on the customer’s behalf at will. “The system is designed to do everything for them, or almost nothing, depending on the aptitude of the customer and how much or little they want us to do,” Radigan describes. “If an officer needs to step away from the desk they can push it over to us. It really allows for a security director to have full 24-hour supervision, which to me just augments any security plans they are trying to achieve.”
Kastle also instituted security guarantees, such as a 99.999 percent uptime, a 20-second or less response time to priority alarms, and a 45-minute dispatch time in the event of an incident, as well as a complimentary physical security guard onsite after hours if a system is down and free repairs for the life of the system.
“We learned through J.D. Power that you have to meet or exceed expectations,” Radigan says. “When customers need emergency response or repairs, we will be there. If a customer sends an email for a card change, we will grab that and turn it around quickly. This is a relationship that doesn’t stop after the system is installed. We have to be transparent in our pledge. Sometimes we have to pay because we are not perfect; but we try to be a continuously learning organization and try not to make those mistakes twice.”
Customer service may have been the impetus for the J.D. Power initiative, but Kastle also wanted to ensure employee buy-in for the program, so the company also changed the compensation plan to be directly tied to its score. Each department gets scored individually. “We are serious about what we expect and what we want from our employees,” Radigan says. While he can’t discuss specific scores, he says the company’s J.D. Power results over the last four years have reflected marked improvement — to the extent they are now “knocking on the door” of Ritz Carlton, Walt Disney and American Express level scores (all three having the reputation for exceptional customer service).
For one Kastle employee, this service ethic is extremely familiar, having previously worked for Marriott International, Ritz Carlton’s parent company. “I have been around customer service in a variety of ways,” says Steve Bacica, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “I worked with Ritz Carlton. The motto when I was there was ‘ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.’ Kastle is trying to achieve that same level of customer service and it is a big goal of mine to help position the company to continue to strive towards that.”
Bacica calls it aiming for “Ritz Carlton or better” in their dedication to the customer experience, something he was both surprised and thrilled to see as a company-wide goal when he joined in June 2014. “Having worked at Marriott there were more similarities than I would have expected. I was expecting Kastle as a small to middle market company not to be able to have the same level of service culture. But it has been a delightful experience. It is the people in an organization that help it achieve its goals and I have been surprised and thrilled to see that same level of dedication I saw at Marriott.”
If you happen to be in the D.C. office on Fridays around 3:00 you will smell the scent of popcorn drifting through the hallways. That is because Fridays are free popcorn days in the café. Outside the café there is a plaque, honoring employees who have been there from five years to 35 years. And if you take a tour through any of Kastle’s offices you will notice that none of the cubicles are more than waist high and the executives’ offices and conference rooms have glass walls.
Having an open floor plan makes a huge difference in fostering a team atmosphere, says Lorraine Reichert, director of operations for the Northeast region, based in New York. “The cubicles are smaller so you can talk over them. I like having the camaraderie of coworkers and teammates.” A Kastle employee since 2001, Reichert says the team aspect was always a part of the employee culture, but was something the new owners continued and expanded on.
Transparency at Kastle goes far beyond just the office spaces. It starts with the people, Radigan says. From training to day-to-day work culture through to the quarterly “All Hands” meeting where Sodha and Ein address the entire company with updates on high-level goals as well as recognizing employees for exceptional work, it is all about openness. “The people in this organization are some of the most dedicated bunch I have had the privilege of being around. Almost anyone is willing to get on a plane with a part at midnight. Or you will find people that are trying to think ahead to what the customer might need down the line. That is shot through the organization. I love seeing the employees being successful. My thrill is to be able to support and challenge them and see them reach that next level in the organization, and the one after that.”
Another thing that came out of the J.D. Power results was the formation of Kastle University, an in-house and field training program that all employees participate in as both students and teachers.
“We made a massive mind shift,” Radigan says. “We knew we needed to align things across the company and to achieve an overarching mentality that began with Kastle University. As long as you are employed at Kastle you are a full-time student at Kastle University, and sometimes you are a professor.”
Andrea Kuhn, district general manager for the Midwest (based in Chicago), agrees that the team aspect is a large part of what makes Kastle a great place to work. “What is different about Kastle and continues to make me want to come to work every day is the team here. The No. 1 thing is the customer, but my team is a close second. That theme of taking care of the customer and the fact that it resonates across the company is the most important thing we do every day. The third thing is innovation. That is what makes Kastle so unique and what I refer to as being ‘addictive.’ We are always doing cool things and we have the opportunity to talk to others about it. It makes coming to work fun.”
Rafael Molinari, vice president of program management has been with the company for 32 years and has seen first-hand how the technology background and focus have changed the company, for the better. “Like any transition it was scary at first because we didn’t know what was coming. But we quickly realized it was going to be a good thing. [Ein and Sodha] invested tremendously in technology, and that is getting us to places where the previous owners, much as I loved them, were not going to take us. They quickly demonstrated they were here for the long haul and wanted to continue to build a great team.”
Some of those team members were recruited, such as Thomas Tardiff, director of the operations center, who has been with Kastle for just under two years. “I wasn’t even looking for a job,” he says. “A recruiter came to me and said, ‘Would you be interested in looking at this company?’ I had never heard of them and wasn’t even serious about it. But I know a lot about this business. I have been in the security industry for 32 years working for companies ranging from Simplex, to Protection 1 and Guardian (both of which happen to be past SDMDealer of the Year award winners). I started asking a lot of questions and realized the whole concept of how things work here is completely different than the rest of the industry (see related article, “Resilient Monitoring,” on page 64). It was intriguing to me. It was a totally different way of doing the monitoring piece and that is why I came here.”
Dave McGuinness, vice president of corporate strategy, based in San Diego, started with Kastle in January 2013, after being CEO at a video analytics company. “When I left there I started talking to Brian [Eckert] and once I spent some time with the team it became interesting to me. Kastle is made up of really smart people that all get along. That was attractive, having a solid team with diverse professional experience that are very passionate about what they are doing. I loved the concept and the purity of focus, to be the best service provider to the commercial real estate industry. It resonated with me.”
Tardiff agrees. “Almost every other company out there is a user of someone else’s technology. You are either a creator or a user. I like being a creator. We are part of the innovator/creator class. We have the whole process from development, testing, monitoring and processing. That is how you step forward. They have done a lot of good here. There are a lot of good new people they have brought in. I can tell where things are going and the vision is phenomenal. It is an exciting place to work.”
True to his vision of Kastle being the perfect platform company, Ein and his team have completed two purchases in the past two years. In May 2013 Kastle purchased CheckVideo, a hosted video platform company.
“We had been in the video business for quite some time, delivering heavy systems that were server-based,” Sodha says. “Managing them was difficult. In the back of our minds we were looking for something that was more economical and cloud-based and CheckVideo was the technology we found. We used it for about nine months and got so enamored of the company we ended up buying it.”
Nik Gagvani, general manager of CheckVideo, helped orchestrate the purchase. “When I came here a little over three years ago, Kastle was a great brand with great customer service within the access control business. We were looking to replicate that on the video side. Video by and large is sold as a run-it-yourself system. Our challenge was how to do it not just as a financial/engineering play, but to have an ongoing relationship component. Was there a service component that really makes sense? How could we make the customer experience superior?”
After looking at a few solutions in the market, they settled on CheckVideo, which is a hybrid managed solution with a hosting component, Gagvani explains. “It does 24/7 recording on site just like with any NVR or DVR, but the back up in the cloud is what matters — those pieces of video you really want to look at.”
The customer decides when and what they want backed up in the cloud for 30 days. Kastle’s CheckVideo system was awarded best hosted video in the New Product Showcase at ISC West this past spring. “We were delighted with the award,” Gagvani says. “A couple of things that resonated with the judges were there are no quotas and the customer doesn’t get charged extra for more storage.”
Unlike Kastle’s other offerings, which are only sold on a managed service basis to its clients, CheckVideo is run as an independent entity, of which Kastle is one client. “It was clear to us that the market for managed and hosted video is way bigger than Kastle’s market,” Gagvani explains. “So we consciously decided to keep it as a fully owned but independently operated entity.”
Kastle took that same approach a few months later when it acquired Mutual Central Alarm Services and Stat Land Security Systems from the ADT Corporation in November 2013. Known for serving financial service clients, upscale jewelers and marquee retail brands in the New York City metropolitan area, the Kastle leadership felt these were a good complement to what the company was already doing.
“If you look at Kastle across the board you would see a common theme of high-value assets,” Sodha says. “This business was doing similar things for high-end retailers like Cartier and art galleries. The market it serves is a little bit different, but consistent with our philosophy. It also had unique capabilities in fire and niche positioning in Manhattan.”
Bacica says this acquisition was very strategic for Kastle. “Mutual and Stat Land brought us greater ability to serve our customers, particularly in the fire-related business. We had an element of that but now we have experts.”
‘If You Build It They Will Come’ Innovation
While the acquisitions certainly brought new technology to Kastle, the bread and butter of Kastle’s offerings continues to be engineered solutions, frequently of the company’s own design.
“We do not consider ourselves just integrators,” Molinari says. “We also develop our own products, and that was originally out of mother necessity. When we started there weren’t products that could be hosted. Over time we just stayed that way.”
Eventually technology caught up with what Kastle was doing, and the company now does use off-the-shelf products, when they make sense. But just as often, even if there is an existing solution, it is missing something critical that the team decides would be better to design themselves.
“How we do it is we decide there is a need for something then we look to see if it already exists or not,” Molinari explains. If not, we turn it over to the engineers (Kastle has more than 60 developers) and they build it, go through the testing process, we beta test and once we feel it is ready to go, we price it and start installing. We have introduced several products over the past few years.”
There is no “religion or preference” for internally developed products or external ones, says Mohammad Soleimani, chief technical officer. Indeed, when Kastle decided to revamp its existing visitor management platform in 2014, it did look at some of the existing options, but found the richness of experience they wanted for the customer wasn’t there.
McGuinness was directly involved in this process and remembers it as being eye opening. “We, along with many other players, had developed visitor management systems that involved logging onto a Web interface and client software. Then we went out and surveyed customers about the offering. We thought it would be a victory lap; but our eyes popped out of our heads in surprise. What we saw instead was the waits and delays in the lobby. We had built these tools, yet no one was using them. Why? As we talked to our customers we learned that while it is great to have this capability, they couldn’t remember their password or what link to go to when they needed to schedule a visitor.”
So rather than continuing with that same type of system, Kastle engineers looked instead at what tools people were using on a daily basis and came up with Kastle Front Office (KFO), an entirely new visitor management concept that uses Microsoft Outlook.
“We found that this program was the most common tool for scheduling meetings and we thought, ‘Why don’t we tie visitor registration to that?’” McGuinness recalls.
This direct integration allows any tenant in a Kastle-managed building to copy Kastle on an Outlook invite and the information automatically flows into the KFO system, Soleimani explains. “Kastle then sends an email to the person who is visiting telling them they have access rights for certain hours.” KFO will also allow the tenant, through myKastle, to embed a barcode in the email that will grant the user temporary access to things like turnstiles and elevators.
“What we have done is recognize that the classic approach was not convenient enough,” McGuinness says. “There is always more you can do for the customer.”
This thinking is also evident in the myCompass platform Kastle began offering customers about two years ago. The business intelligence tool takes all the information Kastle acquires and turns it into usable statistics.
“We have a distinct advantage as a managed service provide in that we collect a lot of information — up to three million piece of information every day,” Radigan says. “When doors open and close we can see a lot of things. Up until two years ago we collected this information on an incidental basis, but then we started looking at what we could do with that data to help our customers administer their security plan. The basic tenant of security is to be more secure than your neighbor. We knew we had a large customer base in certain areas and we could see what was going on in the neighborhood to compare.”
This was something that particularly resonated with Kastle’s core clients. “Real estate works on a system of comps,” Radigan adds. “Security is no different. We show them how many cards they may have that haven’t been used in 90 days, compare their business to the way their neighbors are administering their security system, and incorporate crime reports so they can make good security decisions. It’s a cool tool.”
A Next Generation Platform
Perhaps the best example of the Kastle ideology and method is its forthcoming Kastle Presence solution. This is more than a revamp or outgrowth of a previous solution — it is a ground-up mobile Internet of Things solution currently in beta testing with a couple of major clients who could not yet be named at the time of this writing. It is on track for official release toward the end of 2015.
“Our customer’s new generation tenants are looking to enable their mobile phones with a lot more capabilities,” Sodha describes. “When we looked around we saw things with buttons, motions or apps, but nobody at that point had innovated completely hands-free. We had to innovate this solution from the ground up because we couldn’t find anything with the quality or experience we wanted to deliver to the customer.”
Nikhil Shenoy, director of product marketing, did a lot of “voice-of-the-customer” research leading up to the creation of Kastle Presence. “We wanted something that works incredibly well and is a delightful experience for the end user, so we have spent time getting it ‘just right.’ We have been talking to customers about what they want and what problems we can solve in the office space.”
What they found customers wanted was convenience, enhanced security, building performance and insight.
This is not just a new access control feature, Sodha adds. “This is a whole family of information so we are manifesting this as something that will enable and change the work environment completely.” (See more about IoT and Kastle Presence in this short video interview at www.sdmmag.com/Kastle-IoT.)
Soleimani calls Kastle Presence an upcoming flagship product. It will allow for true hands-free access using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, which can be set to require a very close proximity or a longer distance.
As more manufacturers offer mobile credentialing technologies, Soleimani adds that Kastle hopes to be compatible with those through the PSIA PLAI (physical-logical access interoperability) standard, which he architected and championed (See related article, “A Successful PLAI,” on page 62). “PLAI would help normalize getting credential management and we would have our own application for the other capabilities.”
These capabilities include recording exits and location through both door readers and beacons, allowing for much more data, including occupancy data, and at least double the amount of business intelligence of their current myCompass platform.
A new business tool is also being developed to go along with Kastle Presence called Kastle Insight. It is similar to myCompass, but will include much more data, Radigan says. “One of the things we had never been able to measure before was when someone leaves an area. That alone will at least double the data and probably more than that.”
Ein views Kastle Presence as a true “next generation” architecture and the embodiment of everything he and Sodha hoped to do when they purchased Kastle. “I think it is going to be revolutionary in our service offering,” he says.
But one thing is for sure. Ein and the rest of the Kastle team won’t rest on their laurels for long.
“For me, having a great business means having great people and creating great opportunities for those people and always getting better,” Ein says. I wanted to build a world-class company and to do that I know we need a world-class culture and world-class people. As I look into the future my priority is to make sure we stay world class and get better and better every year.”
Successful companies give back to their communities, and Kastle is no exception. For example, Washington D.C. employees frequently volunteer with SOME kitchen (So Others May Eat), a community-based organization whose mission is to help the poor and homeless in D.C. with food, clothing and healthcare — a charity that Kastle actively supports.
Kastle also owns its own tennis team. “I started a World Team Tennis team here about eight years ago,” says Kastle’s Mark Ein. World Team is a co-ed professional tennis league founded by Billie Jean King in 1974. The D.C. team Ein started is sponsored by the company, and in the tradition of other great teams such as the Green Bay Packers, is named for the company. The Washington Kastles have won the WTT championship five times consecutively and six times in seven years, in addition to setting the record for the longest winning streak in sports, an accomplishment the tennis-loving Ein is almost as proud of as his company’s success.
But in another case, Ein had to practically beg to let him help implement an idea for enhancing crime solving.
“Several years ago I was watching one of my favorite television shows, “24,” and they were chasing the bad guy and watching him on a video camera. When he went out of camera range they tunneled to the next camera and continued following him until he was caught.” This gave Ein an idea. As a security provider for a majority of office buildings in the D.C. metropolitan area, could he get his clients to participate in a public/private partnership with the police department?
“It occurred to me that this is the way the world should work. We should have the ability to tie into private cameras,” Ein says.
Ein proposed tapping into willing businesses’ street-facing cameras and integrating those with the police department. Kastle was willing to donate 1,000 free cameras to those that wanted to participate, as long as they gave the police free access. But the police department was initially hesitant. For three years they studied the idea.
“I stuck at it,” Ein recalls. “I have always had a deep conviction that video is the best way to keep people and property safe. Every single terrorist incident anywhere in the world that ultimately ends up getting solved is solved by video. The more access to video we have, the safer we are going to be.”
Finally the police chief herself heard the idea, loved it and pushed it forward. Shortly thereafter, Capital Shield, a city-wide network and video public-private partnership with Kastle was officially launched in October 2014. The program was so successful that Kastle and Ein were presented with the Police Chief’s Special Award in February 2015.
A Unique Sell
Jennifer Graham, who joined Kastle last year as vice president marketing, describes the company as a “hidden jewel.” While well known in certain markets, in others the sale of a service-based solution can be an uphill battle. In the past year, Kastle has made a concerted effort to ramp up its sales and marketing department and promote growth organically in the markets it serves.
“We recognize today that we are in a situation where we have a tremendously relevant, contemporary and powerful set of solutions and services for our customer base,” says Brian Eckert, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “We want to match that with the same capabilities from the communications point of view. Kastle has long been one of the best-kept secrets and we decided to change that.”
Graham describes the approach as more of a “sniper than a grenade. Our target audience is a specific set of people. We are figuring out who those people are and what is meaningful to them, then articulating what our value proposition is in a way they understand. It will be more about education and thought leadership going forward.”
Kastle has beefed up its marketing strategy in the past year, including weekly LinkedIn postings; a Bisnow thought leadership article series; quarterly newsletters; and an upcoming website redesign planned for 2016. A recent direct-mail campaign delivered very promising results, Graham says, with more than a 50 percent response-to-meeting ratio.
Such a positive response wasn’t always the case. But with the advent of the cloud and more hosted and managed services, it is an easier discussion to have today than when Kastle first started in 1972.
Rafael Molinari, vice president of program management, has been with the company since the early days. “Our challenge used to be selling the service model before we started selling the products. That was in the old days. Now it is an accepted form of doing business, but frankly it is still not easy. It is not for the faint of heart.”
Like many of their fellow integrators, Kastle salespeople are finding a much more diverse audience today than ever before.
“You never know who you are going to be talking to today,” says George Ballman, Kastle president. Ballman runs the Mid-Atlantic and national sales and operations. “Everyone has different interests and ideas of what they are trying to achieve. The CIO is interested in different things than the security director. We could be securing the building and not the tenants, or the tenants but not the building.”
The changing customer is something that all integrators face; however, Kastle employees have the added burden of explaining why what they do is different, Ballman adds. “If I am talking to the security director who has a whole team, they may be more resistant to letting go of that control. But in that case we talk about how we can help the team do their job better and have more proactive tools. I have an analogy I like to use. If I am selling landscaping services and you are cutting your own grass, I am your competitor in a way. I need to be able to explain why I can do it better for you. You don’t need to maintain your own lawnmower and trimmer, for example.”
That said, the company has made significant strides at the security director level, Ballman acknowledges. “Where we are at now and with the platforms we are generating it is much more successful.”
Andrea Kuhn, district general manager for the Midwest, acknowledges there is a difference between selling in D.C. where the “Kastle card” has name recognition and in one of the nine other locations throughout the country and Australia. “We find that we have to not only get out and meet people and tell them about our new products and services, but also tell them about Kastle and what is different about us. But people are more used to a monthly fee for services now and it does resonate more. It is easier to have that conversation now.”
A Successful PLAI
“There has always been a demand from the customer for inter-system interoperability rather than intra-system interoperability,” Soleimani says. “Originally PSIA, like ONVIF, was about making end devices compatible with systems and they had made good strides. I got involved at that point. When I looked around at enterprises and what they were looking for, I found they were suffering from a lack of interoperability between access systems and systems that use the information from those access systems. So I came up with the idea of PLAI and presented the idea to PSIA. It was well received and I became the chair of the committee. Then a year ago I became chairman of PSIA.”
In the short time it has been available (less than two years), Soleimani has seen the reception change from a wait-and-see mode to actively seeking it out. At a conference at ISC West last spring, Soleimani and others laid out the benefits and details of PLAI for the industry.
“Once we explained it to people in the industry the tone of the conversation completely changed. Rather than pushing for it, now there is a pull from the industry. Their customers are saying, ‘This is the solution I was looking for.’”
Kastle’s own customers are saying that as well. One prominent one was CEB, a global advisory company. “They have a number of locations around the country and use different access control systems in each,” explains George Ballman, Kastle president. “They were using a company that had expensive licensing renewals every year and they were concerned with how to manage this.”
When CEB saw what the combination of PLAI’s interoperability and Kastle’s cloud-based open platform could do for them, they immediately requested a Kastle system for their headquarters in Arlington, Va. “They are moving in a year and a half, but they put it in anyway because they were so excited,” Ballman says. “They are planning on rolling Kastle out nationally.”
The benefit of PLAI in this situation is that even if Kastle doesn’t have a presence in a location they can work with other PLAI-compatible products, Ballman adds.
Soleimani sees CEB’s implementation as one of their first PLAI customers as more than just a customer coup.
“When we presented PLAI to them it turned around their idea of how they wanted to proceed. I am excited about the relationship because they advise other major corporations of best practices. For them to have selected us is really exciting. That seal of approval is very significant.”
Soleimani says they already have three or four more customers in the pipeline for the PLAI-related solution.
Having worked for some of the leading security dealers in the industry in the past, Thomas Tardiff, director of Kastle's operations center, thought he knew much of what there was to know about monitoring. Bt when he was recruited to work for Kastle he was surprised by how completely different the Kastle philosophy was than the rest of the industry.
“The norm is that you have a customer’s location with their equipment. When something happens that is transmitted to the monitoring station, the panel will connect, send a signal to a central station, then disconnect. The monitoring center is sitting there and going through their routine. They count on their system to say what is going on.
“Here, our buildings are all connected via VPN 24/7. Instead of something happening to a location and sending a signal, it literally just annunciates here. A door opens and it goes green. It closes and it goes red. We have 24-hour connection to that building. We don’t monitor so much as we remotely annunciate everything that is happening live, in real time.”
This concept allows Kastle to provide true concierge service. There is a priority queue that annunciates everything, but automatically shifts priority from highest to lowest, allowing an operator to distinguish from a battery that is going bad that should be at the bottom of the queue and a fire alarm at the top. If an operator is working on a low-priority event and a high-priority one comes in, the screen automatically switches to the high priority and the low priority goes back to the queue.
“The whole idea is real live monitoring as if we were sitting in their building and we do that for 2,000 builidings,” Tardiff explains. “It turns the whole concept on its head.”
Another benefit of this method, he says, is the inherent resiliency, which allows any location to immediately pick up and take over for any other location, with no lag or backups needed. This was put to the test a few years ago when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. Lorraine Reichert, director of operations for the Northeast Region, lives in New Jersey and saw the effects first-hand. She had to evacuate her home and spent the next weeks helping customers who had been affected. Yet while onsite equipment was certainly damaged, those protected by Kastle were able to be back up and running as soon as they could get power and temporary equipment.
“We provided temporary check-in readers for one company that had turnstiles that went down. Because their data was off-site they were able to come in with no issues. The security system wasn’t wiped out — just the equipment.”
For more about Kastle Systems, check out our video interviews featuring Piyush Sodha, Mohammad Soleimani, and Thomas Tardiff at