Many years ago as an editor on SDM’s sister publication, Security magazine, I would get invited annually to a major manufacturer’s end user conference in Boca Raton, Fla. It was always held at the Ritz Carlton, which — although I travel frequently and have stayed in many nice hotels — is the only time I have been lucky enough to stay in one of these establishments known for being the “gold standard” of hotel service. The hotel chain even inspired the Irving Berlin song, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which became slang for dressing fashionably or putting your best foot forward. One thing I remember about the Ritz Carlton was the robes. They were soft and luxurious. Unfortunately, you couldn’t take them home.

What does the Ritz Carlton have to do with this year’s Systems Integrator of the Year winner? For one thing, they both have very high J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction ratings. Since 2011, Kastle Systems of Falls Church, Va., has partnered with J.D. Power to measure client satisfaction levels, even tying employee compensation to the results. As of this year, Kastle was “knocking on the door” of a score in line with Ritz Carlton, Walt Disney and American Express.

Kastle Systems is known in the industry for three things: Being the inventor of Security as a Service (SaaS) back in 1972 before the existence of the cloud, Internet or even the personal computer; for the managed service model that makes up the vast majority of its business; and for frequently designing its own innovative solutions from the ground up.

In fact, within a few months Kastle will launch a brand new flagship offering that will leverage the Internet of Things, mobile credentialing and business intelligence. Not content to just add a new type of credential to its well-known “Kastle card,” the company designed the solution from scratch, as a holistic approach with a service component at its center.

As Kastle CEO and Co-Chairman Piyush Sodha so neatly put it, “Innovation will buy us a few years of business. Killer service and culture will buy us decades of business.”

As I live in the Washington D.C. area, I was lucky to be able to visit Kastle Systems in person in late August. The staff members I interviewed for the cover story ranged from one who had been there 34 years to some that had only been there a year or two. All stressed three main points about what makes Kastle different from any place they had worked before: its emphasis on teamwork, a strong commitment to innovation and a dedication to customer service. One employee, however, was pleasantly surprised at how similar Kastle was to a previous employer.

“I have been around customer service in a variety of ways,” said 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.”

At the end of several hours of interviews, during which I had exchanged pleasantries with many of the staff, including comparing kids’ ages, talking about back to school, etc., I was presented with three “swag bags” to take home — for my three boys. When we opened them up later, there were baseball hats, glasses, mints, Kastle logo shirts, and to everyone’s delight, three of the softest throw blankets. I instantly thought of those Ritz Carlton robes. These were every bit as soft — and we got to keep them. I am not a customer, of course, but I later learned these were the Christmas gifts sent to all of Kastle’s customers this past year. Ritz Carlton level service indeed!

 This month’s cover story, profiling Kastle Systems as winner of the 2015 Systems Integrator of the Year award begins on page 50. Let us know what you think by writing to me at