Daniel Lee is a self-made entrepreneur who founded IT networked tech house Lan-1, later acquired by electronic security distributor Hills Ltd. After spending some years with Hills post-acquisition, Lee is now applying his high energy management style to software solutions developer, Genetec. He speaks with SEN editor, John Adams.
JA: Daniel, you moved from Hills to Genetec – what was the attraction, what drew you from a large distributor to a software solutions provider?
DL: I thought about the decision a lot, what my role would be, what the potential of the business was – my homework revealed Genetec was a company with an excellent growth potential in APAC, including ANZ, and I’m talking about double-digit growth, year-on-year. Genetec is also committed to investing in APAC and that’s important – you can’t grow without a sound investment plan. Management in Montreal is completely onboard with our plans to grow in APAC.
As a company, Genetec acts globally but thinks locally, which I believe is the most important part of achieving success in APAC. Asia Pacific is not always an easy region to understand. In a country like the U.S. a single one-size-fits-all strategy might be successfully applied to multiple regions, that won’t work in APAC. It is comprised of 48 sovereign nations, many with different languages, most of which I don’t speak.
In our APAC business, ANZ will be an anchor – it has good governance and good prices. But we need a strategy for each country and the challenge we have is obviously picking the best practise of each country, harmonised into one platform, and communicated that to corporate. Countries like India, Japan, Korea – those markets are superstars for us as Genetec APAC. Our team in India has grown to 6 and I think India is a market in which we will, and we must, be successful.
JA: Genetec is one of the pioneers of IP CCTV but even though Genetec is digital, not everyone else is – there’s still a while to go before we reach what might be described as the ‘digital singularity’, the point at which everything is connected and connectable on TCP/IP networks. How far into the future do you think that point might be?
DL: You’re right – there’s a paradigm shift coming in the market – I can see it and feel it but I can’t predict the time. The mindset, the way people do things is not there yet but it’s building. Fundamentally, if you look at traditional security players today – that shift to digital and to another way of doing things is happening, it’s a matter of how fast it will arrive, and more importantly from a business point of view, who is going to be ahead of the curve when it arrives.
JA: Genetec always seems to be pushing back a sort of technological Hubble Constant – a conceptual line beyond which it’s impossible for us to see. What’s the feeling in the team – what do they believe is the future for Genetec?
DL: The feeling is that we are beyond VMS and in a way, we are beyond security. Security is obviously a very strong historical platform for us but the capacity of our technology to enhance operations is holistic, it’s not limited to security. If I was to talk to a CIO or security manager, I could talk about security as a platform. But more importantly, I would talk about operational efficiency – how security can deliver a more efficient operation, how security can lead you to an intelligence-based business using AI and big data.
At Genetec we are right at the forefront of the idea of security as a platform, using operational efficiency to drive additional security functionality, using security to drive what business intelligence we can give – that’s what keeps us excited – Genetec as a unification platform. We are truly the open platform today and we will work with anyone who wants to go open IP.
JA: If you’re beyond VMS, where are you?
A: A place where anything is possible. The DNA that makes anything possible is TCP/IP. Our founder, Pierre Racz, made a calculated guess 20 years ago that TCP/IP would be the future – today we are living that future. We have a strong category of VMS, we’ve moved on to access control as a unification platform, we then moved on to AutoVu – the reason the Genetec team focused on license plate recognition is that in any incident, license plates will play a part in transportation. And we now have analytics.
When I think of Genetec (and this is my personal opinion), I like to think we are 5 unique companies under 1 unification platform – video, access control, LPR, analytics and on/off premise solutions. We also handle vertical applications – airports, traffic management, smart cities and hundreds more besides – this is where I start to get excited because there is no limit to the possibilities. They are facilitated by the DNA of our company evolving in a revolutionary way, or in an evolutionary way.
JA: What are the challenges of being at the cutting edge?
DL: We don’t want to get too far ahead – ensuring we don’t means we need to think about education, which is expensive. Then there’s a consumption gap. Consider cloud platforms – we have had our cloud platform fully operational for 4-5 years. Recent statistics show that in the APAC region cloud is going to accelerate and we are not just there, but we have been there for a long time. That is the key. We are now talking about bringing analytics to the cloud. If anybody is looking at innovation and protecting their future, Genetec is their only option – I’m very proud to be able to say that. In today’s market there are many choices, but I think we will be the only choice in the future.
JA: You’ve switched from Hills to Genetec – Hills is a distribution company and carries many brands across a wide range of technological verticals. But you’re fundamentally a network person, an IT person, and Genetec is a software development company. It’s light-footed and seems to project itself into the future so customers are always catching up with the capabilities of its solutions. It must be nice to have a very tight focus and an edge-of-your-seat feel again?
DL: It is nice to have that feeling of excitement and focus again. Something else that is nice from a personal perspective is that I am relatively unknown to Genetec and unknown to the market in this sort of role. So, I am building something from scratch, personally, and in the sense of the business. Also, when it comes to edge-of-the-seat, I think Genetec’s biggest challenge is to get our message out to the community – what security should be.
It’s more than people think, and it relates to social responsibility. For instance, we are the only company certified by the Euro Standard of Privacy – people are prepared to give up security for their safety’s sake, but they would still like to protect their privacy. Few businesses and few countries take complete responsibility for cyber security of customers and citizens. But it’s important to us and it should be important to everyone in the wider security business – suppliers, integrators, consultants, end users – everyone.
Physical security people are still very old fashioned – some don’t understand active directory services. I recently saw a flat network in Australia, no VLAN, with 700 cameras connected to it! How can someone build an IP network with no protection at all? Seriously, IP CCTV is a huge contradiction in terms – it implies you can have a digital ‘closed-circuit’ television solution. There is no such thing as digital closed-circuit television, not with TCP/IP.
JA: If the message is that cyber security is vital, what’s the operational take-out for integrators and end users – what’s the call to arms? What must they do?
DL: It’s investment, pure and simple. Part of our job at Genetec – and in the industry more generally – is to train people, but those people need to invest in the expertise of their own team. I think that any integrator serious about being at the forefront of security technology must be prepared to invest in a network engineer and a cyber security engineer. Today, we still live in traditional CCTV space and people cling to a traditional mindset that no longer applies. They say, ‘oh, our subnet does not connect to the network any more’. You know, someone will plug in a USB device and bang, you’re connected to the internet in 4G. We must face up to this vulnerability.
JA: Is it fair to say that as a software solutions provider there’s nothing surprising about cyber security being at the heart of everything Genetec does?
DL: People think Genetec is cyber security paranoid, but we are just cyber security ready. Talking to a traditional security manager, they may not understand the underlying technicalities of cyber security, but they understand risk and they learn fast. Cyber security is a big message and we need to get it out there – not everyone does the right thing when it comes to cyber security – they might say it’s important, but they do not protect their customers’ or their citizens’ data – this applies to many countries and many companies all around the world.
It’s a huge challenge for any business connected to the internet – for security businesses, it’s even more important because much of what we do has a fundamental privacy component. Cyber security is a problem that can only be solved if we all take responsibility for it. We need to realise that a network is, in a real way, like a living organism, and we need to make sure our networks are treated as living organisms, not as set and forget systems. There’s a responsibility upon end users, too. I challenge those spending taxpayer’s money to spend money wisely and in an accountable, socially responsible way.
JA: You’ve said APAC has huge growth potential. How much growth?
DL: We’ve had a fantastic quarter. APAC has experienced growth like no other. I can’t really talk figures for obvious reasons, but APAC is very strong and I’m very proud of the team and bullish about the future. Of course, now we have to think about Q2! As a business unit, we want crazy but truly authentic growth, so APAC catches up and delivers its fair share of growth to the Genetec team in Montreal, encouraging further investment in this part of the world.
We can’t control some things, wider economic growth, for example, but overall growth regionally is around 3-4 per cent. If we can deliver high double-digit growth in an economic environment of 3-4 per cent growth, it can only mean that users like Genetec and are migrating to our platform. To maintain our growth trajectory, we must also go out and bridge the consumption gap by educating people in ways to invest in tech beyond security that will allow operational efficiency and business intelligence.
JA: What’s the best thing about working at Genetec?
DL: I love this company, we make the impossible, possible – it’s a real thing we are chasing. There’s a lot of belief in the company – anyone working for Genetec who does not believe in Genetec will find it very difficult to survive. Genetec is based on a belief of doing something good for the community, it’s based on authenticity, on making decisions for the right reasons. The culture, the DNA is very strong at Genetec. This company under Pierre Racz’s leadership – I have no doubt at all about him wanting to change the world into a better place, protecting people, democratising physical security – that’s simply who he is.
JA: What gets you out of bed in the morning, Dan?
DL: You have to make money, so obviously growing the business is an important consideration, but I do wake up and think about protecting the everyday. Genetec really believes in making the world a safer place – it’s a protective feeling. But talking the talk is the easiest thing in the world and walking the walk is the hardest thing.
JA: You have a sort of runaway passion for the business that readers would expect from the owner of a successful tech business – a business like Lan-1. In saying that I realise Genetec is also a privately-owned and highly successful tech business, so perhaps there is a sort of spiritual connection?
DL: Genetec has a compelling story but more importantly, it’s also a compelling company. It’s independent and that independence drives innovation, drives agility. I’m glad I started Lan-1 and I don’t regret selling it to Hills – I tend to believe that, taken from a future perspective, most things happen at the right time for the right reasons.
Do I bring that self-made Aussie, Lan-1 attitude to Genetec APAC? Yes, sure – I do – I’m very driven. I am in the company on a clear mission to make Genetec APAC the number 1 security business in Asia – I will not stop until we get there. In saying that, the only way we will get there is by being socially responsible, by being authentic, and by being willing to solve any challenge our customers bring us.