In November, global surveillance solutions expert Synectics celebrates 30 years in business. During this time, the Sheffield-based company has dramatically expanded its operation, both in terms of the sectors it serves and the global reach of its customer base.
To find out more about this journey, the changes Synectics has seen over the past three decades, and to discover what’s next for the company, we caught up with Paul Webb, Chief Executive, Synectics plc.
Q) How has the security business changed since Synectics was established 30 years ago?
The industry has changed significantly since 1987, which is to be expected when technology is the foundation on which it operates.
The advent, and subsequent widespread adoption, of IP-based solutions, has been the most significant driver of change from this perspective in recent years. This, of course, doesn’t just refer to camera improvements and changes in network infrastructure; migration to IP-based technology has changed the playing field considerably from the traditional perception of surveillance solutions, or CCTV as it was once known. The level of integration made possible by IP has resulted in organisations thinking about their security and safety needs very differently.
Protecting people, places, and assets is no longer simply a case of robust physical security and constant surveillance coverage. It’s about organisations achieving a 360-degree view of all aspects of their operations. This level of situational awareness requires comprehensive systems integration, and IP-based solutions have made this possible. Today, organisations need a platform capable of managing and understanding the wealth of data that is available with these systems and a mechanism that allows quick distillation and responses to that data.
What has that meant for you as a business?
It’s meant we’ve had to evolve too. But when evolution is a fundamental part of your business model it makes life much easier.
In the early days, Synectics was established as a surveillance technology R&D house with one aim – to develop technologies, that either didn’t exist or that needed enhancing, to meet the requirements of specific projects we were working on. Back in the 80s and early 90s, these were largely public space contracts – supporting UK town and city centre surveillance teams, helping them to better monitor, manage and store video footage.
Of course a lot has changed since then, but the one thing that has remained the same is our philosophy towards product development. Our approach is to work with customers to understand their needs and challenges, and then use that insight to evolve solutions which fit their requirements. This mind set is embedded throughout the business and means we were ideally positioned to meet the changing needs of an ‘IP generation.’
An example of this customer-driven technology approach is reflected in Synergy, a user-friendly GUI that was developed in response to customers wanting quick access to footage, without the need for a complex search process. Since that initial development, we launched Synergy 3 in 2014. This latest evolution of our original software is an open architecture command and control platform that allows alarms and events, third-party sub-systems, video, and transactional data, to be monitored, managed, and recorded from a single unified interface. What started as a simple graphical user interface has now become a powerful integration platform that, among its many capabilities, can help our customers achieve full situational awareness.
Q) You work across some diverse markets, have trends differed significantly from sector to sector?
Yes, there are distinct trends – or perhaps more specifically, different priorities. In gaming, for example, a huge emphasis is placed on redundancy and system resilience because, in many cases, even a momentary drop in coverage can result in enforced closure and regulatory fines. In transport, the need to balance passenger experience with robust security focusses attention on efficiency and effective collaborative working between departments and agencies. With the high-security projects we work on, centralised/remote process and security check validation are crucial.
The surveillance and security needs of each project are unique, but there are consistencies across the sectors in which we operate. These core requirements – ease of use, open architecture, instant access and availability of 100’s to 1000’s of cameras to name just a few – are universal. That said, there is an increasingly common denominator throughout ‒ system convergence.
Our solutions are, and have always been, ideally suited to large-scale projects with a clearly defined critical and/or legislative need for security; public space and high security, transport and infrastructure, oil and gas, and gaming – these sectors all fit this descriptor. But organisations are also realising the benefit of removing the dividers that previously kept the separate systems they use isolated. The result is systems convergence, which unifies different aspects of operations to achieve specific business goals.
Interoperability is hugely important in this respect. It isn’t enough that operators are able to integrate and view information from multiple systems using a single solution. They also need to be able to action and, increasingly, automate responses. The data received from one system results in commands for another. These responses can include ‘shut down’ enforcements, public information messaging, or maintenance dispatch. The specifics will vary from sector to sector, but the overarching trend is universal.
Q) The business has also expanded globally, what were the biggest challenges you faced when targeting new regions?
Indeed we have grown our global reach. While Synectics was ‘born’ in the UK, we now operate around the world with offices in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.
That expansion has happened during some tough times, from the global economic crisis to more sector-specific turbulence – the oil and gas market downturn for one. Operating in those conditions, where bottom lines are squeezed and budgets are closely scrutinised, is hard. However, staying true to our core principle allowed Synectics to focus on helping businesses maximise and gradually upgrade their security, safety and operational infrastructure and technology via a cost-effective, scalable approach. Integration through Synergy offered a great opportunity to customers and brought new life to legacy systems, while enabling customers to make the migration to IP at a pace they can manage.
Although in the early years our primary operating base was in the UK, many of the projects we worked on were international in scope or involved global partners, including major integrators and Engineering, Procurement, Construction (EPC) companies. This was particularly the case in gaming and oil and gas. This meant we were already used to facing common ‘new territory’ challenges, such as understanding and adhering to local regulations, operating procedures and cultural differences. In a way, our business model was solidified as we went through the pain barrier associated with developing business in new regions – all before our true expansion really took hold.
From then on it was quite organic. While specific sector needs varied, we found the fundamental pain points to be universal in that for the type of large-scale, complex projects in which we specialise, customers all want to protect people, places, processes, and assets. Our experience and technical knowledge, therefore, means that once a geographic pathway is opened up by one sector, opportunities are generated that benefit all our sector verticals.
We’ve pursued opportunities where customer needs have matched our abilities and expertise, and where our group-wide capability adds value. Therefore, we’ve definitely been able to minimise what could have been significant and, for other organisations, restrictive challenges.
Q) What have been the most important or interesting milestones for Synectics during the last three decades?
2001 was a very important and quite historic year for the business with the launch of the first Synergy GUI. In a way, it formalized the path we’d been on from starting out as a technology developer to becoming a fully-fledged solutions provider.
Acquisitions have also been significant throughout our journey, bringing deep sector and regional expertise into the business. In the transport sector, the skills, expertise and reach we’ve built up have been integral to our development of converged solutions for today’s ‘connected’ market.
But ultimately our growth has always been based on the quality of the solutions we offer which, in turn, depend on the technology and software capabilities we engineer. It would, therefore, be remiss not to mention some important product milestones.
I’ve already mentioned Synergy 3, but there are other key milestones. Take our camera solutions, for example; we pioneered the world’s first Ex certified thermal camera station back in 2002. It’s an innovation ethos we’ve continued, reflected by the launch, in 2016, of our most comprehensive range of HD IP cameras ever, including compact vandal resistant domes (VRDs), in-ceiling domes (ICDs), box cameras, bullet cameras and a selection of new PTZ cameras with improved True WDR. However, it is Synergy 3, our most significant innovation to date, that has really propelled us into the world of PSIM and situational awareness solutions.
In terms of projects, it’s hard to pin point as the most important ones have not necessarily been those with the biggest financial value. They are the projects that have been of strategic importance, for example by establishing our sector expertise within a new geography or introducing and leveraging a new capability set.
Q) What’s next for Synectics?
More of the same! By which I mean we will stay true to our values of developing products, systems and end-to-end solutions for complex projects where security and surveillance are paramount.
We understand the sectors we serve and always seek to work collaboratively with customers to really deep dive into a project in order to create tailored solutions that deliver absolute peace of mind and achieve specific objectives. Our value-added proposition has sustained our longevity, driven our global expansion and is at the core of every product we’ve ever developed. Synectics has evolved significantly as a business, but our customer-driven focus is something that will never change.