Interview: Pierre Razc – Genetec
by Security Electronics and Networks | @Analysis Articles | September 2, 2012, 7:00am AEST
Genetec’s founder, CEO and president, Pierre Razc, combines piercing vision with instinctive team spirit and an appreciation of the things money can’t buy. A devout trekkie with a deep love of the possibilities of clever technology, Razc is committed to lateral integration and has a comprehension of the core nature of his products rare in a CEO. He speaks with SEN editor, John Adams
Q: Genetec has had enormous growth over an extended period of time – is that year-on-year growth still continuing?
A: Yes it is. Last year we did 33 per cent growth globally, in the Americas our growth was phenomenal – more than 50 per cent growth. Our planning projects that we will sustain 30 per cent growth for the next 3 years. The world’s hunger for software is insatiable.
Q: What do you credit with the company’s endless success?
A: Genetec is not just a software company – we are software craftsmen. The analogy I love to make is that Genetec is like a fine restaurant – for people to have a good dining experience you need good waiters, you need good chefs and at the end of the evening the chefs have to come out and have a glass of wine with the waiters. This is the business model that Genetec has.
We have excellent people to manage relations and to get the information out and we have people that design components – but they are not stereotypical engineers. Our engineers come out and learn about customers. Great software is created through the active participation of an active user base with a small group of talented engineers.
Q: How much customisation of software do you carry out on behalf of your end user customers?
A: We come from a software and IT background – I’ve been writing code for 34 years and I still love writing code – one of the things you learn very quickly writing code is that configuration management is a huge problem. For instance, when someone reports a problem, what is that problem? It could be software, it could be hardware, it could be the network but you need to know which version of the software is running.
So, if you have thousands of custom versions of software out there, your task is enormously complicated. We avoid as much as possible having custom versions of our software. When customers come up with ideas that are viable – and the best customers use our applications in ways we never dreamed of – we take those ideas and work them into the baseline product.
We also have a rich software development kit that lets the end user make little adjustments to the software themselves but because of the isolation the SDK gives it does not complicate the configuration management.
Q: From your perspective as a VMS developer is there a camera type, a resolution, say 720p, that works best with network applications?
A: I think the market is standardising on its own. What we have noticed is that integrators and end users tend to choose 1080p HD resolution, as a standard resolution – they are gravitating towards that – less towards the megapixels which tend to be a bit more trendy.
Why? Because then there can be rules of thumb on how much storage they need, how much network pipe they need for the most common displays, and these resolutions are more than good enough to do the job. I think that’s a good thing. The 2Mb of 1080p is easy to handle but when it’s 15Mb or more then it’s challenging. In technology there is always a trade-off – there are no free lunches.
Q: What do you think the percentage of analogue to IP is at this point?
A: I think it’s a little over 30 per cent penetration of digital on a global basis. Some markets are more digital than others – those markets see the advantage of being able to share the video, long haul transmission and long term storage.
Q: The Canadian market where Genetec is based is similar in many ways to that of Australia – how is the business doing over there?
A: Canada is our home turf so we have an advantage there and it is a market where we test out ideas on willing and involved customers. We have a lot of marquee customers in Canada that give us excellent feedback and support. I have to single out the West Edmonton Mall. The CIO, Joe Schuldhaus, is a visionary and he always pushes us and when we come up with something new he experiments with it.
West Edmonton Mall is a huge facility – the second largest shopping centre in the world with 15,000 employees. They use all our features and have done some wonderful integrations. There is a certain amount of turnover in their employees and they have this wonderful onboard process that’s completely automated where HR creates some records in their SharePoint system, assigns roles and this is integrated with our active directory and automatically enables the doors and privileges that this person is allowed throughout the facility.
Q: I saw an installation managed by Genetec in Melbourne recently that was integrating video, access control, visitor management, air conditioning, lifts, lighting, turnstiles. I’ve not seen an integration of so many systems so seamlessly organised in a single screen. Is Genetec the best solution of its type?
A: We are never satisfied. We always see more we can do – I’d love to automate way more things. I know we have a good solution. Interestingly enough, a lot of the names of our software products are inspired by Star Trek – we have a vision of 23rd-century automation.
Our Federation feature was named after the Star Trek Federation of planets. Often in Star Trek stories logic alone fails to solve problems on the show, emotion comes in and lubricates the situation and solves the problems. We try to emulate that combination.
Q: I’ve been focusing on video. How important is the access control component of the Genetec system?
A: When I first specified the access control I specified it at one million doors and 10 million credentials and my chief architect came to me and said this is a silly requirement – he showed me a spreadsheet that said 10 installers at 1 door per hour will take 37 years to install this solution – no one has a system like that.
About 2 weeks later the engineers came back and said ‘we know how to do it’. Later we were so happy to have designed a system that scales to these heights and to have anticipated the fact that people will connect a lot of appliances and they will want to manage it through a simple to use interface.
When you have these large numbers of appliances you really need to have ways of authenticating and authorising people and Active Directory is the only way you can do this on a large scale. We have cities that share the video from independent systems through multiple departments that each have their own Active Directory hierarchies and we integrate into forests of active directories and this is not for the faint of heart. In fact we have to credit our close cooperation with Microsoft to be able to get solutions to work – and it actually does work which is really cool.
Q: Are there ways in which the Australian market is different to markets in other parts of the world, from your persepective as a system designer and manufacturer?
A: I’ve been talking to users in Australia since I arrived in order to find out the cultural differences here. Labour costs in Australia are considerably higher than some parts of the world and as a result the demand for integration is quite high. We are going to step up to that challenge.
Q: Do you feel you have a competitor in the market or are you in a class of your own?
A: I feel that there is no one that matches our broad appeal but when you start going into different segments of the market there are competitors whose profile is raised. There are some competitors in the low end of the market ready and willing to compete on price. But in the high end high scalability end of the market certainly we work hard to set the pace.
We have a good creative process and we are constantly coming out with new and improved ways of using automation to take costs out of installations, having smarter software, being able to scale and anticipating the need of users to tie in all kinds of things. It’s very exciting times.
Q: Do you think the rollout of the NBN in Australia will allow these large scalable systems – will give us an infrastructure capable of supporting the capabilities of our networked surveillance solutions – will the NBN bring to an end the era of performance compromise?
A: Actually, we have been involved in some very large networks and people would be surprised by how heterogeneous these solutions actually are. The different networks integrated to build them are not the same bandwidth and some have very low bandwidth.
One of these is a Canadian civil air navigation services provider with a network that is spread over ten million square kilometres. The organizations air control tower use our software to control doors and to view video and action doors remotely anywhere in the network.
Security, like everything else, is under budgetary constraints so there’s not an infinite amount of money for bandwidth. The bandwidth between cities is fantastic but there are some ISDN links – only 128kbps but we are still able to manage it and the system can optimise depending on the network topology. So we are getting fibre to every premises but it’s not going to be everywhere and it’s still possible to design a network that is distributed and that you can have local smarts and video can trickle up and down the hierarchy – you tag important video.
Video trickling was designed to offload video from trains that would come to a station and we’d have a short amount of time to burst as much video as we could using wireless to the server and from there it gets pumped to the central server. The same technology is used to do storage on the camera – recording to an SD card and then on schedule or on alarm we move the video through the hierarchy of storage. We will work with whatever network capacity is available.
Q: Genetec used to license product for a number of other big companies. Has it been exciting to develop product solely for Genetec, for yourself?
A: It has been exciting. We made the decision to distribute the product we developed for a key reason. We had never OEMed in the Canadian market because we wanted to be closer to customers. We quickly acquired 20 per cent of the Canadian market and later we took on distributors in other markets and their efforts did not prove as successful and we began to wonder why.
With this in mind, we took a more directapproach in France and we quickly secured 20 per cent of that market also. What we discovered was that not having direct contact with the end user .to ensure we could effectively serve them was detrimental. Also, it could result in our software competing on price only and not on capabilities.
I think that when the chains of communication are too long it can result in 2 things. Firstly, a manufacturer can end up providing solutions that are not what their customer needs and secondly there are long delays that frustrate the customer. In our experience, being available to directly support customers, and end users if they require it, is essential.
Q: Do you see open architecture as the way for the future, with multiple devices and elements all integrated in every conceivable way?
A: I think what’s happening is that more and more end users are aware that certain manufacturers are able to produce solid solutions that fit into large distributed systems. The large customers that realise these IP security solutions are part of computing systems are choosing manufacturers whose solutions can function in large distributed computing environments.
We are seeing that the scale is increasing ever more, it really is. And the flexibility that’s required is ever increasing as well. This is a reality of business. The hunger for computing is increasing and the new source of wealth is better use of resources and energy through information technology.
We are seeing end users put in more surveillance cameras for reasons other than security. The idea is a reverse principle to teleporting in Star Trek. Unfortunately we can’t teleport people from one place to another but we beaming can “beam” video to people as well as security . operators. For example, in an open solution the video can have multiple uses.
Customers can take a look remotely and view live camera feeds of hotel lobby to see if they we want to stay there. Another of our marquee customers is an international airport and they do a lot of inspections of critical infrastructure through their camera network.
Q: What’s coming up for Genetec in the next 12 to 18 months? What’s going to be new?
A: We are looking forward to the new Microsoft tablet coming out – Microsoft is different from other players in the market in that they have both the client side and the server side and are designed for a business environment.
The new Windows 8 metro-style interface is really cool for touch applications. With Windows 8 it’s the same platform on the server, workstation and tablet and that allows better authentication between trusted devices giving more options for monitoring and management.
Also, we worked very closely with Unisys a few years ago to optimise our software to work with their monstrous 64-core servers. It turns out the payback for doing that was not in the very large but in the very small.
Now under the hood we have something that scales linearly with a number of processors and is very efficient in terms of the amount of throughput we can put to the network.
We believe it is double that of other vendors so on resource constrained devices we believe we’re able to do things no one else can do. Also our scalability is really paying off in our data centre applications and you are going to see more really large systems in the future.