Genetec is the only dedicated open platform security management solutions provider of significant size left in the global market now its key competitors have turned towards a proprietary model. Its fierce independence makes the company a rare beast in a software industry governed by the gravity of corporate acquisition. 

MONTREAL in early February is cold. Walking out of the airport at 11pm into minus 24 degrees C reminds me of sticking my head into mum’s chest freezer at Parkes in the drought-stricken summer of ‘78. I smell ice. Seeing snow always makes Australians feel they're on holiday and the tinsel lights of old Montreal enhance the sense of Christmas. 

Montreal is an interesting city, with its combination of old and new, and a split personality engendered by its deep and complex history. The newspapers here are full of columnists and politicians agonising over finding balance between diverse language and culture. Yet on the street most citizens have turned from old resentments towards a paradoxical yet wonderful reality in which integration is internalised as multiple personal identities. Whatever their background, people hop between French and English mid-sentence in Montreal. 

I’m here to visit the surveillance industry’s last independent VMS manufacturer, Genetec, as part of the company’s 2015 Press Summit. The event includes one day of sessions and a half-day visit to Montreal’s Urban Mobility Management Centre. It’s an information-dense first day, with plenty of talk about the latest version of Security Center, the company’s plans for the future and some valuable insights into cloud.  

But while we’re going to touch on some of those things here, the focus of this story is getting a sense of Genetec as a company and imbibing a little of its culture. Before we get moving it’s worth considering Genetec’s venerable history. The company was founded in 1997 and developed the first IP video management software around a doctrine of hardware agnosticism that still defines development to this day.

Genetec’s product range has coalesced into one platform – Security Center – around which management of IP video surveillance, access control and license plate recognition are arrayed. The company’s stated mission is to be the leader in unified IP-based security solutions, to deliver value, quality and efficiency, to deliver new technologies, notably cloud. During my visit it becomes clear Genetec has a strong focus on this mission.  

Genetec CEO and president, Pierre Racz

It’s impossible to understand Genetec without getting a handle on the company’s founder, CEO and president, Pierre Racz. We’ve interviewed Racz in SEN before and his insights into technology and the future directions of the market were vividly illuminating. Any company governed and driven by a highly technical and passionate management team that does not answer to the woolly directions of a board and the incessant demands of a nest-load of profit-hungry shareholders is going to have a different feel to it and Genetec does feel different. It’s a pointy and self-aware company. 

That Genetec is governed by a single person not a committee is a great strength of the Genetec business. That sort of management structure doesn’t just make for better decisions, it makes decisions much faster. And with Georges Karam now appointed chief commercial officer, Racz is free to focus on the technology side, as well as talking to big organisations with complex and organic software needs.

Throughout the first day, Racz is a formidable presence, quick to expand on ideas circulating around him and refreshingly open in his strong opinions about technology and current affairs. Racz’s thoughts on cloud, which are shaped not only by Genetec’s own plans but by the needs and moves of its biggest customers, are especially revealing and we’ll looking at those in greater depth next issue. 

Genetec’s office is located out of the city near the airport. It’s a snowy bus trip from town and no one lingers outside on our arrival. We tumble through the entrance at 830am and there’s plenty of frosty bustle as workers arrive. This is a medium-sized company, with 560 staff and the office is relatively new and comfortably large. The sense of corporate identity is not overdone at Genetec – you’re not being leaned over by 10-foot logos in the foyer. It’s more about a quiet esprit de corps and it takes me a couple of hours to put my finger on what I think makes the Genetec team different.  

You’d expect a software company like Genetec to be a little bit Silicon Valley. That is the way the company feels but with a Québécois accent, a little more sideways humour and a French bistro in the canteen. Creativity is actively encouraged, there’s space and quietness to think, most the offices have views so as to allow the relaxation of the eye in contemplation. 

This sort of thing seems a bit unusual in a larger organisation but it’s at the heart of Genetec. You see it in the full sized gym surrounded by the offices of software engineers and in personal touches in offices taken to the excellent level of an internal viticetum in one instance. During our tour there are large areas of whole floors that have an old school feel to them. Long corridors connecting multiple offices, everything very comfortably lived in.

The chilly bin

At the heart of the building is a chilled server room which houses the network infrastructure required to serve the needs of the company's software engineers. The network at Genetec is powerful enough to allow modelling of client solutions on a large scale so as to facilitate customisation of software, as well as to allow complex trouble shooting. 

Something else you notice at Genetec is cameras. I didn’t expect to see so many cameras at a software company, despite the obvious need of software engineers for real time video feeds. They are everywhere. Walls of cameras, hundreds, even thousands of cameras, multiplying on benches, desks, window sills, each with a tail of bright blue cable feeding into the building’s powerful network infrastructure.

Alongside the software engineers, the key to understanding the nature of Genetec from my perspective is the SWAT team, which is a group of engineers dedicated to resolving customer issues. The importance of this group speaks not only about Genetec’s customer service but the nature of company itself. Genetec goes to extreme lengths to resolve customer issues, with problems investigated by dedicated teams who take personal responsibility for resolving issues.

Listening to war stories most seem to be network-related but Genetec refuses to divide its software from a client’s infrastructure and will undertake agonising detective work to ensure a Security Center application meets a client’s expectations in any installed ecosystem. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Genetec’s profound appetite for its customers' internal problems. Every modern business has experienced that vertiginous moment when a broader network issue devolves into finger pointing between internal IT staff and external suppliers. Genetec makes itself the bridge between its customers' broken circuits. 

These trouble shoots are global and are undertaken for clients great or small. They are obviously epic in nature, celebrated with tongue-in-cheek depictions of SWAT team members photo-shopped as the characters in famous action movie posters. Behind the humour lies a gruelling reality where a global client list is supported right down to the last digit of config code in any part of its network infrastructure. It’s an astonishing dedication and the centrality of the SWAT crew to Genetec’s operation underscores the integrity with which the company views its mission statement. 

This is a young company in terms of average age – maybe early to mid-30s. At any one time there are about 50 interns working at Genetec, which is really cool. There’s a lot of moaning in Australia about a lack of qualified youngsters and Genetec shows how it should be done. It has to be a deliberate investment made with one eye on social capital and the other on selecting the best and brightest for your own team. 

As well as the latest version of Security Center, we get a look at Citywise during the event, which is Genetec’s plan to become a facilitator and conversation starter in making cities safer, more liveable and more efficient. This is an interesting and lateral way to approach potential sales. There’s a community sense to it rooted in the spirit of Montreal itself, which for all its debate over identity can’t help but be a living reflection of a diverse past. 

Citywise is a mature sort of strategy. You could criticise it as appearing altruistic yet being commercial but to my mind it seems more an extension of a business which feels connected to its community and which exists to serve its clients with safety and security solutions. The actions of the best security people always express an underlying protective instinct. 

I’m left with the company’s strong sense of mission. Genetec is the last independent software manufacturer and is very aware of it. This group of people knows it bears sole responsibility for all those clients needing security management capabilities that don’t come packaged in a proprietary box.♦

By John Adams