In this month’s interview, John Adams speaks with Ashley Grembka of Atek Solutions in Mildura about the challenges and opportunities facing security integrators in country towns.

JA: What’s the most important quality for a security integrator in a country town like Mildura, with a population of around 50,000?

AG: Integrity – to be upfront, honest and personable.

JA: What are the greatest challenges you face on a day to day basis?

AG: Finding enough hours in a day.

JA: How important is diversification? Can you focus on security or do you need to bring in additional services?

AG: Diversification is important, while there is a growing need for security and CCTV it helps to have other services to offer as there are always lulls at certain times of the year.

JA: How competitive is the market – and is it just local competitive or do big nationals horn in on plum jobs?

AG: It is reasonably competitive locally and from bigger national companies. There are more than 8 companies locally here in Mildura that are competing for CCTV and security services. We also find that larger companies from Sydney and Melbourne for example will weigh in on larger projects like hospitals, public surveillance, mining and solar farms.

JA: Is it difficult to find and retain quality staff?

AG: Yes, it can be – Good technicians are hard to find with experience and skills required in the industry, it also helps to have a background in electronics. With a decline in the numbers of electronic service industry technicians with these skills, quality staff are hard to find.

JA: How vital are relationships when working in smaller centres – how important is reputation?

AG: Reputation is very important, especially in small towns and communities as it doesn’t take long to become known for your work, good or bad.

JA: There can be more property crime in rural areas than city people realise – and more valuable remote assets to protect. Do primary producers make up a significant percentage of your business? What would the split be between town work and country?

AG: Yes, there are a lot of farms in the general area that are secluded, with equipment, fuel, chemicals and product that thieves will target. Our current workload between local homes/businesses and primary producers would be around 50/50.

JA: Public safety and surveillance solutions in town centres – there’s a definite trend to install and/or upgrade these solutions with the latest technologies, including analytics and thermal. Are you seeing that?

AG: There has just been an upgrade to the local city surveillance system to include extra cameras around the Mildura CBD and Murray riverfront, these are typically PTZ cameras. I haven’t seen thermal cameras being used and I am unsure of the analytics behind the scenes. Recent works were conducted by an out-of-town company.

JA: Do you talk much with other regional integration businesses, partnering up when applicable to extend your capabilities?

AG: Yes, we work with electricians, IT companies, automation integrators and other security installation companies to create solutions that meet our client’s needs.

JA: How important is recurring revenue from alarm monitoring to your overall business? Do you install mostly wireless (GPRS) or IP-enabled gear?

AG: It’s important to us as it adds value to our company and it’s great to realise that your time is not only for sale an hour at a time. With regards to monitoring, we use a mix of both IP and GPRS technologies.

JA: What’s the most challenging thing about security installations in the country from a technical perspective?

AG: There can be some challenges with respect to layout of properties and large distances between buildings requiring point-to-point Wi-Fi links or underground cabling. Sometimes there’s a lack of technical challenges such as lift/elevator and access control for multi-story buildings.

JA: How is the NBN going for you – has the process been messy or relatively simple to navigate?

AG: I know the NBN has been difficult for some of our clients migrating from ADSL and 4G in the initial changeover, however, it has been reasonably simple for us after the installation is complete and working. Reliability and speed remain a concern for some clients.

JA: When did you establish your business, Ashley? What’s your background – have you always worked in the electronic security industry or did you come across from electrical or elsewhere?

AG: I established Atek Solutions in 2015. My background was initially in the electronic repair industry as an electronics technician. But the service industry started to slow down due to cheaper electronic appliances. When TVs, sound systems, microwaves, DVD and VCR players became throw away items I progressed to a position at a cable TV/Internet company servicing and maintaining hybrid fibre, coax (HFC) networks and headend transmission equipment. From there I progressed on to security, video surveillance and communications.

JA: What advice would you give to youngsters in regional centres looking at the electronic security industry as a career? In what areas should they focus their training? How can they succeed in the business?

AG: Above all, be personable. Take pride in your workmanship, be keen to learn and have a general interest in technology. The electronic security industry can be very rewarding to be a part of, with advancing technology spanning IT, networking, electronics, electrical systems and automation. It’s important gain knowledge across all these areas, including the basics of electronics from the component level and up.