Don’t Fear the Big Players
An Interview with Jan Meiswinkel about the Vision of Integration and Interaction
Advancis is known for it's security and building management system WinGuard. This constantly developed product ist distributed via integrators, OEM-Partners and in some exceptional cases also directly. Since 15 years Advancis understands itself mostly as consultant and system integrator. Regina Berg-Jauernig of GIT-SECURITY.com met with Jan Meiswinkel. Together with company founder Hartmut Nöll he manages the company as a
GIT-SECURITY.com: Mr Meiswinkel, you're celebrating your 15th company anniversary these days. I remember your presentation of WinGuard on the Security Exhibition in Essen in 2000. How did you manage to enlarge Advancis to 25 employees and an annual turnover of 3 million euros today?
J. Meiswinkel: Until that day the company was basically a one man show by Hartmut Nöll. I met him these days and we both saw the potential in one another and started pushing forward the company as equal partners.
What were the criteria for success from your point of view?
J. Meiswinkel: A basic criterion is our wide diversity of characters and competences inside our company. This applies for the sales department as well as for the project management or developement. Also the diverse allocation of the management and company ownership. From my point of view, this is one part of our success.
And in the quality of your product?
J. Meiswinkel: Yes. The head of development has an essential influence on the product. This may be a difference to other companies, that are more orientated to market- and project specific requirements. For us the significant influence of our engineers and software developers on the development process as well as on the quality of the product is most important. The company Advancis is 100% focused on the product WinGuard. This means we concentrate on security and building management and don't lose our focus in following other activities aside. This is how we position ourselves in the market.
The fast success that might be pursued by the sales department is slowed down by the development department in a fertile way. We believe that this mixture is the base of success for the company.
Were there also difficult times?
J. Meiswinkel: Basically the times are always challenging. This is just because our business is moving so incredibly fast. In other industries products can stay on the market for years, mostly unchanged. In our business it's different. That's also a reason why we changed our development process to „Scrum", a model for flexible software development. With this „moving" model, the proximity to the customer plays a decisive role. Our work with the product is therefore a iterative process with constant releases of new updates of our system. This way we can coordinate the development of the product in a close cooperation with our customers. The most difficult part in our business is often to determine the desired functionality and the perfect operational concept already before the product launch. Our customers highly appreciate our way to work here.
Of course this has organisational influences on your sales process?
J. Meiswinkel: Yes. In our sales team we don't see ourselves as the conventional sales representative, but more as a consultant. By this consulting approach we're able to act very flexible and generate the added value for the customer in the end. Internationally this approach is already common. The question here is usually not about the pricing of the product, but more when the investment charges off itself by mapping and supporting the processes in the company.
What is your biggest personal motivation?
J. Meiswinkel: It always motivated me the most to find solutions for special circumstances and requirements. This is also about building big and very big systems. In the beginning, that was a real challenge for us. Nowadays we receive bigger assignments not because we became more well-known, but because due to our independency we can provide a sustainability of investment in reference to future modifications of a system.
Do you have something like a vision that guides you here?
J. Meiswinkel: The vision is the complete integration and automatic interaction of building- and security solutions in full plus the interaction and communication with other systems like full-scale emergency operation systems. The guiding theme for us is always to create safety. To make the world a little more secure by protecting human lives and objects of any kind. This is an important stimulus which also creates personal satisfaction.
Which kind of solutions are you working on most intensively today?
J. Meiswinkel: For example we're working on further integration of different CCTV-Systems into our open CCTV Manager. A big part here is the integration of video analytics. One important point here is the synchronisation of the events inside the facility with the corresponding CCTV streams. We already presented this functionality on the Security 2008 in Essen, showing the practical application for a casino solution. Another example for the added value of synchronizing and interaction between the different subsystems is the surveillance of datastreams inside an IT-infrastructure. As an example, our system reports if according to the access control an employee has already left the building, but still data is retrieved from his workstation. Moreover we busy ourselves with the development of mobile solutions like a client version for the Iphone. Some more catchwords right now are Smart- and Green Building Technologies.
In your opinion, what are the special challenges for you right now?
J. Meiswinkel: Next to the already mentioned aspects a crucial part is to balance the growth of the company with it's flexibility. We're managing this by very flat command structures and innovative ways of teamwork. Open tools and interfaces are important here. Most important, especially in times of an economic crisis it enures to the benefit of our company that we're completely debt-free. We're capable of managing potentially difficult times as well as we're able to operate in a solid and economical way. That's important for us to ensure the trust of our customers in the safety of their investment in the long-term view. A further challenge is that we're only able to grow together with partners that need our support. These kinds of partnership are not established overnight, especially under the difficult circumstances for long distance partnerships. Therefore we put very high efforts in our partnership concept during the last years. Our main focus is continuous know-how transfer and educational commitment including in-house-workshops as well as online trainings for expertise refreshment.
Could you please briefly outline your partner program?
J. Meiswinkel: Only 5-10% of all projects are realised by Advancis itself. Especially if there are a lot of undetermined factors. If we gathered enough expertise in a certain sector, we're able to include and support our partners. About 90% of our customers are integrators. We support them with our Certified WinGuard Integrator (CWI) program in terms of marketing, sales, project realisation and support. Due to the close contact and constant training of our partners we know our solution is represented perfectly in the market.
In which market sectors do you see the highest potential for the future?
J. Meiswinkel: In the currently difficult economic situation public projects are of special importance, for example correctional facilities. Right now we're working on two big correctional facilities in a way, that we'll have a special vertical solution for that market in the end. Special requirements in this case are the cell communication and the localisation of the guards in the field. Using localisation points inside the facility we're able to display the current position of every guard very dynamically in a virtual floor plan - even through different levels of the building. In the end, the process of a moving guard can be watched like a movie. This funcitionality was developed during the project phase. That's the way we work also in other projects like casino- or parking solutions. Due to our deep understanding of the customer's application requirements in the field we're not afraight of the big players in this business.
Your export rate right now is about 25%. In how far are you going to expand your international activities?
J. Meiswinkel: We're not satisfied with our export rate yet. Our goal is to increase that rate in the next year in a considerable way, at least to 30-40%. By 2012 we're willing to make more turnover on the international than on the local market. To achieve this, my colleague Stefan Bange is in charge of the international business development process. Today we're already market leader in Austria and Luxembourg. Right now we're especially looking for partners in England and France to build an Advancis branch there. Furthermore we'd like to find more partners for our „Advancis Solution Provider (ASP)"-Program in order to build joint-ventures. With 23 supported languages including the functionality of switching the program from left-to-right for the arabic region, from the technical point of view the requirements are already fulfilled.
Mr. Meiswinkel, thanks for the interview.