By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine
Expanding into the access control business has helped this Texas integrator gain new clients and generate new revenue.
Expanding into new technology markets can be risky; without a reputation or a client base, it can be difficult for VARs to attract customers in an unfamiliar market. But if an existing client successfully brings a VAR into new territory, that reference case can help build new business quickly.
Houston, TX-based integrator Digital Air Control (DAC) primarily focused on HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) management and building automation solutions until a customer asked them to help rescue a flawed access control deployment. By successfully installing a better system, the company not only gained new, ongoing revenues from the client, but also opened the door to an entirely new line of business.
The Denver City, TX, Independent School District (ISD), using recently approved bond money, wanted to add an access control system to a new construction project four years ago. The company the district initially contracted to install secure doors did not provide sufficient support for the solution, and it did not work the way administrators had hoped. The stand-alone access locks on the doors required both batteries (which had to be changed periodically) and tedious door-by-door reprogramming using a mobile computer. The school system wanted to complete the rest of its new construction using a centralized access control solution with a more predictible power supply.
DAC had already worked with the school system for nearly 14 years installing and supporting its HVAC and lighting control systems. The architect on the new building project contacted them about assisting with the access control deployment. Although the company didn’t have any previous access control experience, DAC’s regional manager in Lubbock, Dan Moore, says they were able to leverage their knowledge of networked control systems to help meet Denver City’s security needs.
After doing some research, the company selected the infinias IP-based access control solution from Observint Technologies as the best fit for the existing building plans. The infinias system includes the eIDC door controller and Intelli-M access control software. “It’s a Web-based system,” Moore says. “Our HVAC solutions are Web-based, so this fits right in with our experience. We’re used to pulling wire and tying in sensors, so for us the access side is actually simpler than what we do with HVAC controls. We just had to get used to the product and learn the software. infinias was a big help with solving any problems we encountered. They were willing to do whatever they could to make sure everything worked properly.”
Before starting the access control project, though, DAC also had to obtain the necessary state licenses required for installing security systems. “Texas requires the business owner to take a test and to get licensing for the salespeople, installers, and programmers,” Moore says. “All of our people have to have the security license. Once you’ve passed the tests, you pay a yearly fee to maintain the licenses.”
DAC began the project by installing the solution in the district’s new Industrial Arts building and followed up with the new field house and bus barn. The DAC team handles all the installation and programming, while infinias prints the access control cards.
So far, the company has installed the infinias solution at nearly 600 doors in the new facilities. Moore says his team was also able to create some programming to integrate the access control and HVAC systems. The integration with the HVAC solution uses input from the keycard swipes at each door to turn the air conditioning on and off. The overhead doors in the bus barn were also integrated into the solution, allowing the bus drivers to access the building from the drive-up gates.
The Denver city project is still ongoing, and the Digital Air Control team has continued to develop additional functionality for the access control system. “We are finishing work on some lockdown programming, so if the school is put in lockdown, only certain credentials will open the doors,” Moore says. “You can restrict that to the administration, police, and fire department. We can also put schedules on the doors. For example, during football games they have a set of cards that only work with particular rooms and hallways for the visiting teams on specific days and times.”
The school district is currently building a new sports complex and plans to build a new high school. When everything is said and done, DAC will have installed control systems on more than 1,000 doors. “We’ll be working with them for the next five years doing access control, HVAC control, and camera systems,” Moore says.
Lucrative New Market
For VARs that are new to the access control space, Moore recommends investing in good-quality door hardware. “We supply our own hardware now, primarily the door strike,” Moore says. “Some of the hardware out there is not very good. Since we have to maintain it and keep it operating, we supply the strike so we know what’s going in and how to take care of it.” (DAC uses 8500 series no-cut strikes from HES.)
His other advice for other companies looking to enter the market: “Do the research to find what best fits with your company. infinias was a good fit for us, because it was IP-based and fit well with the systems we were used to installing. For other companies, another technology might be a better fit.”
Taking the plunge into a new technology market has definitely paid off for DAC. Since the school district was an existing customer, DAC has combined the monthly maintenance contracts that cover the HVAC and access solutions. Adding access control to the company’s product suite has created a lucrative new source of revenue, in addition to strengthening the company’s relationship with the school district.
“Our margins on the access control are very nice, and it’s easy to install so there’s a quick turnaround,” Moore says. “If it’s a new job, then you have to wait on construction to happen before you can complete the work, but otherwise it goes quickly. The year we started this project, it was an important source of revenue.”
In fact, DAC has rapidly expanded its access control business. Some of these jobs combine both HVAC and access control, but many are strictly access solutions. “On new builds, they want the integrated HVAC and access systems,” Moore says. “On existing buildings, that’s a harder sell because the process is very labor-intensive, and the customers don’t want to pay to have the programming done for each door and AC systems.”
DAC currently has about a half-dozen access control projects under way, and Moore expects that trend to continue, particularly given the renewed focus on security at schools and other public facilities. In three years, Digital Air Control has become the largest independent dealer of the infinias products in Texas. In addition, DAC now installs Observint’s DIGIOP video surveillance solutions. The company is currently working on integrating RFID wristband sensing technology along with the infinias, DIGIOP, and HVAC solutions on a state-of-theart LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]- certified facility.