Camera connection

Camera connection

The video surveillance industry is undergoing big changes and Vancouver’s Avigilon is leading the way.

It’s impossible not to notice the many security cameras in shopping malls, airports, stadiums and banks. While they’re meant to capture crooks and increase customer safety, a lot of the video technology that’s been traditionally used doesn’t elicit much useful information. That shouldn’t come as a surprise – we’ve all seen those grainy camera clips on the evening news.

In 2004, Alexander Fernandes thought that he could create something better. The long-time entrepreneur, who had successfully founded and sold companies in the past, had a passion for technology – specifically software, hardware and high-end digital imaging. “As an entrepreneur, I was always looking for the biggest opportunities where I could dominate,” he says. “I knew this was a big market, ripe for the picking.”

Fernandes launched Avigilon, a designer, manufacturer and marketer of end-to-end video surveillance software and equipment. In 2009, after several years of R&D, the company began selling its products to school campuses, transportation systems, hospitals, prisons, casinos and any other sector that needed to capture high-quality video.

The company’s products quickly took off. In 2014, its seventh revenue-generating year, Avigilon’s sales reached $271.4-million, representing a compound annual growth rate of close to 100 per cent. What’s more, the company is solidly in the black, boasting 2014 net income exceeding $35-million. Its stock is also up 314 per cent since it went public on the TSX in 2012.

Most businesses come for Avigilon’s 120 HD IP line of cameras that offer high-tech features such as automatic image enhancement – which can reveal details such as licence plates or a suspect’s facial features – but its cloud-based software is a big part of the company’s solutions, too.

Each camera comes with secure video-management software that uses cloud technology, allowing organizations to manage security across multiple sites from any global location and from a single platform, such as a computer or smartphone app. The company has also started offering adaptive video analytics, which can classify people and vehicles while eliminating normal scene activity, such as moving trees, shadows or reflections from water or glass.

Despite Avigilon’s success, growth hasn’t been without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges, says Fernandes, is human resources. “A company’s plan is only as good as its execution, and that comes down to people,” he says. With more than 800 employees, things will inevitably go wrong: a shipper or receiver enters the wrong customer address; the accounting department charges a client the wrong amount; an engineer is careless with software.

Fernandes counters this reality with a decisive strategy. “We’re constantly culling the herd,” he says. “The bottom 10 per cent of our employees are made to improve or are let go.” That said, Avigilon employees enjoy high salaries and internal promotions. “If you have the right people, they’ll find solutions to problems,” he explains.

With the right people and products in place, Fernandes sees Avigilon growing for years to come. The company’s market share is close to 2 per cent, but because the video surveillance market is so fragmented, no other firm has gotten past 5 per cent.

“I’m expecting something unprecedented in our industry,” he says. “We’re going to get 10 per cent market share.” And as for revenue, Fernandes isn’t afraid to throw around the word billion: “It’s my personal goal.”

- Kim Shiffman