07 Apr Man on a mission
With Genetec this year celebrating two-decades in the security industry, Timothy Compston spoke to Pierre Racz, president and ceo, about cyber security, causing controversy and how he’s a software geek at heart
Pierre Racz, founded Genetec back in 1997. Since then, Genetec has been transformed into a global leader for world-class unified IP security platforms. With a strong technical background, Racz is very much a hands-on ceo when it comes to working with his in-house teams to develop and engineer Genetec solutions that are open, efficient, and scalable. Plus he is not afraid to put his head above the parapet.
Racz has courted some controversy in the security press recently due to his call for certain video surveillance cameras to be placed into a ‘restricted’ category due to cyber security concerns. This has led to a war of words with leading Chinese vendor Hikvision which has come out strongly in the press to counter the concerns expressed by Racz.
But Racz remains firm about his position that with the number of cyber-attacks and data breaches continuing to rise in the physical security environment – where your surveillance equipment comes from is a major area of concern.
He says: “Genetec remains firm on its position that state-owned device manufacturers represent a cyber risk to the security of our customers and their networks, and while we appreciate that this position may not be popular with these manufacturers, we have simply acted on specific end user and customer feedback.”
Racz’s out-spokeness doesn’t really come as a surprise. As a company Genetec have a track record of being ‘technology disrupters’ and this, explains Racz is where they have been most influential.
“When we started out there were hardware players who were trying to apply hardware economics to software development – and that is a recipe for failure – because they do look quite different. Our first hurdle was to get people to pay for software. We got over that hurdle. Our second hurdle was that we got people to pay service agreements, in those days they didn’t even pay for software let alone service agreements.”
Another area where in Racz’s opinion Genetec has been ahead of the curve, relates to the cloud and the company’s Video Surveillance- as-a-Service (VSaaS) offering: “We anticipated the market’s needs and because we are really software geeks at heart. We crafted our software architecture in a very flexible way. This flexibility let us move from zero cloud into the cloud in only nine months.” Racz says that when Genetec made this leap it was greeted with a degree of skepticism: “There were articles laughing at a VSaaS offering. Now it is quite fashionable.”
He likens what happened with VSaaS to a bit of a ‘Back to the Future’ moment: “Initially when we wanted to go on network video versus analogue video I remember in 1998 presenting at New York City Transit and being laughed out of the meeting because they said that the quality of the video is not good enough, and the PTZ lag is just too
long, and the engineer saying to me that nobody is going to use this. Ten years later he became our customer.”
One of the secrets to Genetec’s success, explains Racz, has been the strong focus on research and development (R&D). Interestingly, at the recent press summit it was pointed out that 32% of Genetec employees work in R&D – an impressive figure by any standards – and last year, Racz confirms, the company put 27% of its top-line into this effort.
“I love doing that, that’s my toy, and as it turns out people like what Genetec produces and they reward us for it.” Racz reckons that he would take the same path even without a significant financial return: “The first eight years of my career I was living under the Canadian level of poverty, I didn’t care because I was writing software. At Genetec we are not motivated by the financial rewards, we are motivated by the creative process. We have managed to find a whole bunch of people who think the same way.”
Expanding on his theme, Racz believes that ideas and suggestions can only get you so far: “Einstein said that genius is only one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration and the thing is that if you don’t have the passion you don’t get the perspiration. We are first and foremost software artists, and artisans, we are an engineering-driven company. We have zero external investors, we bootstrapped ourselves up from zero and so we are not beholden to anybody, and consequently we can make long-term decisions that financial people would throw out.”
He cites the example of Genetec’s Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) solution – AutoVu – as an area where persistence, and avoiding short-termism, has paid off: “It was a long slog and if we had let financial people make that decision they would have gotten us out of that industry and low and behold we are now the leader today. It is because we do not have these financial people to push us into short- term thinking we are successful.”
Regarding Genetec and the Middle East region, it was back in 2006 when it first opened an office in Dubai and the vendor can now count a plethora of major projects like Dubai Airports – which oversees two international airports – amongst its successful applications. “The Middle East is our engine of growth in EMEA. Europe has been good but since 2008 after the recession – the financial collapse – that occurred, Europe has been picking themselves up slowly.” He adds that he has observed a change for the better in the Middle East: “More and more we are getting really high quality technical people. The ceo of Dubai Water, for example, finished our training exam with the highest grade ever given for a test both in Europe and the Middle East. He is an excellent engineer and a great partner to work with.”