As a 26 years old young and buoyant chap, I joined the security business, convinced I knew it all. Supported by my beliefs, I spent a few years working in the security and IT business until I decided to try my wings and became the CEO of a branch of a locksmiths’ business group, which was quite well known at the time.
I soon discovered I had waltzed into a hornet’s nest, unhappy employees, disastrous finances, and mismanagement. I didn’t let that bring me down; on the contrary, I saw it as a challenge and decided to change all that. The truth is, it was a considerable effort, but in just a few years, our company started to grow, and we changed its name to Flexim Security.
The Path to Innovation in Access & Security
Our company, among other services, provided solutions for security technology, access control and time and attendance systems. By the time we decided to sell to Assa Abloy, a global player in access solutions, our turnover was about 40 million Euro, we had 300 employees, and plenty of satisfied clients. All that in 10 years.
What was behind our success story? I would say two things. First and foremost, our vision at Flexim was to provide the best products for our customers, so we were looking from the outside in, so to speak: we didn’t focus on how great our products were; instead, we focused on our customers’ perspectives. What do our customers need? That guided our business operations.
Second, we were not afraid of experimenting. Technological components were expensive at the time, but we invested and tried out the craziest ideas to make our clients happy. We drilled holes in the wall to try out new operating systems, inserted chips that could work as keys into rings and even tried a microchip under the skin of a colleague. She just had to show her hand, and doors would open, as something out of a Star Wars film. I would argue that we were some steps ahead of time.
Smartphones Changed the Game
Access has changed enormously in my 30 years in the business. When smartphones became popular devices for conducting most everyday activities, I found them boring. One could use smartphones for everything, even open doors! In this day and age, this is a valuable concept, as we take our phones everywhere we go, so the business logic behind access control operated via smartphone is good, especially in Europe, where GDPR has a significant role.
Vulnerabilities notwithstanding, 36 billion devices are connected to the internet globally, reaching 100 billion by 2025. And that’s why both the private and the public sectors invest massively in cybersecurity.
The Future of Access Control
But at this point, investing solely in cybersecurity and thus maintaining the status quo might not be enough. We need something else. I long to see unconventional business models guided by visionary leaders who share information instead of keeping it to themselves.
Companies withholding information will unfortunately not survive, I believe. We talk a lot about ecosystems, which implies that something is moving, alive, and evolving. How do things grow best? When we collaborate, when we share our best practices to create new business models.
In practical terms, I imagine a world where access control, CCTV cameras, and fire alarms, for example, work together, where the systems are integrated. A world where people can move freely and safely everywhere, maybe by the simple use of voice control, smart sensors or biometric recognition, which is more common in the United States or the Far East than in Europe for now.
The Human Factor beyond Technology
Finally, after more than 30 years of accumulated work experience, my two cents are for security and access control start-ups. Surround yourself with investors that are visionaries and have a feel of what the start-up world is all about. Taking onboard big names just for the sake of it won’t make you grow. Second, employ people with a genuine personal interest in your business. These days customers are very well aware of what they are looking for; they are knowledgeable and expect comparable, or better, knowledge from the service provider.
‘Engaging’ is the keyword I leave you all with today. Engage with your customers, partners, and service design providers. Finland is globally renowned for its high-quality, practical and timeless design. Engage with your product, love it, believe in it, fire up your game, be bold, and make your business scalable, modular, and easy to replicate.
Text: Jukka Laakso, CEO of Louhos Solutions