If you are moving into a new country, you better speak the language. When A3 Communications of Irmo, S.C., expanded into new territory, that language was IP.
A3, notes company President Brian Thomas, is a relative newcomer to the security business; however, it has deep roots in computer systems. The company comes to the security marketplace with a full complement of Cisco Certified Network Engineers and extensive knowledge in computers and computer networking.
This year, A3 ranks tied for #4 in the Fast50 having jumped a more than a dozen places from last year.
Having a handle on IP, starting with VoIP, made the transition to IP-based security much easier; and easy — as in easy to live with — is another key component of A3’s success. “We try to create a fun work environment,” Thomas says. “We are entrepreneurial. We all are on the same ship, going the same direction.”
This benefits the company in several ways. Nobody is moaning when it comes time to burn the midnight oil to finish up a big project. And customers appreciate the extra effort and referrals follow; in fact, being easy on their customers is one of the keystones for A3’s corporate culture. “Not everything is a change order,” Thomas says. “If it is something that can be done simply, we take care of the customer.”
When Brian’s dad, F. Joseph Thomas, started A3 in 1990, the focus was totally on software development — they did software for government agencies and eventually migrated into hardware sales, selling PCs all over the Southeastern U.S. Eventually, they progressed with the market into IT services, networking and network infrastructure. This was about the time VoIP (voice over IP) came to the forefront. Along with VoIP, they offered clients audio-visual solutions and that was followed by surveillance and CCTV.
Joe named his son Brian as A3’s President in 2012. Brian’s role with the team began as vice president of sales in 2006. Brian continues to grow the company in his new position, always making sure to keep the company vision in mind.
It was in 2008 that A3 launched its surveillance and access control division. Today, A3 is an all-inclusive communications and IT service provider able to serve enterprise and education customers in every aspect of a technology infrastructure. “We are not your typical security integrator,” Thomas says.
Coincidentally, growth in the IP arena opened doors to services for customers who already were friends of the company. “We, as a company, saw 350-percent growth over the past three years,” Thomas says. However, this was not manna from heaven — rather, Thomas had made a conscious decision to completely restructure the sales organization and A3’s approach to the market.
At that point, the company served a number of small-to-midsized businesses along with education and government clientele. “We changed our approach to service the enterprise market from smaller businesses,” Thomas says.
At the same time, Thomas realized he needed to adjust A3’s market share in the education sector — a sector that ballooned to represent 80 percent of the company’s income. The thinking was simple. In the 2005-2008 era, corporations pulled back on spending. Many enterprises were building large cash positions and were spending nothing on network infrastructure; thus, their systems aged and declined in efficiency.
In the past year or two, that scenario has flip-flopped. Large enterprises are more willing to spend to upgrade systems and expand service offerings, and A3 is there to help them do it. It is a template they have followed in the past and expect to replicate in the future.
As a result, the education slice of the pie has dropped from 80 percent a year ago to 70 percent today. “That was a strategic decision,” Thomas confirms. He was worried about the company having too many eggs in one basket — no matter how attractive that basket is. Still, education, especially the K-12 market, is flourishing for security. With the return of the enterprise operation to the market, Thomas figured it was a no-brainer to go after bigger companies, but not to totally abandon their stronghold in education.