SIW Exclusive Interview: A Q&A with GVI's New CEO Steve Walin

March 21, 2006
Walin discusses the company's focus, new product lines, and what his integration background can mean for the company

Steven E. Walin joined GVI Security Solutions in February, bringing extensive experience from GE and Siemens, but also bringing a long-term integration background to one of the industry's top products manufacturers.

Walin made his move over from GE Security Enterprise Solutions, where he has been president since April 2003. Prior to his leadership role in GE's Security Enterprise Solutions group, Walin served as senior vice president with the security systems division of Siemens Building Technologies from 2001 to 2003, overseeing field sales, installation and service operations. He had joined Siemens after his previous company, Security Technologies Group, a large North American security systems integrator where he was president and COO, was acquired by Siemens in 2001. Walin got his start in the industry with electronic security products manufacturer CASI-RUSCO, giving him some 23 years of experience in almost all aspects of the security industry. caught up with Walin yesterday afternoon to talk about his focus for the company, what's on the table for ISC West, and how integrators, dealers and manufacturers can better work together.

Steve, let's start today's interview by bringing us all up to speed on the GVI Security Solutions business, which, as many of our readers are aware, is part of Samsung.

The GVI business is really divided into 3 segments. The core business, what we call the Professional Business, is primarily the distribution of Samsung video products through to large distributors and to industry integrators and dealers. That business is focused on Samsung but there are also other GVI branded products that we provide also at different levels of the scale in the market.

The second piece of the business is our enterprise solutions group, the core of which is in the Washington, D.C., area focusing on homeland security and government customers. Their mission, although it is a fairly new division, is to develop a more end-to-end total solution offering to the channel, while helping the channel create demand at the end user level. For instance, one of our premier installations there is the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) headquarters in Washington, where we provided one of our products called the RAPOR rapid entry turnstile, which is a turnstile device that is actually a door. It's a passive door for applications that need very fast throughput going through a portal. When they are supposed to be denied access, the door actually closes, rather than a typical turnstile which is closed and opens up on a valid access. So that's one of the core products we offer through the enterprise solutions group.

And then the third area that GVI has been focusing on is the retail segment, which has been providing Samsung products to retail stores like Sam's Club. That operation we will actually be discontinuing this year to focus on our primary business and our enterprise solutions group.

We're right around the corner from ISC West. What's happening in the GVI/Samsung product line and what will be showcased at ISC West?

We have our new camera line and new DVRs that have been released from Samsung that we will be highlighting, and we will have all those in our booth. The 32X zoom smart dome camera is one; our high resolutions monitors, our new DVRs that are coming from the Samsung line (the SHR line, including the SHR-2042 and SHR-2040P) -- those will all be highlighted, including the high resolution camera with day/night function. So those are a couple of the key Samsung offerings that we'll have at ISC. In addition we'll be showing our GVI TRAK, which is our video threat detection technology, as well as our SerenityONE product line, which is our security management platform. It is focused around video, but includes data and audio, and is used not only as a security application but as a productivity solution for several vertical markets, particularly in the retail space.

We also have an access control system, and typically the access control is the center of the integration of video and other applications. As you see our technology roadmap roll out, you'll see more and more integration between our video products, our access products, our rapid turnstile RAPOR door and our other products.

You bring an extensive background in the industry, with years at the Security Technologies Group (STG), an integrator that was later acquired by Siemens, and then serving at Siemens in an integration format. What are some of those insights and experiences from your time as an integrator that you bring to GVI and how can those insights affect GVI?

It's key that when we develop technology that we put ourselves in the shoes of our integrators, who, at the end of the day, are really our key customers. At the end of the day, it's the integrators who have to in turn sell, integrate and maintain these products. So what we are really going to be focusing on is the simplicity of the sales team's ability to describe a solution to an end user. We'll be providing materials to our channel that makes it easy to explain and show our products, but also making the products as easy to install as we can for our integrators.

That obviously is one of the challenges that integrators have today. In addition to having to come up to speed on all the new IT technology and networking technology, they often find themselves having to struggle with products that are difficult to install and therefore burn some of their labor, and thus reducing the profitability of their jobs. So we'll focus on making products that are easy to install and easy to service. Highly reliable products are key, and the software systems have to be easy to use for the end user customers. They have to be intuitive; they have to be user friendly, and they have to be simple. So to sum up my view as a former integrator, and what I would ask the manufacturing community is "Keep it simple," because that's what helps them be more effective for their end user customers.

Do you feel that there is sometimes an education gap between what manufacturers are able to develop and the education level of the installation and sales staff, and if so, how do we get beyond that?

I think there is a gap, but I have to tell you, I think it is closing. As technology continues to evolve, it will be the race that we never reach the finish line on in the integration community, and it's the same in the IT space. It's just that commitment to continue to develop your people and train your people for evolving technology. We offer training to our integrators to help them.

I know there's training available from the general environment. You can go out and get your people trained, get them Microsoft certified and earn various different types of certifications and training in the open market. And then I think there needs to be commitment in the channel to keeping their people up to speed on the core applications that they're out there providing to end users. That's an incremental piece to having to understand the underlying technology which we have been challenged to keep up with as we get to be more network centric and more IT centric.

But as I said earlier, I think the gap is closing. I speak to many dealers and integrators now who have several people on their staff who are Microsoft certified and who have other network certifications, and I think the channel in general is getting it, that in order to compete today, they've got to have staff understand that technology and be able to support it.

Moving from the integrators' perspective to more of an end user approach, when it was announced that you were joining GVI from General Electric, one of the things you said was that today's new technologies not only need to improve security but also reduce operating expenses. How are today's new technologies doing that?

I'll give you one example. With our SerenityONE product line where we remotely monitor and record video in the retail sector, for instance, we are not only providing security to customers by watching their stores for theft and cash register misappropriations, but those customers are also using video for defining how well their Point of Purchase stands are working for customers. They're actually using video as a productivity solution whereby they're able to monitor the length of lines at cash registers, and able to monitor the appearance of their employees, and even in some cases, by using the pan, tilt and zoom features of their system remotely, are able to see how stocked the shelves are.

Will digital video be the key element in helping to achieve ROI, or will it be from the access control side?

I think that the video is going to play the lead part at this point. I think that access obviously does and has. If you look at how the industry evolved, access was one of those first applications to provide a return on investment, primarily by reducing manpower, by eliminating guards. We all grew up in the industry on the access control side selling the fact that a 24/7 guard post costs you -- at the time -- $130,000 per year, but you can put this access control system in and you can eliminate that guard post with a card reader. And that's changed, and we're now eliminating that post with a card reader and now a camera. That now expands itself into the productivity solutions beyond security.

Going back your 23 years in the industry, what do you feel have been the most significant security changes our industry has seen or is seeing today?

When I look back to when I started in the industry in 1983, and we used to make a sales call on a security opportunity, you typically walked five floors down into the basement of a hospital or some other business and spoke to a security director who was typically ex-law enforcement and typically had very little knowledge, if any, of technology. And that's who you dealt with for many years.

Now, one of things that changed when I look back on security, is that security today is a board room issue for most organizations. Today we walk in and we see the chief technology officer, the chief information officer and the chief financial officer. They are all key to the decision; they're involved in not only deciding the security strategy of an organization but also selecting the technology that's used to implement that strategy. I think that the industry has grown from a cost center that had to be dealt with as an after thought typically three levels down in the organization to, now, a major part of most businesses' operations, and in fact, key to their strategy of moving forward. Even if you look at the banking segment, you see how important security is -- not just for the normal reasons of bank robberies -- but now all the identity theft issues and all the information technology protection that's needed.

The second change that comes to mind, is that who would ever thought that we'd have the types of global companies involved in security as we would today. Starting with General Electric and working your way through Honeywell, Ingersoll Rand, Tyco, Stanley and United Technologies. These are some of the "who's who" of global businesses today, and they all have a major focus on the security business.

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