Netwatch makes inroads in US thanks to R&D

26 Jul 2011

When David Walsh and Niall Kelly founded protection services company Netwatch in Co Carlow in 2003, their vision included targeting the US market and, in tandem with a significant investment in research and development (R&D), this became reality in the past two years.

“We are driving the business there now along the east coast from Boston to New York. It has picked up since we changed our traditional model to a managed services offering where customers pay no upfront capital cost for the equipment but instead pay a fixed daily fee,” says Walsh.

“Customers love that type of offering in the US and this has reduced a barrier for us. It means when we’re meeting the managing director of company, we don’t have to haggle over the cost of the equipment. The onus of responsibility is entirely with us and the client has peace of mind that the software and equipment is always up to date without the necessity for a large capital outlay.”

Netwatch was the first company in Ireland to combine specialist video transmission technologies with satellite communications to provide protection solutions for clients.

It has invested heavily in R&D in the past three years, and Walsh says it intends to continue to invest in this way to maintain competitive edge.

New corporate headquarters

The company officially opened its new corporate headquarters and state-of-the-art command centre in Carlow in April last year in a former Irish Sugar premises, representing an investment of more than €5m.

This investment includes the establishment of a dedicated R&D centre, which has been supported by Enterprise Ireland. Up to eight employees are focusing on the development of new software applications and more intelligent transmission equipment and site hardware.

“The problem with the security industry is there are very few leaders and a lot of followers, so it is easy to get into. This is why we’ve decided to invest so much in R&D. With our new facility we have the capacity to treble in size as a company,” says Walsh.

In 2003, there were various off-the-shelf technologies available, such as detectors that trigger burglar alarms, but there was no real intelligence built into them, Walsh continues.

“For our business proposition we had to be able to have a detection mechanism that was far more intelligent, incorporating video processing and the ability to analyse image changes. We had to go through an evolution process before investing heavily in developing our own intellectual property in the past three years.

“On a customer site we install our own video-processing detection technology that alerts us to exceptional behaviour from within our communications hub. The software we’ve developed allows us to accept alarms in an orderly fashion and filter out nuisance activity, such as wildlife or cats.”

Utilising emerging technologies

As well as developing its own IP, Netwatch believes in utilising emerging technologies as part of its R&D efforts.

For example, the Netwatch R&D team discovered a small Israeli firm that had developed a software-driven detection system whereby objects moving in the field of view could be detected and tracked. The system was originally designed for US sports television to track a ball in flight. Netwatch licensed the algorithm and employed engineers to develop it.

“We set about developing thousands of real-life test videos showing an intruder climbing a wall, scaling a fence and so on. Initially developing it to detect a human shape, Netwatch discovered the software could be utilised in a variety of scenarios such as object counting and retail statistics,” says Walsh.

The company is currently researching the use of the technology with a leading pest control company to detect the presence of pests in a building within a CCTV image and with a large property management company in London to detect graffiti as it is being applied to a surface.

Expansion strategy

Netwatch’s initial expansion strategy was to target English-speaking markets, but it is now looking seriously at continental Europe, according to Walsh.

“Entering the UK market was relatively easy. We started piggybacking on companies with depots in the UK and we now have a manager and offices with five people working on installations. We’re mimicking what we’re doing in Ireland.”

It has secured over £1m sterling in client orders to date in the UK, which has led to the creation of 10 jobs at the command centre in Carlow.

“We believe our future growth as a company will be heavily determined by our success in international markets. Being innovative and adaptive in seeking out new opportunities is just as critical to business success as product R&D.

“We have worked hard to internationalise our products and services into global markets, and we are now quoting for larger, more complex projects on the international stage,” says Walsh.

“We have just completed a contract with a telecommunications company to provide protection for critical communications infrastructure at the 2012 Olympic Games. Our R&D department has developed a unique wireless protection product for remote communication masts.”

Netwatch is currently working with a number of installation partners in the UK to embed its offering in the security market.

This is an extract from an article which first appeared in Owner Manager magazine.

Photo: David Walsh