Hall of Fame: Sam Shalaby, Founder & CEO, Feenics
December 5, 2022 By Neil Sutton
If you’re not innovating, you’re not doing your job.
That’s been a mantra and one of the guiding principles behind Sam Shalaby’s whole security career.
Shalaby came to security with an engineering background. He was taking that subject as a University of Ottawa student when a chance meeting with a locksmith in a coffee shop led him down a different path. Shalaby was intrigued and offered to work for free in order to gain some training. He was hired on as an apprentice while still at school. ““I loved it,” he says. “I loved the fact that everyday is different, especially if you’re a journeyman.”
He subsequently went to work for ADT as a technician and alarm installer and then, armed with industry experience, he established his own Ottawa-based locksmith firm, ACME Lock Security, in the early 1980s.
He continued with his schooling, switching his academic focus from engineering to business and ultimately earned an MBA from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He also broadened his security interests and set up an integration business, Future Security Controls (FSC), which he ultimately merged with ACME.
It was at this point he began to get a taste of the managed services business — decades before Security as a Service (SaaS) would become part of the industry’s vocabulary.
As Shalaby describes it, it was almost by chance. In the early 90s, a major client asked for a comprehensive access control, surveillance and intrusion system but they didn’t want to manage it themselves.
“We created a Wide Area Network (WAN) and we started managing the system from our control centre,” he says. “That was our window to security management services. We called it SMS: Smart Monitoring Services.”
The WAN was created using Token Ring and modems from an Ottawa company called Gandalf Technologies. “We were monitoring video at four frames per second over dial-up modems…. We were doing remote guard tours,” he says. If an employee needed access, they could look at a camera, pick up a phone and call the station, and an operator could pulse open the door.
FSC added more enterprise clients and opened a second office in Toronto and a new control centre. “I always felt that, as professionals, it’s our duty to introduce the end users to the latest and greatest. It’s our duty to let them know that this is what’s available now. We can supply it, we can design it, we can install it and we can maintain it,” he says.
The company continued on its growth trajectory but Shalaby wasn’t totally satisfied. He knew there was more to managed services than client-server-based applications on a large scale. “It was still a crude way of doing it,” he says.
Within FSC, Shalaby had also developed Feenics, a cloud-based access control division. The platform was modeled after enterprise software that truly freed the user and allowed them to manage their data from anywhere — remotely but securely.
Shalaby sold FSC to integration giant Convergint Technologies in 2013, retaining Feenics as his passion project. He also took on a partner, Denis Hébert, with deep experience in the security industry, including a dozen years as the president of HID Global. With Feenics, Shalaby says he was finally able to realize some of his early visions of Security as a Service, using AWS (Amazon Web Services) as a backbone to deliver access control in the cloud to end users.
The approach to selling it was also different, since it relies on a recurring revenue model — something more closely associated with alarm monitoring than access control. It became a matter of re-educating the market, says Shalaby, adding that Feenics hired a consultant to help installers understand how to sell the concept.
Shalaby grew the Feenics brand for just over a decade, and ultimately sold the business to ACRE last year.
Shalaby says he truly values his time with the Feenics organization and now he’s ready for another venture. He isn’t revealing all the details yet, but is eager to move on to the next phase of his Security as a Service vision. “I love what I’m doing and I needed another challenge,” he says.
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