Q&A: Kevin Allison, President, Fire Monitoring of Canada
Fire Monitoring of Canada (FMC) is a St. Catharines, Ont.-based business with offices across the province serving customers across Canada.
FMC operates a ULC-listed monitoring facility and offers a range of services including fire and security monitoring, fire inspections and systems integration.
SP&T recently spoke with Kevin Allison, FMC’s president, about the company’s experiences during the pandemic, the lessons it can take forward and how the security industry overall has managed to survive, and in some cases thrive, during a difficult 15 months.
SP&T News: What has been your experience of the pandemic as a security service provider?
Kevin Allison: Our industry is luckier than most — we have been deemed essential. I think customers recognize that. From our perspective, during the first part of the lockdown, a year ago versus where we are now…it was a lot different.
There was a lot of uncertainty with the pandemic, what we can and can’t do, the lack of PPE, things like that really impacted people’s ability to work and our ability to get stuff done.
In 2020, a lot of our installation work was either put on hold or shut down. A lot of suppliers had problems getting product, so we had to really manoeuvre our schedule a lot to build around those projects. It allowed us to catch up on our service queue during that time.
Once we came out of that first lockdown around May, a lot of our customers became more PPE equipped and more adept with social distancing and mask-wearing — they became more comfortable with us doing work throughout the various forms of lockdowns that we’ve gone through.
We’ve been able to outfit our own people with PPE and get testing done that allows us to maintain safe working environments. I think the other thing that we realized during that first lockdown was that it was really a chance for us to re-set a little bit and review our processes — how we were going about completing installations and service calls and inspections. And how we’re communicating internally to our own people and externally to our customers. [The time] allowed us to refine our communication to customers and improve on what we were doing. I think now we’re seeing the benefit. [It was] half a step back to take two steps forward.
Obviously there’s room for improvement. It’s a ongoing, refining process all the time. Hopefully when we emerge from [the pandemic] we can come out with a better set of processes in place.
SP&T: FMC acquired Bulldog Fire & Security about three years ago. How has that integration been for you?
KA: I think with any acquisition, you always have challenges, but overall, it’s been positive for us. It’s been great working with the people at Bulldog. We operate as one organization now. A large majority of our sales now are turning into those integration opportunities because we have the experience with it.
It’s not just customers calling us and saying, “Hey I want an integrated security system,” it’s taking an opportunity, whether it’s fire monitoring or cameras or card access systems, and having our sales people work in a consultative way with our customers to build on those ideas that the customer might have. It’s a consultative approach; it’s not “This is what I have,” it’s “What are your needs?” We work with customers to make their systems work for them.
SP&T: Have you been able to continue installing systems while in some cases buildings might be empty during the pandemic?
KA: We have had those opportunities present themselves. If customers have fewer people in the building, because a lot people are working from home, they recognize [they] can move forward with an idea. I think people have recognized that if they don’t have a lot of people [in the building], they do need to secure the space.
SP&T: What are your greatest recurring revenue opportunities today?
KA: With acquiring Bulldog, part of their business was the fire alarm business — installations, upgrades and annual inspections. It’s a natural fit for us and a growth opportunity.
Certified fire alarm monitoring continues to be a growth opportunity for us. We can provide a faster response time to various communities throughout the province.
We’re really looking towards building more RMR out of the systems we provide, whether it’s something like Hattrix [hosted access control], Alarm.com…there are RMR opportunities with cameras, whether that’s health monitoring, environmental monitoring and things like that.
Particularly when people aren’t in the building everyday, finding those opportunities to [remind customers] that we can provide those services for you. You can building recurring revenue growth but also help the customers at the same time. Fully integrated systems is an area where we really want to grow, and build more RMR opportunities from those.
SP&T: Are there any lessons you can take away from the last year and apply to the future?
KA: We couldn’t have done what we’re doing now without our people. They have been fantastic in terms of adapting.
We’ve had to make a lot of adaptations to how we work and we how operate. I definitely appreciate all our people and their ability to really adapt to a really difficult situation.
We were pretty lucky in that many years ago we transitioned a ton of what we do to digital. Our technicians don’t use paper in the field, our sales people are able to work remotely — we’re able to do a little more internal integration, whether that is our service and sales departments, so they can work together remotely.
Several years ago, we made that transition. That’s one area that I think [the security industry] could work on.
Even with us, there’s still areas for us to improve. The ability for our technicians to work independently with accountability so they’re not reliant on coming into the shop every day [unless] there’s a need for them to pick up parts for a job. They’ve had to work a little bit more remotely than they’ve had to [previously].
That involves working a little bit more with our suppliers, and more communication back and forth to make sure we’re being as efficient as possible.
Also [communicating] more with customers and what they can provide to us ahead of time, so there isn’t as much on-site coordination. That level of coordination so you make everything as seamless as possible…working with the customer and having good communication so they understand what they need to provide and what we’re going to provide.