In 2001, Sommer worked for a German aerospace company that designed aircraft black boxes utilizing video. But the 9-11 tragedies took a significant toll on the aircraft industry and by 2002, Sommer found himself unemployed. The company closed its American office in San Antonio, Tex., and Sommer moved back to Toronto and into his mother’s basement.
Sommer faced further rejection when York University’s Schulich School of Business rejected his application, but rather than wallow in his misfortune, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Using money borrowed from friends and family, Sommer set up his company, UCIT Online
, in 2003, when security “was very much an analogue world.”
For the first few years, Sommers operated the business by himself from his mother’s basement. “It was all cold calls and meeting on customers’ sites.”
Sommer hired his first full-time installer, his brother, in 2006. “We quickly beefed up with more employees after that.” Sommer opened a Mississauga office in 2007, then acquired the office space next door to set up a monitoring centre. He now has a staff of more than 40 employees.
The ideal customer for Sommer is anyone who is spending money on security guards. Monitored cameras can replace guards in certain situations, he says. “With things going from analogue to digital, it made it possible to monitor cameras remotely. It just came from the idea where you’ve got a guard inside a building watching tons of cameras. Why not do it over the Internet in a single building watching multiple sites?”
The condominium industry is a major source of clientele, says Sommer. Much of the time, particularly on night shifts, guards don’t have a lot to do, he says; keeping an eye on the building can be accomplished with strategically placed cameras.
Sommer’s employees can also buzz in tenants, open and close doors, and accept packages from couriers.
Through the adoption of UCIT technology, Sommer says his clients have been able to cut costs. Monitored cameras have allowed them to reduce or eliminate guard shifts and in some cases lower condo fees.
Another key client for Sommer is the construction industry. The rise in copper theft has caused the industry to take a closer look at its security options, and Sommer’s monitored solution has proven to be a good fit.
UCIT frequently works with police and supplies footage that can be used as evidence. Sommer says that UCIT technology has resulted in two arrests a week. “We could literally have a TV show with all the footage we have.”
Sommer says he uses a lot of Axis Communications cameras for UCIT installs, making the company one of the largest Axis resellers in Canada. In 2007, UCIT earned Axis’s Canadian Integrator of the Year Award.
UCIT uses its own software tools for monitoring: the DETEXI video management solution, developed by the Canadian Network Systems Group.
Originally written in 1999 as a POS solution, DETEXI now provides live, real-time event recording or the option to automatically archive files for later review. Pre alarm buffering and on/off site storage provide the user with a protected record of the recorded event.
UCIT has been working with DETEXI since 2006. Sommer was introduced to Canadian Network Systems Group at a trade show while he was picking up Axis equipment. “The guy said, ‘Well what kind of software are you using?’ I thought I’d just use the Axis software, but (Canadian Network Systems Group) showed me their software and that’s how it started.”
In March 2010, UCIT bought the Canadian Network Systems Group and the DETEXI brand. UCIT now has three full time developers working on the software, which Sommer says is customizable to fit most clients’ requirements.
According to Sommer, UCIT now has three major revenue streams: the monitoring business, which provides the company with recurring monthly revenue; equipment installation and maintenance; and software licensing.
Hundreds of end users have rolled out DETEXI on a third party basis, and the software is being sold into the U.S. market through the channel under the brand name DETEXI Eagle Eye. UCIT also has two monitoring centre clients in the Netherlands using DETEXI software.
Sommer wouldn’t disclose his annual revenues, but says his recurring monthly revenue for the month of August was $409,000. In fact, he claims to be one of the largest monitoring centres in North America based on RMR.
He says he has been able to grow the company simply by making cold calls, then demonstrating the technology. Most of UCIT’s clients are in the Greater Toronto Area but it also has clientele in Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, B.C. and Aberta. Sommer says he would like to grow geographically — push into the United States and increase his footprint in Western Canada.
He has no ambitions to move into other aspects of security technology, preferring to focus on the video monitoring market. “There’s a million people doing access control,” he says.
This year, UCIT was named to Profit Magazine’s list of Canada’s 100 fastest growing companies. Sommer acknowledges there are competitors in his midst — large security companies that are making strides in the growing video monitoring market — but he isn’t concerned, saying that his software and technology has had plenty of time to mature. “We can still run circles around them,” he says.