Vancouver Island integrator corners the market
By Peter Caulfield
Mark Aussem, president of Alberni Technology Solutions Inc. (ATS) in the small Vancouver Island city of Port Alberni, established his technology consulting and security company in 2008. Today, only two-and-a-half years later, ATS is busy providing customers located up and down the Island with a variety of products and services.
By Peter Caulfield
One reason for the company’s success is that Aussem (pronounced “awesome”) is a stickler for quality and strives to be the best in his line of work. But another reason is surely his decision to relocate from the small town of Smithers, in northern British Columbia, to Port Alberni, where he has had the security and communications market pretty much to himself.
“We have very little competition,” Aussem says. “There are other companies on the Island that do security and technology integration, but none have technicians near Port Alberni.”
Aussem describes ATS as technology consultants to businesses and other organizations.
“We give advice on how to use technology for a better customer, employee and bottom-line experience,” Aussem says. “I started off doing consulting only, but there was nobody in Port Alberni to provide and maintain the services I recommended, so I started doing that, too.”
Aussem says ATS focuses on technology first and security second.
“Our security solutions are integrated with the other technology solutions we provide,” Aussem says. “Because everything these days works on Cat 5 or Cat 6 cable, we can run security and other communications technologies together. An increasing number of security solutions are integrated with other automation technologies and are available on a network.”
Aussem says he entered the security market recently.
“We looked for a suitable partner in the Port Alberni area, but we couldn’t find one,” he says. “So we decided to do it ourselves.”
In Spring 2011, AST became a dealer for SecurTek, the monitoring subsidiary of SaskTel.
“We’re the second SecurTek dealer in British Columbia,” Aussem says. “Our company looks after installation and service on Vancouver Island.”
Alberni has 40 security clients, of whom 85 percent are commercial and 15 percent are residential. (The non-security portion of ATS is almost entirely commercial.)
The security services that ATS provides are surveillance, access control and network security, with surveillance services the company’s biggest seller at the moment.
In the future, Aussem says, more and more customers will want a surveillance system that is bundled with other automation systems and that can be programmed and monitored by a smart phone.
“It’s affordable and good for the alarm business,” Aussem says. “Many people don’t see the value of stand-alone alarm systems anymore.”
In addition to security integration, ATS offers a raft of other communication-related products and services, many of which are not offered by similar companies operating in bigger cities. Some examples: The company is an agent for Bell Mobility and TV; it builds and upgrades computers and networks; and it sells FlashFog, a fog-and-strobe-light supplement to a burglar alarm that, ATS says, can drive off burglars in less than 20 seconds.
In addition, ATS is the Vancouver Island agent for Acura Embedded Systems, which designs and manufactures ruggedized mobile computers and touch screen monitors. It is the B.C. distributor for Xplornet Satellite Internet Services (used by, for example, logging camps, remote construction sites and fish farms). And it builds and installs communication towers.
ATS has a number of high-profile local clients, including the City of Port Alberni, the port authority, the fire department, the regional district, the local RCMP detachment, the chamber of commerce and the Port Alberni campus of North Island College.
“The city was our first client in Port Alberni and I picked up some other big customers immediately afterward,” Aussem says. “As a result, it didn’t take long for other government organizations in the area to hear about us.”
ATS has six full-time and three part-time employees.
“I seem to spend most of my time these days hiring and training,” Aussem says. “We’re the best and we want to stay that way. To do that, we need to maintain our standards.”
The company has customers all over Vancouver Island, from Port Hardy in the north to Sidney (near Victoria) in the south, although its single biggest concentration of business is the Port Alberni area. Aussem says business has been so good, in fact, that he is planning to open a new office soon.
“Most likely the new office will be in Campbell River, which is the most northerly community of any size on Vancouver Island,” he says.
Aussem seems to have timed his arrival in Port Alberni right. The economic fortunes of Vancouver Island, like much of British Columbia outside of Victoria and Greater Vancouver, are cyclical, and Port Alberni has been growing recently, following an earlier collapse of the salmon fishery.
“Younger people are starting to return to Port Alberni,” Aussem says. “They’re attracted by the local business opportunities, the outdoor life-style and the inexpensive cost of housing. I expect the trend expected to continue, as Port Alberni’s reputation in the rest of British Columbia changes.”