Federal Signal in Midst of Change …
John Van Horn
“Federal Signal is evolving into a provider of total-system solutions that enhance public safety, security and well-being.” This is how David R. McConnaughey, President of Federal Signal’s Safety and Security Systems group began an interview at the company’s global headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. “My goal is to accelerate that transformation.”
Dave envisions bringing the many businesses that fall under his leadership, one of which is Federal APD, together to share data, technology and other resources to enable new comprehensive solutions to meet customer’s increased needs for safety, security and well-being.
“To begin, we formed an advisory board with members across all the markets we cover. This 10-person group has become a personal ‘think tank’ for me. It meets periodically and helps us to align the technology we have and provides insights into technology we need.”
According to McConnaughey, Federal Signal is in a buying mode. It is seeking out technology companies that are a “fit” with its existing divisions. “For instance, we just completed the purchase of PIPS Technology. This is a CCTV/Video technology company that blends perfectly with our companies that provide security products to industry, municipalities and universities, and, of course, parking through its License Plate Recognition (LPR) software.
“If you look across the Federal Signal product line, you will see a lot of companies with differing pieces of the same pie covering the safety, security and well-being of people. Whether they live in a community, are going to a college or university, or work in a building or a factory, our products touch them daily.
“Look, we make fire engines, light bars for emergency and police vehicles, communications equipment, networked security systems, parking control systems, emergency lighting – virtually every type of technology used by our customers to serve and protect their customers.
“What we do, we do well,” McConnaughey said. “But when we stepped back and looked at the individual products, we realized that we didn’t have a complete application. We needed to pull the products together. We did that last year with the purchase of Codespear.”
“Consider the problem,” interjected Michael Wons, a Federal Vice President and its Chief Information Officer. “We work with fire departments, police departments, sheriff’s departments, hospitals, Homeland Security, city emergency services, parking operations, but we found that it was seldom if ever that all these organizations could communicate with one another. It was a huge problem on 9/11. Fire and police were talking on different bands, on differing technology.
“Codespear solves that problem,” Wons said. “It’s a software platform that serves as a coordinator and translator so differing technologies can talk to one another. Before Codespear, to get the police, fire, emergency and services organizations to interact, you would have had to replace the technology in all but one of the different organizations. That was nearly impossible. Forget the cost; think about trying to get many differing jurisdictions to decide on a single source. This [Codespear] technology makes the problem go away,” Wons said.
The Codespear platform sits between all the different communications and data technologies and the needs of the community. Communications and data come in on one side and are routed to exactly where they are needed. It could be something as simple as sending LPR information to the police or parking facility count data to the intelligent transportation systems signage, to the coordination of a massive relief effort after a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
“We have the platform running in a number of communities across the country. Wayne County (Detroit), MI, and Phoenix Sky Harbor airport are two, Wons added.
“What’s really neat,” said the former Microsoft lead technology strategist as he opened his computer and entered a couple of commands, “is that we can input individual phone, fax, email, and instant message addresses for literally millions of people in a given area. Then when there is need to contact them, say in the event of a tornado or other imminent disaster, we can send out instructions and life saving information.”
Wons then hit send, and in a few seconds his cellphone and those of McConnaughey and their assistant rang, and a preprogrammed message was received.
“The system can be preprogrammed to send information to different groups depending on the situation,” Wons said. “But most important, it can take data and communications from virtually any source and protocol and translate it into any other protocol.”
Asked whether this didn’t’ keep some customers from purchasing Federal’s other products to replace those that couldn’t communicate, McConnaughey smiled.
“Our vision is more long term. If we can put this platform in place and allow, say, all parking systems in a community or for a particular parking operator to interact, we are building an ongoing relationship. Then when the time comes to replace old or outdated equipment, we are there.”
“We are building on Microsoft’s ‘open architecture’ concept,” said Wons. “We want our customers – from a parking operator to Homeland Security – to be able to tie into and use the platform. It’s designed so the customer can host the software, or a third party or us. It has to fit.”
“I can’t say it often enough,” McConnaughey said. “Federal Signal is transitioning into a company that is a leader in our field. We have most of the tools and are acquiring the rest that we need. We may invest in one company and purchase another outright. But it must fit into our vision. We advance the safety, security and well-being of people.”
Venture capital expert Dan Needham, who has been advising Federal Signal on its acquisitions, sat in the corner during the meeting. “This is a textbook case of a company reinventing itself through painstaking research and careful, focused, acquisitions,” Needham said. “There will be more to come …”
You can reach PT Editor John Van Horn at email@example.com. Federal Signal’s web site is www.federalsignal.com.
Article Abstract from October, 2007