“We’re much more flexible now”: Zak Doffman on delisting Digital Barriers

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Adam Bannister is a contributor to IFSEC Global, having been in the role of Editor from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam also had stints as a journalist at cybersecurity publication, The Daily Swig, and as Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
December 5, 2017


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The management of Digital Barriers, a security vendor with a strong heritage in the defence industry, recently completed a management buyout of the company with the help of Volpi Capital.

The remainder of the business remains a public limited company under the new name – based on the ThruVis scanning equipment it retains – of ThruVision PLC.

We caught up with Zak Doffman, CEO of Digital Barriers, to find out what prompted the buyout, what it means for customers and the expected direction of travel under private ownership.

IFSEC Global: What prompted the recent MBO?

Zak Doffman: I think there was a recognition that there were two separate companies ‘under the hood’. [There was] a video-centric software business with a strong opportunity to build on direct sales with government, security and defence agencies with a host of exciting licencing and embedded-channel opportunities.

Then we have the ThruVis business, which is hardware [based] and a completely different type of opportunity. Trying to run the two businesses together was becoming difficult because their profiles were so different.

The management team wanted to buy out the video business because it’s software-based and sells into dozens of countries around the world with all kinds of opportunities in adjacent sectors.

In doing so, we have this opportunity to work with partners we’ve [already] got as well as a bunch of new partners around how we can use our software to better power what they’re doing.

What we’ve also done is focus the business on three unique areas, which weren’t as clear before the MBO.

IG: For anyone unfamiliar with those three technologies, can you give us a brief outline?

ZD: Firstly, We have EdgeVis Live, our world-class streaming technology. No one else on the planet can stream live video at seven or eight kilobits per second and we’re the only people who can get live video reliably off body-worn cameras or in vehicle cameras.

And we’re now starting to talk for the first time about how we might licence this capability out to other technology providers.

Our second area of expertise is video analytics. Our SafeZone solution enables the likes of AXIS perimeter defender and has been adopted by a host of other providers.

Essentially, it is edge-enabled analytics on a camera, a box attached to a camera, or sitting in the cloud. Again, we’re building up how that can be part of broader solutions.

We’re seeing incredible traction – everyone is talking about facial recognition now

Finally, the solution we talk most about is facial recognition. We reengineered an entire facial recognition engine to focus on what we call non-conformant facial recognition – ie face recognition that can pick out a face from a crowd of people in contrast to conformant facial recognition, where the subject has to be staring directly into the camera, like airport passport control.

We’ve worked to get that technology onto body-worn cameras, smartphones, in-vehicle cameras like dash cams, CCTV, and in the cloud. We’re seeing incredible traction – everyone is talking about facial recognition now.

IG: Can customers expect their relationship with Digital Barriers to change in any way?

ZD: Only in a positive way. Bringing these technologies together has already being requested of us.

We had, going back a year or so, started to look at taking broad-scale analytics and combining it with EdgeVis, so you can run the analytics over the air and configure your camera over the air, for example. Our latest generation of encoders will be able to manage that.

But now what people really want is this combination of EdgeVis streaming and facial recognition. So we’ve brought those two technologies together, such that I can run an exceptionally lightweight, remote and mobile, video solution with live facial recognition.

And in both instances ‘live’ is the key. I’m not waiting to get a DVR back to a police station or HQ or to update a watch list; I can do the whole thing in real time.

That’s what our existing customers are now starting to get, and a raft of now solutions around vehicles and body worn camera around that.

That will continue to be the focus of what we do. What is different – and it won’t impact existing customers – is we’re now engaging with dozens of potential channel and licencing partners to see how elements of our software can be an ingredient capability [within third-party platforms]. We’ve been working at that for about a year now.

We recently announced a transportation-facial recognition integration. You can expect a succession of similar announcements over the coming months.

IG: In what ways will becoming a private company change how you do business?

ZD: It’s clearly completely different to being a listed company, where everything is in the public domain.

We set out – and this is important to me – to be a disruptive company. We want to put technologies onto the market that outcompete existing solutions and give customers real choice and the ability to do more.

I think our ability to do that, to be a disruptive player, is now significantly enhanced.

We’ve got the freedom to operate without continually answering questions about performance against public market forecasts

We’ve got the freedom to operate without continually answering questions about performance against public market forecasts, and without everything being in the public domain. What you find as a listed company is you go down a certain path and have to deliver against it because those are the expectations that are set publically. Now we’re much more commercially flexible.

IG: I guess you can more easily take risks?

ZD: Clearly we’ve taken risks in the past. It’s more about focus and management of time, and the ability to engage without having to concern ourselves about what you said to the market six months ago.

You can really adapt and react to an incredibly fast-changing market environment.

IG: You have some strong views on the body-worn camera market…

ZD: We think the market having gone with the record-only data warehousing solution is wrong. We feel that’s the first generation of body-worn and we’re already starting to see the market looking for generation two, which has to offer real life operational capabilities.

We’re seeing live streaming increasingly referenced in specifications and tenders. And now we’ve added live facial recognition to that.

When members of the public have a greater ability to stream live than police officers, it’s just not a healthy place to find ourselves

I think the dynamics of Facebook Live and Periscope, where members of the public have a greater ability to stream live than police officers, is just not a healthy place to find ourselves. And when you add facial recognition into the mix – I’ve been taken aback by just how game-changing customers are finding that capability.

You can turn an evidence management tool into something that completely changes your ability to police on the frontline. Of everything we’re doing right now, that’s the really exciting one I think. We have an opportunity to disrupt and revolutionise the body-worn market.

IG: This technology is evolving so fast, and the public-sector procurement process so slow, that one can easily see why body-worn solutions being introduced to front-line officers are already out of date…

ZD: Yes. And it feels like it’s being shaped by market-leading vendors around evidence management. But now we’re starting to see guys on the front line asking how it can enhance their operational capabilities.

On the evidence management side I think the case is unproven: you see reports saying it’s good and reports saying it’s not. What’s clearly proven is the ability of officers to have eyes on what they’re seeing, to [enhance] command and control.

It’s not just live streaming in body-worn that’s an issue – it’s the ability to access recordings too. So if an incident happened 10 seconds or 10 minutes ago, I should be able to get that footage back to command and control there and then. Command and control should then be able to disseminate that information to officers on the ground.

We’re providing that ability. With the senior police officers we engage around the world, once they understand that’s on the table, it’s very hard for them to justify buying a record-only solution. It doesn’t make any sense.

I think we’re at the very beginning of a shift in the body-worn camera market.

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