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“People are realising cloud providers have very good cyber protection”: Joe Grillo on Vanderbilt and ACT

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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.
August 21, 2018


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(Pictured: ACT365)

ACRE LLC founder Joe Grillo recently made our Security and Fire Influencers list for the third year running and topped the rankings in 2016.

Grillo has a strong track record of growing, acquiring and restructuring businesses in the security sector. He oversaw the management buyout of HID from Hughes Aircraft/General Motors in 1995, later managed acquisitions for ASSA ABLOY and then, via the vehicle of ACRE LLC, oversaw the capture of Mercury Security and Siemens Security Products.

IFSEC Global caught up with Grillo at IFSEC 2018 on the stand of another of his most notable acquisitions, Vanderbilt Industries, snapped up when it was called Schlage SMS in 2012.

Grillo, described in his influencers nomination as “one of the top security professionals in the business”, reflected on Vanderbilt’s recent wins in the European market, long-term strategy and the merits of one of its recent acquisitions, cloud-based access control developer ACT.

IFSEC Global: What are your key messages at IFSEC and this year generally?

Joe Grillo: A lot of important product enhancements. It’s been a year and a half since we acquired the ACT business and we’re doing a lot with that. The ACT products are becoming fundamental to our access control product line.

ACT’s primary market share is in Ireland and the UK. We’re rolling out multiple languages so we can sell the ACT enterprise product more broadly throughout Europe. Additionally, we’re working on a lot of enhancements to the ACT365 cloud-based product to meet the needs of the small to medium business market.

We’re also featuring a new line of wireless detectors for our SPC intruder alarm product line. This provides a deepening of the intrusion portfolio and expands our reach into low end commercial very effectively.

IG: Is there much competition in the cloud-based access control arena?

It’s growing. We see different things on both sides of the pond and several companies jumping into the ring to offer more cloud-based solutions.

More importantly, we are seeing a growing acceptance in the market; and within the reseller community, the notion that cloud-based systems are appropriate for some portion of the end-user application.

The cloud is a big part of future growth – not just for us but the whole industry

And we’ve always had a cloud-based solution for which installers can manage SPC intrusion systems. So we now have intrusion and access control cloud-based solutions. That’s a big part of future growth – not just for us but the whole industry.

So what qualities do you think helped ACT365 win the money-saving products award in Buildings Magazine recently?

ACT365 doesn’t require capital expenditure; it’s just a very reasonable operating expense – a very affordable price of X dollars per door. We don’t set that price; our resellers do.

I think that’s what makes it a cost-effective solution for a lot of end users. Not the biggest, enterprise type customers, but small to medium systems.

If you need a small system, you don’t need management time and attention, because you don’t have a server. The ACT365 solution is in the cloud and managed that way.

It has high reliability. People are realising that cloud service providers have very good cyber protection.

How has business been going in the European market?

We’ve had some good wins. One of our most famous customers for the cloud-based system is the Lawn Tennis Association, which manages all the reservations for access to the courts.

It’s not as much of a security and access control-based solution, but the system is flexible enough that we can provide the customer with this solution in a new way. You book online, it’s all managed in the cloud, and you just show up and get in.

We’ve always done well in the financial community

We’ve had a lot of success in retail environments. Lidl has become a big customer of ours. In a number of countries they’ve been consistently specifying our intrusion alarm product.

We’ve always done well in the financial community with a number of banks, like Santander in Spain.

What’s ACRE’s medium to long-term strategy? More acquisitions perhaps?

ACRE owns ComNet as well. Last October we divested of our Mercury Security subsidiary, so we’re in a good position to begin to explore getting back on the acquisition trail to see what we can buy that will add to our overall strategy and complement the ACRE brand and the brands that are already a part of our family.

We will continue to also foster organic growth in emerging markets such as Asia-Pacific and the Middle East that are a little bit less mature, but have booming economies.

From the organic growth side, we’re always acquisitive to find the right target company at the right price.

IG: Finally, you made our influencers list again. How has being part of ACRE and Vanderbilt helped you become and stay influential?

Well, it’s an honour, and I appreciate it. A lot of it is that if you’re around long enough, you hopefully can have some influence.

I have a big network and have had the chance to get to know a lot of people in security and the technology industry as a whole.

I think the acquisition of the Siemens business, while it was three years ago now it really put Vanderbilt on the map in Europe. It was a big deal.

It was a lot of work to put that in position but that’s a big part of it. It gave us a significant amount of visibility as a company, which we didn’t necessarily have before.

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