Mircom chief technology officer Jason Falbo, left, and CEO Mark Falbo walk through the companys corporate head office in Vaughan, Ont.
Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail
The doorman of a glass-and-steel office block faces a huge, wall-mounted intercom panel. The scene, from French filmmaker Jacques Tatis 1967 film Playtime, makes it impossible to talk about the business of building intercoms and alarm systems without smiling.
Lights flash across the intercom panel like a shooting gallery. Buzzers blare. An overamplified voice blurts out. Mr. Tati famously spoofed modern conveniences. The doorman whistles to himself in a dismissive, Gallic way.
Of course, the joke today is how quaint that all seems. The alarms and building-communication systems made by a handful of multinationals, including the smaller Vaughan, Ont.-based Mircom Group of Companies, are now exponentially more complicated. They tap into cloud servers, networks and wireless apps and can be monitored extensively on-site and even remotely. They effectively turn buildings into active, networking machines.
Story continues below advertisement
And this has forced Mircom and its competitors to branch far off from their original business.
"We were really hardware-centric for a long time. We would build the housings, the components, the circuit boards, the devices, and we would supply the hardware. But like most businesses, technology started to converge, says Mark Falbo, Mircoms president and chief executive officer.
It used to be just a hardwired system with wires running through a building. Now it might be tied into a network infrastructure, an internet infrastructure whereas before you would sell the equipment and be done with it.
Back in the 1960s, when electronic alarm and intercom systems were relatively new, Marks father Tony Falbo came to Toronto from Cosenza in southern Italy and was working for Mirtone, which made home intercoms that connected rooms like the kitchen to the living room or bedroom.
Mr. Falbo eventually became part-owner of the business as it branched into fire-detection and alarm equipment. The company was sold by a majority owner in 1988. After a short non-compete period, Mr. Falbo restarted Mircom, originally an intercom division within Mirtone. He took that division with him and grew it by designing and manufacturing an array of alarms, control panels and now software-based emergency systems. The company is currently run by Mr. Falbos three sons and has around 500 employees competing against the multinationals.
"The fire-detection part of the business is an oligopoly. Its dotted by five large companies Siemens, Honeywell, Johnson Controls and United Technologies Corp. And in Canada, its Mircom, says Mark, the oldest of the three sons. So, by rights, Mircom is the only company of its kind in Canada thats designing, engineering and manufacturing. We have the multinational competitors operating here, but Mircom thinks Canada first.
By that, he means a focus in particular on Canadian building codes. For instance, Canadian regulations tend to be geared more toward emergency crews getting immediate information when they arrive. Large LED panels and graphic displays in the lobby typically provide crisis information more readily than LCD control panels, which can involve scrolling through menus and are more common in the U.S.
Story continues below advertisement
But LED panels can take up a lot more space. So control panels are now morphing into software systems or, in industry jargon, single-pane-of-glass systems with computer and smartphone screens increasingly replacing control panels.
Now we're also using computer workstations, mobile apps and other interfaces to receive that information, says Jason Falbo, chief technology officer and the youngest brother. (The middle of the three brothers, Rick Falbo, manages sales and business development.) Workstations and control panels can be in development for five years or so given their complexity, and larger systems may have as much as four million lines of computer code.
Its a lot closer to an airplane control system. You cant even compare it to a lighting panel or something like that. Theyre hugely complex. Theyre beasts, Jason says.
This rampant technology has pushed the company to expand its product lines and services, although fire-alarm equipment remains around 60 per cent of the business. Fire-equipment servicing is around 15 to 20 per cent. The remainder is intercom and other automated systems. The privately owned company surpassed the nine-figure revenue mark a few years ago.
"Twenty years ago, youd have Mircom supplying the fire-detection equipment, the hardware and the parts that detect and the alarm. Maybe Honeywell would provide access control or intercom security solutions. And potentially Johnson Control would be doing your HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] controls. Thats how we went to market, Jason says. Now many of these systems are blending through software interfaces and mass notification systems.
Yet the company occupies the unusual niche of also being an original equipment manufacturer at times for its larger competitors, filling in gaps in those companies product lines. So, this oligopoly of an industry is a bit strange, in that everybody seems to be a competitor and customer and supplier to the others, Mark says.
At the same time, the move to software-based systems has created a fundamental shift in the entire industry.
I think the pivot from a focus on fire-detection and alarm hardware to more converged building technologies with a software focus is something that we as a family and as a company really need to deal with, Mark says. Its sometimes a cultural shift. Its an investment shift. Its a priorities shift.
Still, the convenience of integrated building systems also brings myriad complications. Fire alarm systems, for instance, have to remain within their own separate loop, safeguarded against the failure of other systems. However, information from the fire system can still be monitored by other platforms.
Mike Prsa, a principal and vice-president at engineering firm Mulvey and Banani International Inc. in Toronto, says common internet protocol is necessary for alarm systems to talk to other building systems and to tie into networks and apps.
They can be integrated, but only in a secondary viewing and annunciation purpose. So I can pull data from my fire alarm system and plug it into my building-intelligence platform for reporting purposes. But I cant command and control the fire alarm system through any other system besides itself, Mr. Prsa says.
Then theres the human factor. Advanced controls and elaborate circuitry are fine, but what if the building supervisor cant work them to their full potential?
Story continues below advertisement
One of the missing links that were finding is that building operators arent necessarily trained to analyze the data and understand what to do with it, says Marianne Touchie, an assistant professor at the University of Torontos Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.
The human element could be one of the most urgent aspects as building-communication and alarm systems become more complex. Mircom sees personal connections to customers as another inroad to compete against the larger multinationals, particularly as systems become more compatible with other systems.
Some of it is guerrilla business where you go in and do more, Mark says. We try to be a little bit less proprietary. We try not to lock people into our technology once they acquire our systems. We provide more choice and training in open platforms, he adds.
Because if the doorman or building staff cant figure out the system, then its of little use.
- How cloud is turning to be an effective tool for healthcare industry during Covid-19 - Express Computer - July 29th, 2020
- The pros and cons of moving to the cloud - Accounting Today - July 29th, 2020
- Veritas taps NetBackup as the beating heart of universal data management - Blocks and Files - July 29th, 2020
- The Style Of Cloud Networking In The Corporate Datacenter - The Next Platform - July 29th, 2020
- Storage skills in the age of the cloud and convergence - ComputerWeekly.com - July 29th, 2020
- Report: Despite Covid-19 disruption in 2020, data center capex poised to hit more than $200B over next five years - FierceTelecom - July 29th, 2020
- Ephesoft Releases New Version of Transact; Touts Time-to-Value of Cloud-based Document Processing Solution - PR Web - July 29th, 2020
- NAKIVO Backup & Replication v10 adds vSphere 7 support and other new features - Continuity Central - July 29th, 2020
- Is Application Awareness on the Cusp of a Renaissance? - Redmondmag.com - July 29th, 2020
- DH2i to Address How to Mitigate Microsoft SQL Server Costs Amidst Pandemic-Ravaged Budgets - PRNewswire - July 29th, 2020
- Charting the Massive Scale of the Digital Cloud - Visual Capitalist - July 14th, 2020
- The Interaction Between Identity Cloud and Akamai Edge Services - Security Boulevard - July 14th, 2020
- CHR, Microsoft partner on cloud and visibility - JOC.com - July 14th, 2020
- Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy on How the Cloud is Aiding Vaccine Development; Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that is Transforming... - July 14th, 2020
- Server Management Software Market 2020 Global Size, COVID 19 Outbreak, Segments, Growth and Trends by Forecast to 2023 - Cole of Duty - July 14th, 2020
- Tengxunyun.net.cn Is Now Among the Best Online Blogs That Cover Information Regarding Tencent Cloud Server Service - Press Release - Digital Journal - July 14th, 2020
- How Tencent is upping the ante on Asian rival Alibaba Cloud - TechHQ - July 14th, 2020
- Top 5 things to know about serverless computing - TechRepublic - July 14th, 2020
- Businesses That Need Cloud Services - Student Assembly of the State University of New York - July 14th, 2020
- An Army of Swipers: Dating in the Modern Age - Visual Capitalist - July 14th, 2020
- QNAPs AirPlay-enabled 2-Bay Cloud NAS falls to Amazon low at $239 (20% off) - 9to5Toys - July 14th, 2020
- Discover the Power of VUNO's AI Solutions at ECR 2020 - PRNewswire - July 14th, 2020
- Evaluate the top hybrid cloud providers - TechTarget - July 14th, 2020
- Why Businesses Are Implementing Edge Analytics in Their Line of Work - RTInsights - July 14th, 2020
- Get Off the Cloud With Start9's Private Internet Kit - CoinDesk - CoinDesk - July 14th, 2020
- Smart Education and Learning Market 2020 Global Size, Top Leaders, Analytical Overview, Business Growth, Sales Revenue and Forecast 2023 - Sports... - July 14th, 2020
- Windows PCs will have to follow Apples switch to ARM, says former Mac chief - 9to5Mac - July 14th, 2020
- Cloud Computing Server Market In-Depth Analysis, Drivers, Restraints, Opportunities, Threats, Latest Innovations, Applications, And Growth Forecast... - July 14th, 2020
- Smart Education and Learning Market 2020 Global Industry Size, Key Players Analysis, Business Growth, Regional Trends and Forecast 2023 - Daily... - July 14th, 2020
- How Tencent is bringing the storm clouds to arch-rival Alibaba - Tech Wire Asia - July 6th, 2020
- Unsecured servers leaked data of millions of users of dating sites and apps - TEISS - July 6th, 2020
- How Ather Energy is leveraging the Cloud to build and scale smart mobility solutions for India - YourStory - July 6th, 2020
- Nextcloud, the open source platform that allows you to install and configure your own personal cloud on a web server - Explica - July 6th, 2020
- The Chinese Government is Accessing YOUR Network Through the Backdoor and There Still is NO Place to Hide - China Law Blog - July 6th, 2020
- Scientific Thinking: Processes, methods, and approaches with reference to Deep Tech - Web Hosting | Cloud Computing | Datacenter | Domain News - Daily... - July 6th, 2020
- 5 Best VPNs to consider in 2020 - Techiexpert.com - TechiExpert.com - July 6th, 2020
- Huawei Rotating Chairman Highlights Practices and Prospects of 5G in Digital Transformation for Industries at GSMA Thrive - Al-Bawaba - July 5th, 2020
- AIOps and the evolution of IT infrastructure monitoring - IT Brief Australia - July 5th, 2020
- 360Quadrants Releases Top 10 Cloud Computing Software In 2020 edited by leading research firm - WhaTech Technology and Markets News - July 5th, 2020
- How to Watch Netflix With NordVPN: Does it Work in 2020 ? - Cloudwards - July 5th, 2020
- Migrating SaaS to Cloud: How to do it without disruption - Techiexpert.com - TechiExpert.com - July 4th, 2020
- SaaS Company OWNZONES is Keeping the Post-Production Industry in Motion During the Coronavirus Pandemic - Programming Insider - July 4th, 2020
- Huawei Rotating Chairman Highlights Practices and Prospects of 5G - MENAFN.COM - July 4th, 2020
- Cloud Server Market Research Report, Segment by Industry Player, Type, Application, Global Marketing Channel, and Region 2020-2025 - Cole of Duty - July 4th, 2020
- 5 Ways the Cloud Can Benefit Your Business During the Pandemic - Entrepreneur - July 4th, 2020
- Gulf economies to shrink by 7.6% this year, says IMF - Arab News - July 4th, 2020
- Hyperion Forecast Headwinds in 2020 Won't Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm's Rise - HPCwire - July 4th, 2020
- Intel Forced To Stop Supplying Chips To Chinese Inspur Cloud Server Manufacturer - Research Snipers - July 4th, 2020
- Cloud Infrastructure Market Size and Growth Analysis and Forecast To 2025 - Daily Research Chronicles - July 4th, 2020
- AIOps and the evolution of IT infrastructure monitoring - IT Brief New Zealand - July 4th, 2020
- The Global Virtualization in Industrial Automation Market is expected to grow by $ 216.39 mn during 2020-2024 progressing at a CAGR of 4% during the... - July 4th, 2020
- Boeing 737 MAX certification flight tests to begin - Arab News - July 4th, 2020
- Edge Computing Is A Red-Hot Tech Trend, Here's How To Invest in It - TheStreet - June 27th, 2020
- Docker servers infected with DDoS malware in extremely rare attacks - ZDNet - June 27th, 2020
- Nebulon emerges with software-defined storage, but from the cloud - ComputerWeekly.com - June 27th, 2020
- Ampere's New 128-Core Altra CPU Targets Intel, AMD In The Cloud - CRN: Technology news for channel partners and solution providers - June 27th, 2020
- Cloud IT Infrastructure Spending Continued to Grow in Q1 2020 While Spending on Non-Cloud Environments Saw Double-Digit Declines, According to IDC -... - June 27th, 2020
- Empowering Edge Cloud in the 5G & IoT Hyper-Connected Era - insideHPC - June 27th, 2020
- Ampere's 128-Core Processor Challenges Intel and AMD in a Cloud-Based Processor Showdown - News - All About Circuits - June 27th, 2020
- This Ransomware Campaign is Being Orchestrated from the Cloud - Computer Business Review - June 27th, 2020
- Ad industry spots money in the cloud | Industry Trends | IBC - IBC365 - June 27th, 2020
- Want to work at Microsoft? Dice.com looks at top jobs, skills the tech giant is looking for - OnMSFT - June 27th, 2020
- The Winston-Salem Symphony Announces Newly Elected Directors - Yes! Weekly - June 27th, 2020
- The Best VPNs for Businesses and Teams - PCMag.com - June 27th, 2020
- NexTech AR Solutions tie-up with Fastly cloud platform leads to video security breakthrough - Proactive Investors USA & Canada - June 27th, 2020
- Moving to the cloud: Migrating Blazegraph to Amazon Neptune - idk.dev - June 27th, 2020
- Cloud-Based Automation Is a Reality; Now What? - Radio World - Radio World - June 27th, 2020
- How Azure, AWS, Google handle data destruction in the cloud - TechTarget - June 27th, 2020
- AMD EPYC Processor Adoption Expands with New Supercomputing and High-Performance Cloud Computing System Wins - GlobeNewswire - June 27th, 2020
- What it Means To Be Software-Defined in Retail and How We Got Here - Retail Info Systems News - June 27th, 2020
- Cloud Storage Market 2020: Challenges, Growth, Types, Applications, Revenue, Insights, Growth Analysis, Competitive Landscape, Forecast- 2025 - Cole... - June 27th, 2020
- Why This Cloud ETF Can Keep up its Torrid Pace - ETF Trends - June 20th, 2020
- FaceApp Privacy: What You Need To Know About The Viral Russian App - Forbes - June 20th, 2020
- Cloud flash storage: SSD options from AWS, Azure and GCP - ComputerWeekly.com - June 20th, 2020
- Could the European Cloud Deliver Data Protection by Default? - CPO Magazine - June 20th, 2020
- Private Cloud Server Market How the Business Will Grow in 2026? - Cole of Duty - June 20th, 2020
- How to Profit from the Growing Divide in Tech Stocks. - Barron's - June 20th, 2020
- Cloud Computing in Education Sector Market Size, Growth, Analysis, Outlook by 2019 Trends, Opportunities and Forecast to 2025 - Medic Insider - June 20th, 2020
- Lenovo announces ThinkSystem SR860 V2 and SR850 V2 servers - Gadgets Now - June 20th, 2020
- Here are 8 career options that are least impacted by recessions - Business Standard - June 20th, 2020