True Story: How to successfully manage a dedicated team
In this hyper-connected world, security issues are becoming more and more important for businesses of all sizes. Consistently following best practices for the protection of confidential information or the security of office buildings is an absolute must.
The key to having the right security strategy in place is to outline all the possible risks and weak points in order to create a comprehensive program.
One of our clients, Brivo, enables real-time access control for commercial and residential buildings. Serving over ten million users globally, Brivo’s cloud-based platform covers all major security needs: visitor management and identification, video surveillance, elevator control and much more.
We recently spoke with Brivo’s VP of Product, Tanya Zimmerli, and Chief Software Architect Gregory Lloyd on what it’s like to provide a robust user experience in the real estate industry using dedicated teams. And here is what we’ve learned.
The history of your company goes back to 1999 when the term “cloud” didn’t even exist and now you’re a leading cloud-based security company. Could you share some insights on how did it all start?
Gregory: The first product was called the Smart Box, which was basically a physical box that people put on their front porch for deliveries. It was using cell networks.
Tanya: The whole idea is that if you have a delivery person come and leave a fairly valuable package, you don’t want it sitting on your front door. So you have this box that somebody could leave something in and the only way to open the box will be a card key. But at the time there wasn’t really a demand for that because Amazon was not big. But now people do this all the time. There is Amazon Locker and Amazon Key which are essentially just like Smart Box.
Some time later we realized that an office is essentially a big box which you can open with the card key. So we developed the Smart Box in the cloud. Speaking in 2018 terms back in 2000, it was a SaaS service for physical access control. But at that time, nobody was using cloud-based services to do that. We repositioned and started selling this physical access control.
That was a new concept to be able to utilize the internet instead of having an on-premise access control system. It took a long time for people who want access control systems to be comfortable going to the internet.
Could you tell us a bit about your clients and who is your main target audience?
Tanya: Anybody who needs access control. Traditionally, it’s been small businesses. More and more we’re moving into larger businesses who have more sophisticated needs. When we started it was really about letting people in. Now we're seeing more integrations like video and more expectations that our solution should be used partly for letting someone in and partly to control access to the space. A newer place for us is multi-unit buildings primarily in metropolitan areas like in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.
The residential market must be very competitive, right?
Tanya: We’re not working with the residents so much, although we do have Brivo Air Pass which is essentially a card key on your phone. We’re working with property management companies so we’re very much a B2B company.
Our clients need to have a different set of features because it's about administration, it’s about auditing, it’s about being able to do investigations based on an event of somebody stealing five laptops out of your IT inventory. So we feel like we’re uniquely positioned for the sophisticated needs.
The other thing is that our platform is very scalable. For us, adding a hundred doors or a thousand doors it's not a big deal. A client can come to us and say “Hey I have 50 stores across six states and I want to add 3 doors at each of the 50 stores” And we’re like “150 doors, no problem, we’ll set you up.” And many of our competitors can't say that because their infrastructure isn’t set up to scale the way we are.
I guess this tailored experience is impossible without a strong engineering team. What was your biggest challenge when you started looking for a development partner? What difficulties did you face?
Tanya: We’re maybe a little unique in that. We have a number of businesses who use our API to develop their own solutions. One of those businesses is Carson Living. They have been using iTechArt for a while and were very happy with you. They said: “You have to use iTechArt if you’re looking for somebody. Use iTechArt.”
Gregory: I think they said “You’re looking for somebody. And you must find them at iTechArt.”
Tanya: So it was really a referral based on very glowing references from Carson Living. And we’ve essentially started a pilot project that was fairly straightforward. We had a really great experience and now we're expanding.
Did you work with dedicated teams before?
Tanya: It’s been really important for us to work with a company who is setting up a team as if it was one of our internal ones. It needs to be external but follow the same process and be able to integrate into our environment. We actually tried to start with another vendor who didn't work in this way and it was just too difficult for us to manage. A really important factor for us in the success of the relationship with iTechArt is that we can actually work using the process that's very similar to what we use internally.
Gregory: The model the other contractors offered wasn’t a good model. When we were asking them to build something or wanted to test something, they were like “Hold on” and came back to us with a new contract. It's just too hard to work with someone when you have to deal with contract negotiations everytime you want to do something a little different.
And what experience were you looking for? What does the ideal team look like for you?
Gregory: We wanted a team that would work in an agile way without having to specify everything upfront. We literally were like “We want this thing integrated with our API. Can you do it?” We were looking for a company that would work with us on what you're going to do first and actually helps us to build a plan rather than expecting us or need me as the architect to spec the whole thing out.
So it was like a team that didn’t need constant hand-holding?
Tanya: Yeah, a team that can define their own direction and work on the solution rather than always needing to be told exactly how they should build everything.
I would say that’s one of the things that made the first project successful and allowed us to be ready to engage with other projects. It's both that autonomy and trust. We trust that the product we get from you is at that same high level of quality as if it had been developed internally. Back to the process, if you spec everything out and then the team goes off and builds it themselves, you don't really know what they've built. It could be really great or it could be riddled with issues that you don't know until six months later. Then you try to make a change and you will be like, “Oh my gosh! Why did they do it this way?” Because we're using the same process as we use internally, I feel like we really trust the products that came out of it.
Gregory: We were very involved in building it. You know, like watching the pull request and looking at the code as it was being built, so we could easily give feedback early before it's been completely built.
Tanya: It’s been collaborative. Working with you, we have a nice balance: the iTechArt team is fairly autonomous in terms of being able to make their own decisions, recommendations and investigations, but at the same time, when they need us and they are looking for some business-critical decisions, we have a good level of communication and collaboration. It’s just the same level as if they were an internal team.
Gregory: You know Alex (iTechArt engineer working for Brivo) will stand up for his way of doing things and I always listen and let him do it.
Taking into consideration all the good words you’ve said about the iTechArt team, what advice would you give to our potential clients on how to reach success with a dedicated team? Are there any recommendations you would like to share?
Tanya: I think part of the reason it's been so successful for us is that we've been able to use our internal processes. You’re very flexible in meeting us at our process. So, for a potential client, I would say: “Use your process, use what works for you now and hire iTechArt. I think the team is really willing to do whatever it takes, so don't be afraid to say “Here's how we do it in our company, can you do that in the same way?”
Brivo (in the middle) and its iTechArt team