September 12 2022 marked the 20th anniversary of our security and monitoring business. This milestone coincided with one of the most successful periods the business has ever had pushing our turnover to record-breaking levels.
Educonnect: born as a cabling company that expands into IP Services
The company was set up in 2002 by Nigel Smith as Educonnect Limited, and this is still our registered name, although we trade as Ecl-ips. We started as a data cabling installer providing Cat 5E and Fibre Optic cabling, as well as switching hardware, mainly to schools and colleges.
Aaron Kernaghan and Nigel had worked together previously and Aaron joined Educonnect in September 2005. They both wanted to offer additional services to the existing clients and the name Ecl-ips was formed due to the creation of the IP (internet protocol) services side of the business, standing for Educonnect Limited IP Services.
IP technology allows connected devices to communicate with each other over the internet. Staying abreast of this technology, and being able to offer the wide-range of solutions that have been developed using it, has been key to our success. Initially however, we were focused on offering data centre, server room and comms room monitoring solutions, which Aaron already had expertise in.
Aaron said: “Our main product in the early days was NetBotz. This was a product that I was experienced in and I had specified the product previously in some large projects. Our specialisation led to us maintaining and assisting old clients and to new NetBotz installations.
“Our support included how to understand the alerts and also what to do in the event of an alert. NetBotz was the only data centre, server room and comms room monitoring system that provided visual detection of individuals within these critical areas. In addition to this a central server also provided historic data for trending and setting up alerting as well as exporting incidents via the surveillance module.”
By 2007, the IP Services part of the company had grown a lot quicker than anticipated. However, Aaron’s and Nigel’s views on the future direction of the company differed and they agreed to go their separate ways.
Aaron said, “Following several discussions and negotiations I purchased Nigel’s 50% share and Nigel set up another company Educonnect (South) Limited and continued to offer the same services as he did previously. The share sale and redistribution of clients was all amicable and we do still speak and share the odd beer.”
Ecl-ips continues to offer cabling, including Cat 5E and Fibre Optics, but now it is part of a wider security and monitoring solution whether that is providing Wi-fi, intruder alarms, CCTV or access control.
“Everything needs a network cable,” Aaron said.
Two-man team driving forward the IP business
Darren Roe originally joined to work for Aaron as a project engineer in June 2006, and became Operations Director in 2013, which he regards as his greatest achievement. Darren said they made a great team in the early days and they enjoyed working together and batting ideas about as they developed the IP business. This involved travelling all over the country.
Darren said, “Aaron would work to get the business. Then we had to work out how we would achieve it and install it. We never said no to a project as we decided there was always a way to do it.
“I was always on the road. I used to get my equipment on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon and would get pushed out to do the installations through the week.”
Darren had made a big leap in his career from agricultural work into IT.
He said: “The IT side I struggled with a little bit initially but with the guidance of Aaron and the courses I did I got through. I am a practical person so can turn my hand to most things so installations weren’t so challenging.”
Expanding and developing Ecl-ips
Initially Aaron and Darren were literally just working out of Aaron’s garage in Bromsgrove, then in 2007 they moved into another premises within the town which they developed into an office and store room. Subsequently, in 2009, they moved into the current home of Ecl-ips, Waterside House on the Harris Business Park, Stoke Prior just outside Bromsgrove.
In 2007 the high volume of security and monitoring work coming in meant they also needed to recruit more engineers. One of their best appointments in these early years was Stephen Gilbert who moved into the project engineer role from a previous job as a chef. Steve joined in 2008 and has just celebrated 14 years with the company and has been able to work his way up within Ecl-ips and was recently promoted to the new post of Technical Manager
Winning customers and offering more security and monitoring solutions
Aaron said our first ever customer was Transport for London (TfL), an organisation he had worked with previously. However, this was still a huge win for such a small company.
“We actually worked for a company called Logica CMG who we contracted to, with them providing the services to Transport for London so at that point we didn’t work directly for TfL.”
However, while Logica CMG said Ecl-ips were too small a company to work for them, TfL subsequently sacked them but kept Ecl-ips on. This proved to Aaron that size did not matter as long as we could provide the services a customer wanted and at the service level they required.
“We did exactly what they needed,” he said.
Over a period of time, thanks to the acquisition of Netbotz in 2005 by APC, Ecl-ips added more products to the portfolio including Monitored and Switched PDUs, UPS Systems and In-Row Cooling systems which broadened how we could help with power management and improving the efficiency of all IT spaces.
The other early wins for Ecl-ips included Network Rail, Aon, the NHS Blood and Transplant Service and Birmingham City Council. In 2013 we won a large project with insurance company JLT to upgrade and centralise both power protection and environmental monitoring across 20 sites and provide remote hosting. While we now monitor less sites, following the takeover of JLT by Marsh McLennan in 2019, we still continue to provide these services.
Meanwhile, through data centre engineering consultancy, Future-tech, we also maintain all of Next’s data centres, business originally won in 2014. Aaron is also proud that we were recognised as an Elite Partner for APC Solutions.
Server room and real-time monitoring continues to be a key part of our offering with APC now being part of the Schneider Electric group. Winning these early clients, and thanks to the good service we provided them led to requests for additional services. This led us to to expand into providing security and access control solutions.
Gaining experience of access control and CCTV
In 2007 we first gained experience in access control systems when we were providing a roll-out of IP monitoring devices to 90 of Birmingham City Council’s communication rooms. The City Council wanted to ensure that the comms rooms were secure and so we needed to provide a system controlling access to these spaces.
At the same time, we had requests from clients to provide external CCTV Solutions which then prompted us to gain more knowledge of security and monitoring.
Aaron explained: “Because we were doing the internal CCTV with the data centre monitoring customers asked us could we also do it outside. The CCTV we were using inside just wasn’t transportable to outside so then we had to find CCTV that was suitable for outside.”
At first Ecl-ips offered the Mobotix CCTV system. Aaron said it fitted what we were looking for and it was of high quality.
We began our relationship with Paxton Access in around 2010, when it was the system already installed on a customer’s site, and they became one of our most important access control partners.
The move into providing security solutions also led us to become a National Security Inspectorate (NSI) Silver approved installer in 2010. Since then, we have worked to improve our systems and gained NSI Gold approval in August 2019 which comes with BS EN ISO 9001:2015 accreditation. Our accreditation was renewed after a further detailed audit this year.
Darren said: “That was a massive step for us to achieve that. It shows our customers we are working to set standards, set guidelines and everything is done correctly.”
These renewals take place every three years but we are also audited twice annually to ensure standards are maintained throughout and having this accreditation gives us an edge over competitors.”
Partnership with Avigilon CCTV and development of video analytics
From 2012 we began our partnership with Avigilon, then a Canadian CCTV manufacturer and video management software developer, but since 2018 part of the larger North American Motorola Solutions group. We are a now high-level direct partner with Avigilon and using its cameras, combined with its software, can create bespoke CCTV solutions that will suit a wide range of clients.
Darren believes partnering with Avigilon was one of the biggest developments in our CCTV offering. The analytics features of the video management software and the capabilities of the system bring huge advantages to our customers he said.
One of the advantages of Avigilon has been that its video encoders allow us to upgrade old analogue CCTV systems gradually, giving users the benefits of the improved video management software, while taking a staged approach to replacing cameras.
This has benefited manufacturers and schools that we have worked with. We are now well-established in the education sector providing CCTV and access control. Clients include respected independent establishments: Bromsgrove School, Harrow School and RGS Worcester and state schools such as Holy Trinity Catholic School in Birmingham and Chipping Campden School in the Cotswolds.
Selecting and maintaining our relationship with Avigilon, and now more broadly with Motorola Solutions, has also opened up more security and monitoring product options because of the other recent acquisitions Motorola has made.
Through our links with Avigilon, we already offered its on-premise access control solution, Access Control Manager, and this year we have also become a supplier of the Openpath keyless, mobile access control solution and we can also offer cloud-based CCTV from Ava Security. Both are part of the Motorola Solutions group.
We are also now able to offer the body-worn cameras because of the partnership with Motorola Solutions and Avigilon and are in the process of integrating Motorola radios to the Avigilon CCTV system on one of our client’s sites.
Acquisition of Security Group signals move into intruder alarm business
Our move into offering intruder alarms came in August 2020 when we acquired Bristol-based Security Group, which was primarily specialised in providing intruder alarms to commercial and domestic properties. Aaron and Darren had talked about offering intruder alarms over the years but had never taken the plunge before.
Taking over Security Group helped the operations team push themselves into learning what we needed to do to provide intruder alarms as part of our security and monitoring offering. Aaron admitted that it was a big change and a big responsibility for us as a business because it is very standards-compliant and standards-driven in respect of the products and the installations.
Darren said: “It was a bit daunting at first to go into the intruder side but once we got into it, it is quite simple really. It is just a new challenge really.”
Aaron said this has been good for Ecl-ips as it gives us the edge to win business when we can offer intruder alarms along with CCTV and access control.
He said: “We used to introduce people to install intruder alarms but now we can provide the whole lot so we’re more competitive but also, we can offer best of breed solutions rather than just a standalone intruder alarm.”
Security Group is a Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) accredited company. Darren said when Ecl-ips took the company over we had to regain the accreditation as Ecl-ips become a parent company of effectively a new company.
The changes have brought improvements for Security Group customers Darren believes: “We were audited by the SSAIB then to ensure had everything in place that we needed to. The company had still been running on an entirely paper-based system and we have dragged it into the digital era. This has enabled us to provide all the customers, including the many residential customers Security Group has, with a better service. Our SSAIB accreditation is then renewed annually.”
Aaron said: “We have put in some good projects on the intruder alarms now and we have some large projects coming up.”
Product Testing: Making Ecl-ips stand out with out security and monitoring solutions
Aaron and Darren, along with Steve who is now leading on product testing, have gradually built up their knowledge of a wide range of security and monitoring solutions and we have stayed abreast of the latest developments in the APC Netbotz and UPS ranges to continue our expertise in real-time monitoring and power management.
Additionally, the search for more solutions to benefit our customers has not stopped there. Last year we added an active protection solution to our mix with our Density Fog Generators. The thick security fog generated pushes intruders out of premises forcing them to flee and preventing theft of stock, and damage to commercial property.
Recently, after an initial introduction to the HALO Smart Sensor via our partnership with Avigilon, we have forged a direct relationship with its US manufacturer, IPVideo Corporation. The HALO is an exciting three-in-one health, safety and vape detection device that adds an extra layer of protection and security in private areas.
Already we have had considerable interest from schools, who are aware of the rising numbers of young people who are vaping and want to know how big a problem it is for them and to develop a way of tackling it. However, the HALO can offer much more than this and will provide benefits in a range of indoor settings such as healthcare, residential care and hospitality due to its ability to detect THC, found in cannabis, and high levels of gases and other substances that can pose a risk to health or indicate the presence of infectious diseases.
Darren said these security and monitoring products give our customers, “more peace of mind that their systems or property or staff are better protected.
“We have always looked for products to best suit our portfolio. We do a lot of research and testing. We buy in products to test to see if they suit, and if they don’t suit, we don’t continue we look at the best solution.”
He added: “Technology has got better. We have always been at the forefront with some of the best products on the market.”
Development of digital technology and growth of the internet of things
The last 20 years has seen the development of digital technology and the growth of the internet of things (IoT), as exemplified by the power of the Halo Smart Sensor, an IoT device.
One of the major changes that businesses need to take action about now, will take place in 2025, when the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is being switched off by BT. At that point everyone will need to have switched to the Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) that allows your telephone service to be delivered across the internet. For Ecl-ips this has an impact for intruder alarm signalling and monitoring that may still be taking place over traditional phone lines. We are now working with customers to ensure that we, and they, are ready for the switch, with the best solutions being offered.
Aaron said: “The biggest challenge in the last 20 years for the security industry has been the change from analogue to digital, this isn’t just with camera connectivity but more recently with the BT upgrade from analogue to digital and removal of PSTN exchanges that is currently being rolled out.”
The development of smart phone technology and cloud computing, defined as the delivery of different services through the internet allowing for information storage through a remote database rather than a local hard drive or storage device, has transformed how easy it is for us, and our customers, to monitor and manage all the security and monitoring systems we provide. Both the Density Fog Generators and the Halo Smart Sensors have cloud-based management software to help users be more active in their response to issues and improve their security and protection systems over time.
Almost all of our CCTV, access control and intruder alarms systems come with easy-to-use apps that enable users to control their systems from their smart phones or browser-based software that is simple to operate as long as you have internet connectivity.
Darren said, “We have always been IP-based. It has got better to monitor things. There is more understanding and it just becomes easier to provide solutions. People can have the notifications on their phone and their tablets whereas previously it was emails and possibly text messages coming through to let them know they had issues. Now they have the physical visibility of what is going on.
“The internet of things has changed things both for security and the monitoring side. It is more attractive to our customers to see things live on their phone or tablets or within the office.”
Building a professional but friendly team
Commenting on his years at Ecl-ips, Darren said: “It’s a great company to work for, we have got a great team. We have got great customers and every day is different. We have got different product sets so nothing is the same day in and day out. We have always got something different to do.”
He also praised Aaron as a great person to work for who has been pushing the company forward to develop security and monitoring solutions for our clients. Aaron’s own journey, from being originally an expert in networking and IT to being able to offer bespoke solutions for CCTV, access control and intruder alarms, has recently been recognised by the Association of Security Consultants (ASC), which has given him associate membership.
Aaron said: “It is nice for the company that I have been accepted as a member and it will in turn provide a better experience for our clients.”
He has always put an emphasis, as we are still a small team, on developing good relationships in and outside work. This has led to some exciting team-building days such as Go Ape, off-roading, an escape room experience, axe-throwing and karting. Aaron has also hosted the staff for barbecues. At the end of September, we marked the 20th anniversary with a cookery and dine event with Harborne Food School, part of the Hengata restaurant.
Ensuring we build on our recent successes into the future
While commenting that the biggest success of Ecl-ips is “Still being here!” after 20 years, Aaron said: “Our most recent achievement is negotiating the world event of Covid.
“I always anticipated that Ecl-ips would always offer high-quality solutions to our clients and even though a lot of our competitors have moved across to cheaper alternatives we have stuck to our belief. I am sure in the long term this will reap dividends. Certainly, from the client experience the solutions last a lot longer.”.
Both directors saw the recent record-breaking turnover as a huge milestone for Ecl-ips. Darren said this has been achieved by “offering best solutions and best services, continual growth, looking after existing customers. We do offer a great service to all of our clients which gets us repeat business.”
As we have grown our customer base, we can demonstrate that we are able to tender for larger security projects. Aaron said: “I wanted to move away from the 5, 10 and 20 camera projects into the 50, 100 and 200 camera projects, with access control. That is my vision, that we move up and away from where we have been doing a lot of work, to multiple sites and large sites.”
He also sees a huge opportunity for Ecl-ips coming with the Protect Duty, that is expected to come into force in 2023. Our cutting-edge solutions could give those operating venues more capability to deal with potential threats more quickly.
This Protect Duty aims to develop a more consistent and robust approach by owners of publicly-accessible places such as permanent or temporary entertainment venues, sports stadia arenas to security threats, in particular terrorism. The development of the Duty formed part of the government’s response to the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017.
Additionally, we have been successful in gaining business from high net-worth individuals and providing security for country estates and Aaron believes that this will be a growing part of our business.
He said: “Our initial customer has provided us with a huge amount of experience in the past four years and we are now working on a few country estates for them. We can offer a full-service solution so networking, Wi-Fi, access control and CCTV. As we provide services to other companies that work with the high net-worth individuals we have gained a good reputation in order for us to be in a position to win more business.”
Growing the security and monitoring business further will also be achieved by growing the size of the operations and back-office team. Aaron said: “We are always looking for good people but it’s finding the right people. They need to fit into the team and to have the right attitude.”
Ecl-ips has evolved over time as we have continued to meet our customer’s needs but going forward Aaron said: “We are looking to consolidate our position as an IP monitoring and security provider of choice. We will grow by adding more high-quality products to our portfolio as well as continuing to provide high quality service.”