Milestone System's CEO Thomas Jensen began his role at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. In conversation with Brian Sims, Security Matters, the seasoned business executive and sales leader charts how the business has navigated the pandemic and also what its core priorities will be going forward.
SECURITY MATTERS: You’re now almost 12 months into your role as Milestone’s CEO during what has been a period of unprecedented global challenges due to COVID-19. In your opinion, how has the latter shaped your vision for 2021 and beyond?
Thomas Jensen: You’re absolutely right. None of us have experienced this kind of situation before. The last time there was such a pandemic was back in 1918 with the Spanish influenza. We’ve all learned to adapt. We’ve learned that change is inevitably happening. We knew that upfront. It makes you realize that your plan is only workable until the next change comes around the corner.
From Milestone’s point of view, the pandemic has served as a stress test for our company culture and our way of working as a ‘people first’ organization. The result has actually given us a good deal of comfort and confidence in the fact that our culture has proven to be strong and resilient. We can withstand a crisis within the industry and beyond. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to look at our future strategy.
It has also taught us that some of the things we may have been reflecting upon for a number of years previously, including working methodologies and working arrangements, can deliver. Video conferencing and video meetings are good examples. Video will never replace people interaction and face-to-face gatherings but can enable us to arrange more flexible working environments. One thing the pandemic has brought to the fore is the importance of ethics and responsibility in technology, and particularly so in the security industry. You will see us putting a good deal more focus on this going forward. We will look diligently upon the role we’re playing, the role that our partner community plays, and also how we govern all of that.
Security Matters: Milestone as a business has shown great resilience over the past 18 months. What challenges have you faced and how have they shaped the organization?
Thomas Jensen: The period has shown us that we can act in times of crisis. Naturally, this crisis has been a global crisis, not an industry-centric one. As a company, we’ve managed to withstand hardship. We’ve worked together in teams even when we’ve been apart. The pandemic has shown us that we’re able to find new business models. We’ve continued to support our customers. Many of our partners have been challenged by the fact that they could not visit their customers and enable new installations.
We initiated our Milestone Care campaign where we’ve looked at how we can support our customers and partners, the latter in terms of driving enhanced service levels even during a pandemic. We’ve also realized that when you’re a company with a strong culture and a strong technology platform, you have the sturdiness to withstand a crisis. The situation has confirmed for us that our open platform philosophy has been robust in support of our customers and partners.
Security Matters: Milestone Integration Platform Symposium (MIPS) is the event where the Milestone Systems community comes together to share insights, experiences, Best Practice and the latest innovations.
During this year’s event, you spoke about Milestone’s technology beyond security. Can you reveal some more detail about that?
Thomas Jensen: It’s focused on added value when it comes to talking about video technology as a security product, but also about the fact that expanded technology opportunities will give us new chances to deliver increased value for customers. We see the rise of 5G and the cloud. There are new business cases being built and evidence of technology being used in new ways. We’ve learned that we need to be at the forefront of delivering business outcomes for our customers. We have to look at the value we create for customers rather than just delivering a product. We’re selling tools, but if we cannot articulate their value then our customers will not extract the maximum return from them. We will look at innovation and towards our partners in terms of creating use cases that deliver value beyond the pure security aspect.
Security Matters: You’ve previously spoken about your passion for people and culture within business management. How has that been demonstrated under your leadership at Milestone to date and how might it manifest itself in times ahead?
Thomas Jensen: Given that we are a ‘people first’ organization, it’s not my leadership that has driven our results. It’s the effect of joint leadership of the company. We experienced a solid financial year during the pandemic. The results were phenomenal given the circumstances. We had a clear policy to safeguard the roles of colleagues. We didn’t have to make any redundancies in 2020 due to the pandemic. We actually hired new employees. We also introduced a new employee program named ‘Grow Together’. This is focused on tips for increasing mental well-being. On top of that, we actively encouraged breaks in the working day for colleagues. The desire was to ensure that colleagues took care of that part of the business that isn’t about business.
Security Matters: Is there any sense of how the company might operate from now on, perhaps with a greater mix of office and home-based working?
Thomas Jensen: We’re certain that we will not be going back to what was ‘normal’ as we all knew it. We will not be expecting team members to be present in the office five days per week. Instead, we aim to create a hybrid solution that balances working from the office or remotely under a set of clearly defined principles, providing more flexibility without the risk of losing the value in employees not being together in the workplace. The principles have been defined and will lay the foundation for the local guidelines which will be rolled out later this year.
Security Matters: The partner community is an important element of the Milestone ethos, of course. What innovations can we expect to see from partners in the coming months?
Thomas Jensen: We will see many opportunities driven by partners thinking outside of the box. Many of our partners have delivered strong business results throughout the pandemic. They’ve done so by being innovative. Due to lockdowns, we had to find new ways of working at a time when technology is changing and accelerating in our industry and across the tech world itself. We anticipate that our partners will now be looking much more towards sensor technology and new use cases for video technology. We also foresee that data will play an increased role in customer outcomes. Here, you could be talking about predictive or reactive analytics and optimizing business processes on the back of data realized by video technology. In terms of going to market, our strategy will continue to be a partner-driven one, but we want to go deeper and wider on business outcomes. Responsibility for results will become a driving factor.
Security Matters: What are your thoughts about some of the technology shifts that we’re seeing in the industry at present such as a greater reliance on the cloud, for example?
Thomas Jensen: First and foremost, we in the security industry are impacted by similar patterns and technological advancements that have affected the tech industry, whether in terms of Big Data or Artificial Intelligence and so on. What we also have to acknowledge is that incubation nearly always takes longer than we would wish or prefer. When cloud computing arrived to influence corporate structures, for instance, it didn’t take off as fast as many would have liked.
Five years from now, I’m certain that cloud will be an important part of our industry and our product offerings, but it will be a slow burn. Just because we might all think that cloud is great, that doesn’t necessarily mean customers will like it or that their financial processes are suited to it. IT is just one consideration for the customer buying video technology, similarly with subscription-based offerings. Who are we as an industry to tell a CFO how to allocate their free cash flow whether they go into a subscription-based model or a CAPEX model?
Security Matters: What role do you see the industry playing as the world opens up again post-pandemic?
Thomas Jensen: As an industry, we will remain a strong player in securing society. The pandemic will accelerate the move towards systems functioning beyond a pure security remit. We’ve already seen this with temperature checking regimes at airports and other transport hubs, for example. Companies are looking at the technology around face mask recognition, crowd management, and control, and social distancing. Those elements beyond reactive security will expand. Video technology will become the core of use cases for our customers.
Security Matters: Going forward, what sectors do you see holding promise for the security industry and, indeed, Milestone in particular?
Thomas Jensen: Focusing on key verticals is always an interesting conversation because we sell our solutions into pretty much all of them. That doesn’t mean we are ‘verticalized, though. Much of what we do is the delivery of horizontal offerings with video management systems.
When you really look into the opportunities and see how you can create additional business outcomes for a certain industry sector, you do need to specialize. In the broader sense, we will see a need in the entertainment and hospitality environment which has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. Cities and healthcare too. These sectors will look towards video technology to support business management so that they can cope better in a future lockdown situation.
The education sector will also look towards video technology as an enabler. What is the future of education going to look like? Can we build use cases to support learning?
Security Matters: What do you think the security industry can learn from other sectors such as IT?
Thomas Jensen: The security industry has to get over itself in the sense that, just because we’re passionate about our products and offerings, this doesn’t mean that they’re God’s gifts to our customers. We may well deliver one of the most important tools in the toolbox used by our customers for business management, but it’s not the only one.
We need to learn from the tech industry in general that purpose and sustainability are becoming core objectives for customers and the public at large. Part of this is driven by cyber security needs, another by the new generation entering the workforce. We need to acknowledge and support it. We can learn from many of the mistakes made in the IT industry, but we cannot sit back and wait for everything to happen. We need to be proactive. As an industry, we need to be looking at how we produce and sell technology responsibly and how it’s used on a responsible basis.