For a security company, the 9-11 tragedies would seem a watershed. Pat Cosmo, general manager of Charlotte’s Integrated ID Systems, Inc., says that’s true, but in ways the uninitiated wouldn’t imagine.
“Security was forced to the forefront of our minds,” Cosmo remembers. “It was an easy decision to move forward with a security program.”
But two trends developed almost simultaneously. “The economy took a dip,” she says. “Also, opportunity seekers moved into the industry and most didn’t know what they were doing. Still, they were competing with us price-wise, and they drove our margins down.”
“By the end of 2003, it was pretty much the survival of the fittest among the identification and security industry,” Cosmo says.
Integrated ID Systems is a survivor, and more. It performs in three market segments. Identification system sales account for about 40 percent of the business and identification card printing and supplies make up another 35 percent. The rest of the business comes largely from providing security measures and security consulting for events such as the Men’s U.S. Open Golf Championship and the Grammy Award shows.
Cosmo started her company in Charlotte in 1990 with one employee. Supported and backed by her two partners, Leroy Denton and Archie Livingston, she built her full-time employment to eight.
The company operates in 3,500 square feet on Idlewild Road, in the Independence Office Park. With technical support, sales, customer service, human resources, a repair center and supply area in addition to executive offices, the firm is bursting at the seams. Cosmo plans to knock out a wall and expand into an adjacent 400 square feet.
Cosmo shies from stating the investment the company has in its facilities and equipment, but she walks a visitor past multiple high definition printers and other identification card equipment with price tags in five figures.
True to her security background, Cosmo is tight with financial details. She does say that in a fragmented industry, Integrated ID Systems has become a national presence with more than 2,000 clients and has enjoyed better growth than the national average except for 2003, when the firm grew at a more modest pace.
By early 2004, she says, Integrated ID Systems was picking up clients that, because of a bad economy, had made security decisions based on price. Many realized their security arrangements were inadequate.
ID-ing Its Market
For identification system sales, Cosmo says, her company concentrates on firms with 200 employees or more, a size that justifies bringing a security system in-house. These might be banks, manufacturing concerns, hospitals or service companies.
An advantage in system sales, she says, is that Integrated ID Systems doesn’t use distributors. The company works directly with manufacturers, training with them on their equipment. Manufacturers have honored her company with numerous performance awards, she says.
“We help companies set up systems they can run efficiently,” she adds. “We provide full on-site installation and training, and we have a full product line of supplies.”
“We really listen to our clients for what they need and figure out what is going to be the best fit for them. Will they often be hiring a new employee who needs to have a same day photo ID badge with technology in it for access or time tracking? That may direct them to needing a system in-house,” Cosmo explains.
An alternative that Integrated ID Systems can provide is to augment a client’s security systems during times of peak stress. The company can move onto a site with a computer, a camera and a printer and connect them to a network the client is already using. “Then you have two work stations taking pictures and printing cards, doubling your production,” Cosmo says.
The credentialing system is a service Integrated ID Systems provides for clients such as the rock band Hootie and the Blowfish when it hosts the annual event for children’s charities, Monday After the Master’s Pro-Am Celebrity Golf Classic.
Integrated ID Systems has filled a similar role for the Wachovia Championship PGA tournament at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow Country Club since it was initiated in 2003.
Christine Jack, tournament project manager for the Wachovia Championship, says the tournament uses Integrated ID Systems credentialing system to make all access badges. “They’re really great people to work with,” Jack says. “They’re always there for us.”
“Their customer support is outstanding,” Jack adds. If a photo ID camera goes on the fritz, she says, Cosmo herself does whatever is necessary to keep operations running smoothly.
For smaller companies, or those that want to forego the capital investment of equipment and labor, Integrated ID Systems concentrates on security card printing services. Typically these are photo identification tags the size of a credit card that include a picture and other data that security guards are trained to look for. That could include a pattern in the background of an ID photo or the placement of a hologram or positioning of access codes. Smart card technology that uses a small copper square to store an amazing amount of information is growing rapidly. In the future, they could even include the owner’s medical history.
But with every security innovation, Cosmo admits, there are those who succeed in finding ways around it. Bar code technology is no longer foolproof for door access, for example, because there are ways to duplicate bar code badges.
Many methods for circumventing security are available by Internet, Cosmo laments. “It has forced people to get more intricate in encrypting things. It has caused us to put technology inside the card so it’s not just visual. It has caused some to move to biometrics, iris scanning and palm scanning.”
Cosmo says providing security for events in southern California, such as the Grammys and the BET Comedy Awards, has re-emphasized to her the need for more extensive security measures.
Integrated ID Systems provides photo identification cards for Deloitte & Touche accounting offices throughout the nation as well as for the Brink’s Company. Clients in the Charlotte region include Carolina HealthCare Systems, Charlotte Country Day School, Calvary Church, the Pineville Police Department and the Charlotte Convention Center.
At the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, director of information technology Jorge Rodriguez praises Integrated ID Systems for providing a cost-effective program for producing identification badges. The system is easy to use and replaces one that he found cumbersome.
Rodriguez says he’s worked with Integrated ID Systems for about two years. “Their response times have been good and they’re very professional,” he says.
That’s music to Cosmo’s ears, she says, because it validates the company’s mission statement. The firm is dedicated to service for customers, prospects and suppliers, she says, and keeps a work atmosphere that fosters excellence. She praises her staff and the willingness of each member to work together.
That dedication to performance coupled with providing essential products and services has served Integrated ID Systems well, she says.
Providing an Essential Service
Everyone should have a photo ID badge, Cosmo believes. Not only does a badge put people at ease with each other, it serves as a name tag for people who need prompting.
“My security benefits you, your security benefits me,” Cosmo states flatly.
She remembers an incident from her previous career with a company that marketed equipment to monitor employees’ time at work and their attendance. Nurses at a large Carolinas hospital didn’t like having their picture on an ID card, so they turned the badge over, exposing its blank side. In response, Cosmo’s company developed a card with two identical sides.
That solved the problem but, for Cosmo’s benefit, several nurses made their own version of the card with a flip side that showed only the back of their head. During one of her visits, they paraded past Cosmo with these flip sides showing and Cosmo couldn’t help laughing, she recalls.
Through the years, innovation has been another hallmark of Cosmo and her company. Integrated ID Systems has developed a patented card accessory that solves a problem many firms face with employees who punch holes in their plastic badges to display service and award pins. This frequently damages the card, sometimes to the point that it needs to be replaced.
Integrated ID Systems makes a card strap clip adaptor of softer plastic with holes already punched for pins. “People work hard for those pins,” Cosmo says. “They should be able to display them.”
She muses about the many technological improvements she’s seen in producing ID cards. In the early 1990s, photos were film based, had to be dried and cut, placed on a card and laminated. One card could take 10 minutes to produce. Today, with multi-network printing stations, Cosmo’s company can produce thousands of cards a day.
“It’s a very high energy business,” Cosmo says. “You need to perform customer service-wise, and your customers need to trust you because you are providing them with a security product. We don’t take our business lightly.”
Integrated ID Systems routinely enjoys positive references from current customers, Cosmos beams, the future is looking bright. Starting in January, she initiated an infrastructure project to upgrade her firm’s servers and other equipment as well as improve accounting and contact systems.
Cosmo anticipates doubling her staff in the next five years, with security for events probably growing faster than the identification system sales and security badging segments.
Another element that could see dramatic growth is providing event ticketing with encoded plastic cards similar to security badges. These cards make it easier to transfer tickets from one person to another and are marketed by Charlotte-based TicketReturn, Inc.
TicketReturn is growing rapidly; two area clients are the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Athletics and Winthrop University Athletics. Integrated ID is their exclusive card supplier.
Cosmo won’t discuss the possibility of closer ties with TicketReturn. But the loose alliance the firms enjoy seems to fit with Integrated ID Systems’ policy of using a variety of products and finding innovative ways to serve clients.
“We’re ahead of our competitors,” Cosmo says. “We’re always being asked to add to our product line.”