EXCLUSIVE: Ownership, excitement, vision and passion at Brivo

Steve Van Till at Brivo

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Steve Van Till, Founder and CEO of Brivo tells Security Journal Americas about his mission to create ubiquitous access control infrastructure.

Can you tell me about yourself and Brivo?

I came into security as an outsider. That was an advantage for me because you can look at things with what Zen practitioners call a “beginner’s mind”.

That’s another way of saying you’re not attached to any preconceived notions or opinions. You can innovate around old problems with new eyes and see what others could not.

That’s where I found myself in the early days of Brivo, seeing that the distributed access control problem could best be solved with a combination of cloud and edge computing.

I had worked on similar architectures for satellite communications and geolocation, so it seemed like a perfect overlay on commercial security.

As it turns out, the whole industry is moving towards this approach, which taught me that good ideas are truly infectious.

In my current role as CEO of Brivo, I’m responsible for turning vision into reality and making sure that we are creating a great workplace where people can be productive and fulfilled in their professional lives.

As Founder of Brivo, what is your vision for the company?

My vision for the future of Brivo is to be the global backbone for access control services wherever they may be needed – which is to say, anywhere and everywhere.

If you think about why you can use your credit card at any retail location in the world, it’s because there is a massive payments network behind the millions of point-of-sale terminals deployed around the globe.

Access control infrastructure will someday have the ubiquity and universality of the global financial system and that’s what we are building at Brivo.

We took a major step in that direction over the past couple of years via our partnership with Apple to become a Credential Manager for Employee Badge in Apple Wallet.

This technology uses the same NFC and cybersecurity infrastructure as credit cards and it’s already available on billions of mobile phones.

I cannot state strongly enough that this is a watershed moment for our industry.

It’s the first time in history that, overnight, billions of people have gained the ability to interact with Brivo’s access control systems using something they already have in their hands.

That has never happened before and we haven’t even begun to feel the impact.

What about Brivo are you most proud of?

People expect me to say, “inventing cloud-based access control,” which is what I’m known for.

However, if you’re talking about the company itself, I’m most proud of the culture we’ve created and sustained across the past 20 years, even through our current hyper-growth phase.

I often hear from colleagues – new and old – that Brivo still feels like a startup.

When I ask what they mean, the answers usually involve some mix of urgency, ownership, excitement, vision and passion.

Our achievement in this regard was recognized when we became a certified Great Place to Work in May 2022.

From a business perspective, I am most proud of our sustained growth.

We’ve never had a down year of revenue, not even during the 2008-2009 recession or the recent pandemic.

We’ve consistently grown Brivo in good times and bad. That says a lot about product-market fit, how our team executes their work and the overall culture.

You served as the Chairman for the Security Industry Association (SIA) Standards Committee for a long time. What did this role mean to you?

I served as Chairman of the SIA Standards Committee for 11 years until I handed over the reins to a new chairperson in September of 2022.

It was a very fulfilling tenure and underscored the value of volunteering and giving back to the community.

I’m a big supporter of SIA and the value it brings to the industry as well as the value it brings on a personal and career level to everyone who participates.

My original motivation for accepting the role was that I had worked in three industries where standards were essential – telecommunications, healthcare and internet technology – so I wanted to help bring that same value to the security space.

Widely adopted standards help entire industries scale up because they ultimately reduce costs and improve performance across the board.

One of the biggest accomplishments the committee made during my tenure was to create the Open Supervised Device Protocol (OSDP) standard for interactions between readers and control panels.

The older Weigand standard was a minimal one-way protocol that did not support critical features like encryption, firmware updates or customized reader configuration.

We take these kinds of capabilities for granted with other IoT devices and consumer electronics, but they did not exist for security buyers in a standardized way across manufacturers.

After many hours and years of contributions from committee members and SIA’s then-Director of Standards, Joe Gittens, OSDP was published in May 2020 as IEC 60839-11-5. Mission accomplished.

How do you see the security industry evolving in both the short and long term?

In the last few years, the security industry has finally become part of the enterprise software landscape.

I say “finally” because ever since we launched Brivo in the access control space in 2001, I’ve been hearing people lament that they wanted security to have a better seat at the corporate table by contributing operational benefits in addition to the core security mission.

I think we’re there now, with a bit of assistance from the proptech boom of the last five years.

The $50 – $100 billion that have been invested in venture capital and M&A during that period has created a lot of excitement around the digital transformation of physical real estate assets.

It has helped make the case that property becomes more valuable and tenants become happier when buildings are connected to cloud and mobile services that provide both functional and experiential benefits to all stakeholders.

Over the long term, security will become more intertwined with other enterprise software and with data analytics in particular.

As an industry, we are just beginning to appreciate what AI can do to find meaning in the massive amounts of data we’ve built our electronic security systems to create.

When AI-driven insights can be delivered in real-time or even predictively to where they are needed, we will have crossed over a new threshold.

At that point, the value of security information will go up exponentially and we will achieve the dream of having that better seat at the table.

What does innovation in security mean to you?

It means the same thing in security that it does anywhere else: solving a problem better. Innovation is often too closely tied to technical innovation, but it’s much bigger than that.

In my orientation sessions for incoming Brivo employees, I make a point of telling everyone that innovation means any new way of solving any problem — a new business process, a better approach to communicating with customers, making it easier to form partnerships and of course, coming up with better technologies that no one else has invented.

It also means finding new ways of applying Brivo’s technology beyond its original scope. This happens all the time in the history of innovation.

For example, off-label uses of pharmaceuticals have in many cases overshadowed their primary intended use and the internet itself morphed from a military communications platform to the biggest technological wave since the industrial revolution.

In security, we have seen this happen first with the shift to the cloud and now with the consumerization of access credentials by way of mobile phones and NFC wallets.

Both of these are setting the stage for what I believe will be a golden age of expansion for the industry as a whole, as the simplicity and familiarity of these technologies enables a plethora of new use cases that would have been too difficult in the past.

What parting thought would you like to share with the industry?

For most of the past 20 years, security has been a somewhat isolated industry, but that’s about to change.

There were early rumblings of becoming a part of the broader enterprise software ecosystem when “convergence” was the hot topic ten-plus years ago, although I don’t think people saw it for what it was at the time.

Security is becoming a big part of tenant, resident, visitor and workplace experiences, which is to say that it’s delivering value around productivity, satisfaction, retention and even sustainability.

Those are top of mind for every board and CEO today.

This article with Steve Van Till from Brivo was originally published in the September edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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