Anytime a manufacturer begins to work on a new product, the process can be fraught with peril.
In the security industry, going from idea to shipping can take years. It isn’t enough to create an original design that meets customer demand. You also have to source materials, pass certification testing and develop marketing behind the product, among dozens of other steps.
Because of the potentially long turnaround time, market conditions might change in ways that can’t be foreseen at the beginning of the process. 2020 and 2021 certainly qualify as unforeseen circumstances.
The fallout from COVID-19 put the brakes on a number of product launches in the past year, or products were launched but then slow to find a market as economies continued to remain tight and the prices of raw materials soared. Delays continue to be common.
Locksmith Ledger recently invited a couple manufacturers to speak about the challenges they faced with regard to bringing new products to market over the past year and what they learned that will help them in the future. Participating in this roundtable were Peter Boriskin, chief technology officer of ASSA ABLOY Americas, and Justin Crotzer, senior vice president of innovation and engineering at dormakaba Americas.
Locksmith Ledger: Releasing new products can be difficult in any climate. What has made it particularly challenging in 2021?
Peter Boriskin: As a whole, the security industry is well-versed in adapting quickly to the changing world around us. However, the pandemic combined with other unforeseen circumstances, such as the blockage of the Suez Canal that had a major effect on global trade, made this an exceptionally challenging time. Releasing new products is critical to our business, so we had to adapt quickly to the many challenges of the past 12–18 months.
A great deal of the work that we do centers around complex projects that require collaboration, not only within our own groups, but with partners, suppliers and third-party certification organizations, such as UL and the FCC [Federal Communications Commission]. In addition, much of our product offering is based on mechanical parts, which require an environment that provides the tools to support them. This is much more challenging for a manufacturer, such as ASSA ABLOY, than it would be for a software company.
Justin Crotzer: 2021 challenges reflect the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Product development relies on input from our customers and sales and product management teams to ensure our innovations fit the market product requirements. Without the ability of our teams to do field work and get in front of end users, it naturally took more time to navigate the process.
LL: How soon do you see those conditions improving?
Boriskin: Our manufacturing facilities were able to remain open safely throughout the pandemic, because we put the proper precautions in place. An increase in vaccinations as well as tools that allow us to do contract tracing and ensure social distancing are allowing us to start to return to normal internally, and we expect to see that expand elsewhere in the coming months.
Crotzer: In spring 2021, we began transitioning staff safely back into the office to collaborate in person with colleagues. Field work, customer visits and trade shows have begun to resume. There’s no substitute for connecting in person. It’s something we’re excited about.
More broadly, we continue to navigate market conditions and supply-chain issues that have affected everyone equally in the industry. Although these issues are temporary, it doesn’t keep our team from addressing immediate concerns and thinking of innovative, smart solutions that support our customers in new ways. For example, as demand increased for touch-free products, we quickly created a wide array of kits for auto operators and wave switches that have all the components necessary to maintain the security and safety of a touch-free opening. For building owners and end users, we want to continue to be the easy, one-stop-shop partner of choice.
LL: Without trade shows, what has your company done to make the market aware of your new products?
Boriskin: The lack of in-person trade shows accelerated our digital efforts. With people at home, there was more opportunity to capture their attention through virtual training and virtual events. One major benefit of virtual events is the ability to deliver information when people want it. It allows people to view things on demand whenever it’s most convenient for them.
The lack of in-person trade shows also highlighted the importance of strong relationships between manufacturers, such as ASSA ABLOY, channel partners and end users. By maintaining regular communications, we’re able to understand customer concerns and educate channel partners and end users on the solutions available to help them address those concerns.
Crotzer: During the past year, when large-scale in-person trade events all but disappeared, dormakaba applied the same level of ingenuity used in developing product innovations to think differently about creating buzz for them. We repositioned marketing messages as learning opportunities and created virtual experiential “spaces” to help customers to stay informed about the industry and our products through livestreams, webinars and recorded self-paced events.
Our Customer Connections Studio, a state-of-the-art video broadcast facility at dormakaba Americas’ headquarters in Indianapolis, provides customers with a refreshing alternative to the typical online meeting. Participants experience free educational sessions in a professionally produced, interactive, live broadcast. They can ask questions of dormakaba thought-leaders, subject matter experts and partners. They can interact with the host of the session and see live demonstrations of our products — something that they can’t do in a standard online meeting. We hosted hundreds of master classes for end users, featuring the most requested topics, such as touch-free access; our latest product launches, such as Switch Tech; mobile credentials; and other access control innovations.
Also popular with our customers are webinar events discussing interesting access control industry topics with an opportunity to meet leaders in a virtual learning setting. For example, how can door hardware products — some of the most touched surfaces in any building — remain safe and clean? What are the advantages of antimicrobial finishes and touchless options to promote healthy environments? Time is allowed for Q&A. We typically promote these events to the industry via email and social media.
LL: How much of this do you expect to maintain long term after shows return?
Boriskin: We likely will continue to do both. A hybrid approach gives us the best of both worlds by leveraging the human connection of in-person events and the efficiency of virtual events. It also gives attendees the flexibility to do what works best for them based on their schedule, budget and personal preferences.
We will have to re-evaluate our experiences continuously to ensure that we’re creating meaningful interactions for in-person and virtual audiences.
Crotzer: As trade shows return, dormakaba is planning to participate on-site and through virtual events to accommodate customer demand. We will blend our presence at trade shows with our current mix of sponsored events that also include virtual and in-person tours of our new Discovery Center in Indianapolis. This interactive, one-of-a-kind space gives customers the opportunity to explore our products safely, while discovering the many ways we develop innovative solutions that help to make our world smarter, safer and more secure.
LL: What have the past two years taught your company about releasing new products that you’ll carry forward with future releases?
Boriskin: The past two years have taught us that communication is key. Without face-to-face interactions, we had to overcommunicate, because we couldn’t rely on hallway conversations and the natural organic connection between people that happens in a face-to-face setting.
These unique circumstances drove us to create processes and adopt new digital tools at a much faster pace to ensure that a high level of communication and collaboration is built into everything we do. Essentially, it forced us to do the right things faster and develop best practices that will be retained long term. Even with a business like ours that’s heavily mechanical, we were able to do most of our work remotely, which might have seemed impossible two years ago. Adaptation is fostered by good connection, good culture and good communication. When you have a committed culture driven by a common mission, it allows you to unlock resilience you didn’t know you had.
Crotzer: COVID has taught us that adaptability and agility are essential to successful mitigation of the unexpected. To be truly adaptable in access control, devices must be connected, interoperable and software-driven, so their function and features can be adjusted quickly to accommodate new environments that promote hygiene without compromising safety, security and productivity.
We refer to this type of agility as “nimble innovation.” Traditionally, the words “nimble” and “innovation” haven’t been used together often. The complexities of thinking differently, whether in new-product development or reimagining use cases for existing products, requires a nimble response.
In one such project, a member of our dormakaba team embarked on a mission to convert high-traffic doors, such as front doors, lab doors and bathroom doors, in any facility to automatic touch-free doors quickly, efficiently and economically by using just three or four SKUs. He chose high-traffic doors, because they can represent a path for transmission of airborne and contact germs. Touch-free products existed in dormakaba’s portfolio prior to COVID-19 but were installed largely in relation to ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance. By extending ADA solutions to enhance accessibility, safety and health in any building, these touch-free products transitioned into general use quickly.
In another example, a new wireless touch-free actuator rolled out within just four months to complete the product solution set. Previous similar products were wired, which made them more difficult to use in retrofit situations where existing infrastructure didn’t support a wired solution. The new wireless touch-free actuator made installation quick and economical. All departments within dormakaba worked together to bring the touch-free actuator kits to the marketplace within the four-month time frame.
These are just two examples. As we venture forward, businesses will think about access control security infrastructure in ways they haven’t before. Our pandemic experiences have pushed us to rely on our security and access systems in totally new ways that are unlikely to disappear.
LL: Do you believe the changes implemented and lessons learned will speed up new-product development overall, or will it depend on the circumstances?
Boriskin: I believe what we have learned and the changes we have implemented will improve product development across the board. In many cases, the changes we have made will speed up development, but there are still long-duration tasks, such as certification and quality-assurance testing that make it challenging to increase velocity, particularly for mechanical projects.
Crotzer: I expect we will see the newfound mobility of our workforce drive a new sense of “work from anywhere” paradigm shift. Going forward, I’m confident that our development staff can be located nearly anywhere in the world and drive our development endeavors forward seamlessly. How these adaptations might affect the speed of new-product development remains to be seen.