Gary Bauer wants to silence the cacophony of telephones ringing off the hook in police stations in Canada and beyond.
His company, Niagara Falls, Ont.-based Mobile Innovations, offers wireless, BlackBerry-based communications apps to police services that allow law enforcement personnel to be updated in real time through a smart phone or tablet. This means they don’t have to call back to the office for clarification on information given to them verbally, or request updated information on a call. And they don’t have to worry about the cops showing up at the wrong address.
Mobile Innovations is just one of several Canadian companies that are at the forefront of law enforcement products and solutions. And, like the other successful Canadian companies in that market, most of its revenue comes from other countries.
Law enforcement technology, of course, is more than guns and cars, especially after the arrests are made. The global market for this technology is huge, especially for major police forces, such as London’s Metropolitan Police and the New York Police Department. Police and prosecutors around the world need sophisticated technology and – although there is no shortage of competition from countries such as the United States, Britain and South Africa – Canadian products are globally successful, even though the home market is often quite small.
“Our products are used in 92 different countries, some of them with names I can’t even pronounce; all from a company that started in a Waterloo cop’s bedroom” said Adam Belsher, CEO of Magnet Forensics, which provides software used to find evidence on computers. “Our clients include the RCMP, National Defence, CSIS, Toronto and several other Canadian forces, but Canada accounts for about 7 per cent of our sales.”
Similarly, Montreal-based Forensic Technology, a ballistics and firearms evidence technology provider – has clients in about 65 countries, and more than 90 per cent of its revenue comes from non-Canadian customers.
By their nature, law enforcement agencies are conservative, risk averse and saddled with more regulations than most other clients, so companies have developed specific strategies designed to market to them. The primary marketing method for these companies has been to rely on customer referral from officers.
“We’re not a lab, I don’t have 10 guys working here, it’s just me, and I can use Magnets’ products to leverage what I can do,” said Micah Smith, detective for cybercrimes and computer forensics for the Linn County Sherriff’s Office in Oregon, who swears by Magnet Forensics’ products and recommends them to other police officers. “I often point people in their direction.”
Police from all over the world regularly meet at conferences and trade shows to share information, and that’s often how sales are made. “With us, local police told the RCMP, who told the FBI, who told Interpol,” Mr. Belsher said. “And they all became our clients.”
And having at least one client with a great deal of visibility and credibility can expose products to other potential customers.
“We partnered with Interpol a few years ago at their headquarters in Lyon, France,” said Fernando Carriero, director of marketing for Forensic Technology. “They built up an extensive database regarding firearms using our technology, and it followed that other law enforcement organizations wanted to share that data and their own because firearms cross borders regularly – and that database has led to 80 clients.”
Of course, positive word of mouth doesn’t happen unless the product is superior, and it is exposed to the right thought leaders. For Forensic Technology, the focus is primarily on the company’s expertise and experience and their products’ long record of excellent service. “Of course, it’s a specialized market segment when it comes to ballistics identification, a very niche market,” Mr. Carriero said. “And we do have competitors, but we’ve been in business for 20 years, and been able to establish ourselves as the premier product in our market.”
For companies looking to build a reputation in the realm of law enforcement, one good option of demonstrating the benefits of a product to potential clients is through beta testing. “In most countries, we approach the national police first,” Mr. Belsher said. “Because if you get those guys as clients, the other agencies in that country will pay attention.”
Often, the best way to expose a product to these high-value users is to offer a trial or even free product.
“We can usually attract such clients by giving them free software for a while,” Mr. Belsher said. “Or, in a country where we have little traction, we can exchange free software for a testimonial if we need to create a beachhead in that country. ... Those testimonials hold a ton of weight.” Forensic Technology also offers beta testing to high-profile clients when new products are introduced.
Beta testing has been very important to Mobile Innovations, Mr. Bauer said, because the product itself can be alluring when demonstrated.
“It combines the addictive qualities of a smart phone and an obvious operational need,” he said. “Then they are blown away by the metrics.”
But Mobile Innovations has a different marketing challenge. While the others work hard to demonstrate their product’s superiority over their competitors, Mobile Innovations has no real competitors because it is the only company offering a secure handheld communications suite specifically for law enforcement. “We have to show that we are fulfilling a need that is being filled in a less effective way or not being filled at all,” Mr. Bauer said.
By supplying front-line officers with up-to-date and extensive information on each call as they are working, forces using Mobile Innovations’ solutions have saved countless hours that would have ordinarily been used on repeated phone calls. He points out that the communications centres of forces using the solutions – normally abuzz with ringing phones – become almost silent.
He can back up his statement with statistics. “One of our U.K.-based clients reports that on their 2,000-person force, they are averaging more than 22,000 hits per day,” Mr. Bauer said. “That means that the 1,600 or so front-line officers are using it more than 10 times a day.”
But while all of these companies have found success in foreign markets, none has any plans to leave Canada.
“We have offices and partners all over the world,” Mr. Carriero said. “But our president is Canadian, our staff is Canadian, most, if not all, of our shareholders are Canadian – it would never occur to us to be headquartered anywhere else.”
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