The new Panasonic

Newly refocused company now offers telecom, POS, consumer offerings to security channel
Thursday, April 1, 2010

Edit: Updated with new quotes from Bill Taylor, April 8.

LAS VEGAS—Panasonic arrived at ISC West sporting a new name—Panasonic System Networks Company of America, which officially launched today, April 1 and is headed by president Bill Taylor—and a whole suite of new products.

Panasonic has been in a sort of transition since July 2008 when long-time Panasonic System Solutions president Frank DeFina retired, replaced with JM Allain, who came from integrator Duo Technologies with ideas about bringing more of a solutions orientation to the product manufacturer. But just a year later, Allain had resigned, replaced on an interim basis with Joseph Taylor, executive VP and COO of Panasonic Corporation of North America, who guided the security-focused operations through ASIS 2009.

Now comes a reorganization. Many of the new product offerings shown here at the show came from other pieces of the Panasonic Corporation: things like PBX telephony solutions (video conferencing and video phones with access capabilities), retail systems (POS monitors and software integration), and imaging and document management solutions (scanners and printers). The result was a booth at ISC West that—perhaps ironically, given JM Allain’s short tenure—emphasized solutions over pure product features and specifications.

The security piece of this new company is “sizable” said Christine Amirian, VP of marketing for the new PSNA, but not more than 50 percent. However, there will be much more focus on bringing non-traditional security equipment to bear on new security-focused solutions.

“Everybody’s talking solutions now,” said Bill Taylor, “our job is to actually deliver those solutions that solve real-world problems.”

Looking back, a sign of this move could be seen in the company’s appointment in August of 2009 of James Thiele as national sales manager for point of sale and wireless audio systems. We were told at the time in a statement from Joseph Taylor that, “Panasonic’s point of sale and wireless audio systems will play an increasingly critical role in our business model.”

For example, one of the featured solutions at ISC West included an education-focused solution that combined a wireless audio system for broadcasting a teacher’s voice throughout a classroom to enhance student comprehension with a PTZ camera that was slaved to a panic button on the teacher’s microphone. A quick push of the button can alert the main office and “it’s synchronized with the camera for a 360-degree sweep of the room,” said Kamal Boiri, director of new business growth, security & loss prevention solutions.

Also in the education vertical, the company was showing a multi-camera and NVR solution package that would retail for $3,600. “That’s less than the DVR might have cost previously,” noted Amirian. “We’re merging in the consumer piece for small business applications. Even in the iPro line, we’re bringing in much less expensive cameras.”

She said there would be a $100 IP camera available through the security channel.

As for POS, Panasonic was showing a software and monitor solution that allowed for both integration with the surveillance system and display advertising to the consumer. The company is a preferred vendor for McDonald’s and other QSR franchises, said Boiri.

Perhaps the most visually striking part of the new booth was Panasonic’s new video conferencing offering, which displays in full 1080p resolution and uses a 360-degree microphone to make conversation with as many as two other parties almost completely seamless. Like many of the products in the booth, said Amirian, Panasonic is still discovering, along with its dealers, security applications for the teleconferencing, which uses just 3 mbps of bandwidth.

“We’re seeing an application for courtroom testimony,” she said, where it’s either cheaper than bringing a prisoner all the way to the courthouse or a victim would rather not be in the same room as an offender. “Do they actually have to be in the same room?” she asked rhetorically. “This allows for all the non-verbal cues to be translated ... we’re getting more input everyday about how this could be used in security.”

All of this, said Taylor, is evidence of a changed Panasonic that’s still changing. “I’ll be honest,” he said, “I don’t know that I’ve got all the answers worked out yet. We’re  looking to get feedback on the various programs we’ve offered in the past. We’re taking a an approach where if it’s not working, we can reinvent the wheel. If I look at the entire company, we have maybe five different [dealer] programs that we’re trying to meld into a single Panasonic Authorized Reseller program.” The company has to figure out how to support both that traditional security integrator, who’s not interested in branching out into phones and document scanning; the traditional phone and POS guys, who don’t know security; and all the companies that would like to utilize the full suite of products.

Further, he said, “we can partner you up with our resellers on the telephone side if you are just a security reseller and you have a good relationship with your account; we can figure out ways to make that work for the reseller.”