TPT Group CEO Mike Marr is pursuing what he calls a "future strategy", chasing disruption as he buys a series of local IT services businesses.
Since it was founded in 1999 as an electronic security company, TPT Group has rolled up ten businesses in total. But both the pace of that activity and its focus is changing.
TPT bought three companies in the last year alone, and two of those, Sentinel Technology and IT Engine, were IT rather than security service providers.
But acquisitions are only part of the picture, Marr told Reseller News last week. TPT also claims to have developed eight successful start-up businesses with two more under way.
"For years we've done acquisitions in the electronic security space in the corporate and government markets growing out a national business," Marr said. "Now around the IT side of it we are out to do the same thing alongside the advanced security business.
"I guess we see electronic security and the IT sector as very complementary. They overlap each other quite a lot so it makes sense for our position strategy for the future."
Marr, a former sparky, said three overlapping circles help explain TPT's strategy.
One is the traditional electronic security under the advanced security brand while the second is IT services, now under the IT Engine brand - the final circle is what he calls the "future innovative products piece".
That final circle covers "a whole lot of smart stuff" including drone technology, cloud, data analytics and AI.
"All those things come together for us," he said.
That can be seen clearly in one of the ventures emerging from TPT's in-house incubator: drone control software developer VigilAir.
When a security alarm goes off VigilAir despatches a drone to the scene rather than a security guard. A software as-a-service (SaaS) platform is used to control the response, processing weather data and multiple flight routes.
Marr said VigilAir is powered by its own own unique technology and the group is now taking that to the world.
"Every organisation is faced with challenge how they position themselves and that’s the journey we’ve been on," Marr said. "That’s all part of our strategy to realise the future, I guess."
TPT buys companies for cash so all of the acquisitions are now owned by Marr's family trust.
"It’s about how we roll up in some of these different spaces and get a national presence," he said, referring to the motto for the group, which is "growing a great group of businesses".
As a result, acquisitions are integrated straight away and given TPT is ISO accredited, there’s a journey for some of the target businesses to go on.
"Generally we are pretty mature on systems within the group," Marr said. "We’ve been lucky that all our transactions have been successful and they’ve been integrated successfully.
"The issue is people often try and force it too quickly. It’s about how we manage for change and stay customer focused and enable the business to do what it does."
For TPT it’s about achieving geographic coverage and scale.
"Generally the group philosophy is we want to be where the customers are and that’s why the group has 18 offices in New Zealand – so we can be close to those customers as opposed to a contractor model that we don’t think works that well," he explained.
Again that comes back in part to ISO.
"With ISO and stuff like that you have a system and systems are what make businesses," Marr said. "They’re sustainable and deliver consistent outcomes for customers and consistent quality. It’s harder to put those systems across a contractor."
There is still space for partnerships, however. TPT has strategic alliances with companies such as Panasonic and Spark.
Whenever a roll up is under way, there is a suspicion an exit is likely to follow, to the stock market, a trade sale or even private equity - Marr conceded TPT has been chased by funds, but insisted an exit is not on the radar.
"We’ve been on the journey since '99," he added. "For us, now is the moment for a lot of this future stuff. We are trying to position ourselves right for that.
"We have a whole lot of new and innovative products to roll out. We want that client base to do it and we want the right capabilities for our customers. That’s what it’s all about – positioning the company for the future."
For VigilAir a fund raise of some kind is being considered to make sure the group has the the agility and capital for a global roll-out.
TPT is also developing products in the cloud for its advanced security integration business, which is about how to make that technology do new things for new purposes.
The question being asked is: "How do we bend some technology to do something completely different from what it was intended?"
TPT's incubator looks five to ten years in future, to dream what’s possible and reverse engineer technology to commercialise it.
Another drone project addresses the strawline challenge in forestry. Traditionally it takes four men four days to string a steel rope across a gully to recover logs. Marr's team are developing drone systems to do it in ten minutes.
"What we find is in the future space, technologies are faster, safer and more cost effective," Marr said. "In an industry that is historically plagued with health and safety issues that’s a good thing."
Equally with digital air why put a security guard in a dangerous situation when a drone or a ground robot called Harriet can do the job.
"It’s a hugely exciting time," Marr said. "The big myth is everyone thinks the whole disruption thing is twenty year away. My challenge is: if you scratch the surface of any industry you will see what’s under the surface.
"It's how position ourselves and our customers for the future."