Before “the cloud” became an ubiquitous IT term, Cliff Dice thought off-site data storage and hosting could be the springboard for growing the business at Saginaw-based Dice Corp., a provider of telecom, software and monitoring services for the security alarm and surveillance industries.
Dice, the president and CEO, founded the company in 1992 to provide software for alarm companies around the country. He said off-site hosting and storage has been key to steady growth of 20-30 percent annually in recent years. Revenue at the company is about $7 million a year.
Dice Corp. moved to the hosting model in 2013. “Everybody told me that no one would ever host their alarm company in the cloud, but they were wrong,” said Dice. He said he has nondisclosure agreements with most of his customers, but provides software or hosting services to more than 1,000 security companies nationwide.
“More than 80 percent of all retailers in the U.S. use our system for some sort of security protection and about 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies,” he said, all of that through his alarm-company customers.
In 2014, Dice Corp. spun off IPtelX, a fast-growing telecom provider that is run by his son, Jordan, the president and CEO. It also has revenue of about $7 million, up from just $1.5 million when it was spun off. Dice says that IPtelX realistically could have revenue of $100 million in two years.
Both are under the umbrella of Dice Resource Holdings in the Valley Center Technology Park and employ a total of 54, with projections to be at 70 in a year. Dice said the plan is for Dice Corp. to have the largest combined data center of alarm customers in the world in five years, surpassing ADT.
The company has been certified by Underwriter Laboratories for its fire and life-safety signaling systems.
Dice estimated that about 12 million homes have alarms tied into his equipment and three million businesses, including customers in Ireland, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile. He has his own server farm at the Dice headquarters and also uses external servers through Amazon and Microsoft Azure.
Prior to founding his company, Dice was a computer programmer at Dow Corning from 1980-1983 and worked on database projects for Dow Chemical from 1983-1985. He is a 1984 graduate of the Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management at Northwood University.
“Cliff has been an innovator in the industry,” said Tim LeBlanc, founder and president of TriStar Monitoring LLC, an installer of alarm systems based in Orange County, Calif., who has owned or managed alarm companies since 1974. “Before Cliff starting moving everything to the cloud, it had never been done in our industry before. Traditionally, hardware and servers were stored in your central station. Now, other companies are starting to go to his model. Other companies are copying what he’s doing. It just makes sense. If you have your own servers, you have to keep replacing them every three or four years as they go obsolete. Now, it’s Cliff’s responsibility.”
LeBlanc said he launched TriStar in February 2013. “I had used Dice for 20 years at other companies and gave Cliff a call. I was looking at a $2 million investment in servers and hardware and I told him, ‘Cliff, I don’t want to invest $2 million.’ So he came up with a hosted solution for us. He owns the hardware, the phone switches, the servers. He hosts everything. And if I have a problem or something I want to do, I can pick up the phone and call Cliff and he’ll sit down with his engineers and software people and solve it.”
LeBlanc said he hired IPtelX as his telecom provider. The company ran fiber into his building both from San Diego and Los Angeles to give him redundancy.
“That provides (us) with all our internet and phone capabilities cost effectively, and it allows us to provide phone and internet service to our alarm customers. That gives us more revenue streams, and adding more revenue streams is the name of the game,” he said.
Dice describes IPtelX as a European-type telecom. He said American telecoms typically have high capital expenses associated with infrastructure, while European telecoms limit infrastructure by relying more on cloud technologies. He said that allows IPtelX, despite being in an aggressive growth mode, to have operating margins of 95 percent.
He said it has customers in 65 countries.
Proving the nationwide breadth of Dice is Statewide Central Station, an alarm company based in Staten Island, N.Y. Steven Coppola said he bought the small, 5,000-customer company in 2001 and knew he needed to find better software to grow the business. Dice Corp. got the contract and he’s been with them ever since, having now grown to 50,000 customers, most in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, with others down the East Coast to Florida.
“We couldn’t have handled the growth without Cliff,” said Coppola. “They’ve got great quality of service, but, truthfully, it’s Cliff. He’s got that entrepreneurial vision. He’s got a good pulse on the industry and where it’s going.”
Coppola said he will be expanding his reliance on Dice later this year. “We’re going to switch to the cloud-hosting model in six months,” he said.
Engineered Protection Systems Inc. of Grand Rapids is another alarm company that uses Dice’s hosting services. EPS was founded in 1955, has other offices in Traverse City, Kalamazoo and Petoskey and claims thousands of customers across several states.
Here’s an example of how the companies interact, and it’s a more complicated process than you might imagine.
Let’s say a customer near Traverse City who is out of town gets a call from an EPS employee that a home alarm had just gone off. It turns out the alarm’s setting hadn’t been changed since two kittens were added to the household, and as they ran around the house, motion detectors were set off.
The alarm panel in the house that detects the motion makes a call that routed to IPtelX in Saginaw, which in turn routes it to equipment that decodes the signal and determines that it is, say, a result of a motion detector reacting to movement in the front room. Dice Corp. then alerts an alarm operator at EPS, who calls the homeowner.
After talking with the alarm operator about how the home alarm had been set, the homeowner is told that now that he has cats, when he leaves his house, he needs to plug in his four-number security code but then needs to hit the “stay” button and not the “away” button. That way motion sensors won’t react to the cats.
The EPS operator remotely resets the alarm so the cats won’t set if off again.
If the call from the operator to the homeowner isn’t answered, Dice Corp. then directs a follow-up call from EPS to the appropriate police or sheriff’s department.