Michael Burdiek, CEO CalAmp: “Connected technology will benefit both companies and consumers”
How is the global mobile connected economy changing the face of fleet management, mobility and society in general? Who better to ask than Michael Burdiek, CEO of CalAmp, the California-based pioneer in telematics and provider of SaaS-based IoT software applications.
“Leadership in disruptive times means that sometimes, you have to disrupt yourself”
Mr Burdiek, looking back, what was 2019 like for CalAmp?
“Well, actually it has been a very good year for us. The third quarter even yielded an all-time record revenue for the company. Most of our growth came from three large acquisitions we made this year: Tracker (UK), LoJack (Mexico) and Synovia Solutions (US). Next to that we have a strong and successful focus on recurring subscription revenues.”
The digital world is evolving rapidly. What is your take on the consequences for your company, the economy and society?
“I believe that both companies and consumers will benefit from the ongoing digitisation. Look at Synovia, the company we acquired this year. They developed an application, called Here Comes The Bus, which allows parents to track the school bus in real time. They can even check whether their children are on that bus. Hence it benefits both the company, in this case the school, and the customer, that is to say the parents and even their children. That concept we can bring to many markets around the world. Just think of all the delivery and repair vehicles out there. Those companies can greatly improve their visibility, efficiency and traceability of mobile assets, while offering a better service to the consumer.”
What are the key pillars of CalAmp’s strategy for the next 3 to 5 years?
“There are two primary areas of focus for us. First, we are evolving toward device management platforms with different types of integrated services. For instance: equipment that gets stolen or left behind on a construction site. When these items are tagged, you can track them in real time. In the same way, you could relay information about driver behaviour or even the severity of a car crash. These are perfect examples of transforming our devices into a service platform, rather than just a hardware ‘black box’. Secondly, we focus on building a range of software and service solutions, SaaS solutions, targeting our growth verticals: connected cars, industrial machines, transportation logistics, and so on.”
To what growth markets does CalAmp look specifically?
“Mexico is a tremendous growth opportunity. There we will use the strong brand recognition of LoJack to market our connected car systems. Again I refer to the Here Comes The Bus application, which has been downloaded 2 million times, and counting. Parents will always want to know about their children’s whereabouts and safety. In Europe, the strategy is to grow subscription service revenues. That’s why we bought Tracker and invested in LoJack Italy. And in the Asia-Pacific region, we have been investing in sales resources to connect to various construction equipment OEMs.”
CalAmp has many partners. What criteria do you base the choice of a partner on?
“We are always interested in strategic partnerships and alliances. A good example is Sprint, a leader in IoT and telecommunications innovations. They provide customers and channel partners for some of our vertical SaaS solutions, while we support products and services on the Sprint network. I would say that anytime there’s a large player who can enable us to expand geographically, and that offers complimentary services and capabilities, those are the key ingredients for a successful partnership. It all comes down to identifying the activities you can outsource and the core technology you need to keep close.”
Data security and privacy are major concerns for fleet owners. Can you reassure them?
“As a public company, we take compliance, security and privacy very, very seriously. Obviously we have regular security audits. And as one of the few players in telematics who’ve been able to scale, we were the first to move into the public cloud. That requires sophisticated information security capability inhouse, cloud service partnerships and also a global scale. Because I don’t believe a global common standard on data privacy and security is feasible. I even think it’s moving in the opposite direction. Countries, even states in the US, are expanding separate requirements and regulations.”
What about self-driving vehicles? Is there a role to play for CalAmp?
“It’s a long time from becoming a reality. And it can’t be done solely by automotive OEMs and new car builds. It works great in a controlled environment, but that’s not the world we live in. You have to have aftermarket solutions and smart infrastructure in place to cooperate with the vehicle. I don’t see it happening in the next 5, maybe even 10 years. But we can certainly already benefit from the technologies that are being developed for that goal.”
Final question: What makes a good CEO and how do you keep up with all the fast changes in the tech world?
“It’s not about the technology, it’s about markets and consumers. We are in the middle of transforming a telematics hardware company into a software service company. That is very challenging, but in the end it will increase shareholder value. Don’t be intimidated by change or transformation. Sometimes you have to disrupt yourself and not stick to what you know or understand. Trust your strengths, even into the unknown."
"As far as leadership style goes, I try to maintain an open mind and encourage people to take responsibility. I value everybody’s input, but ultimately, I have to make the decision. As for your last question: we have an annual intern programme whereby students are embedded in our development teams. They are essential to bringing in new ideas and attitudes. We are very happy that more than one third of them is choosing to join CalAmp every year.”
Image: CalAmp CEO Michael Burdiek (left), Global Fleet Editor-in-Chief Steven Schoefs (right)