Illinois-based Federal Signal last week announced it has paid $17 million to buy Codespear, a privately held company that boasts software-based interoperability and alert-notification solutions used extensively throughout its home state of Michigan.

Known for a variety of products and solutions for government and industrial customers—from street sweepers and industrial vacuums to safety and security systems—Federal Signal also has developed software, but it primarily was tied to the company’s hardware products, said Michael Wons, Federal Signal’s vice president and chief information officer.

“Now our goal is to create an industry platform for interoperability,” Wons said. “We’ve got all these different vehicles, services and products in the municipal and federal markets, and people are coming to us and saying, ‘How can we bring all these things together?’”

Prior to joining Federal Signal two months ago, Wons worked at Microsoft for five years, serving as the technology strategist for the software giant’s financial services group. Upon seeing Codespear’s interoperability solution, Wons said he was certain that he’d found what Federal Signal was seeking.

“I was just blown away and said, ‘Holy cow,’” Wons said. “Coming from Microsoft, we were a platform company, I saw how valuable it was to be a platform company. Federal Signal wants to be a platform company and, in the first week on the job, I see this platform and say, ‘Hey, this is it, guys. This is what we want.’

“The thing that’s interesting about Codespear is that it’s a very flexible platform. They developed the system the way Microsoft develops their systems—very modular, you don’t have to install a whole new version, because you can keep adding things after you’re done.”

Wons became even more impressed after discovering the customer loyalty that Codespear had inspired—“these people would take an arrow for Codespear; it’s amazing,” he said. However, while adopted by many enterprises in Michigan, Codespear remained a largely unknown company outside the state, which hindered its sales to government entities elsewhere in the country. Now that the Codespear solution is part of Federal Signal, which boasts $1.3 billion in annual revenues and has sales channels into almost every municipality, that problem should disappear, Wons said.

“That was the biggest challenge that Codespear had,” he said. “When you talk with [Codespear officials], they would tell you, ‘We can’t get in and get the credibility we need.’ The thing that Federal Signal does is that it give global, international presence to Codespear.”

Wons said Federal Signal would use the Codespear solution internally within its organization, as well as selling it. A new version of Codespear’s SmartMsg technology is ready to be tested by customers, he said.