Honeywell to buy US Digital Designs as part of public-safety strategy
Honeywell has agreed to purchase alerting and dispatch communications provider US Digital Designs in an all-cash deal that is expected to enhance Honeywell’s efforts to help public-safety agencies accelerate response times, particularly in the case of structural fires.
Sameer Agrawal, Honeywell’s general manager for software and services, said the hardware and software solutions from Arizona-based US Digital Designs reduce fire response times in multiple ways, including support for simultaneous dispatches to multiple stations, audio and visual alerting to awaken firefighters, and accurate information.
“The right amount of information gets displayed [at the fire station],” Agrawal said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “They know exactly who is supposed to go, which unit is supposed to show up”
US Digital Designs also provides computerized voice dispatching, which is designed to reduce confusion that can be created by a dispatcher’s accent or excited description of an incident, according to Agrawal.
“Instead of having the dispatcher just call things on the radio to dispatch, the dispatcher can actually help troubleshoot and provide other services while the computer-aided voice can dispatch it out,” he said. “So, you can hear the exact same calm voice and the exact same pronunciation—and you can change the pronunciation as you like—to be able to talk through [the dispatch].
“There is no language problem, and no one is getting hyper about a certain situation.”
US Digital Designs—a private company established in 2000—has extremely high customer-retention rates and customer-satisfaction scores at installations supporting “tens of thousands of firefighters” in the U.S., Agrawal said. In the near term, US Digital Designs customers should see no change in operations, he said.
With the acquisition, Honeywell hopes to help US Digital Designs scale its business both domestically and internationally, Agrawal said. As a result, there are no plans for any layoffs of US Digital Designs personnel.
“We want them to keep going, and [Honeywell officials are asking], ‘How can we add more?’” Agrawal said. “This is all about a growth and scale story.”
Dominic Magnoni, US Digital Designs’ vice president, chief mechanical engineer and chief operating officer, echoed this sentiment.
“Honeywell’s scale, global reach and commercial relationships will enable even more fire stations to access our solutions, helping to create safer communities,” Magnoni said in a prepared statement.
Buying US Digital Designs is Honeywell’s latest step in the company’s initiative to become more involved in the protection of life and property in buildings and other structures, Agrawal said. Earlier this year, Honeywell purchased Fiplex, which provides in-building systems to support public-safety communications.
“The first announcement that we did was the acquisition of Fiplex, which is designed to ensure that first responders can continue to communicate right when they come into the building, broadly speaking,” Agrawal said. “This is now taking it one step backward—before they [first responders] come into the building, how do we take care of [communications]?
“We had done a great job in building our individual systems. Over the last few years, we have been connecting these systems to the people inside the building. Now, we’re thinking, ‘The building is an ecosystem, and there are other people who provide help to a building at different points in time, whether it is the maintenance worker, the first responder, an authority having jurisdiction or an insurance company. If you think of a building as an ecosystem, there are lots of other players that are very interested and critical to making the building work as best it can.”
Honeywell Building Technologies President and CEO Doug Wright agreed.
“The future of public safety relies on technology,” Wright said in a prepared statement. “We are integrating intelligence throughout the fire-alarm transmission process—from the fire panel to the first responders—and providing uninterrupted communications to first responders.
“Integrating US Digital Designs’ fire-station alerting capabilities with Honeywell’s Connected Life Safety Services will allow us to eliminate manual processes and significantly reduce response time. Helping first responders arrive faster on site means potentially saving more lives and providing a higher level of asset protection.”
Honeywell hopes to begin introducing new functionality into US Digital Designs’ solutions within the next 12-18 months as Honeywell seeks to shave valuable time from emergency responses, according to Agrawal.
“We want to cut this end-to-end cycle time by half,” he said. “Now, seconds matter in this industry, and we’re talking about minutes here”
Reducing response times also is a priority for US Digital Designs, according to Todd Smith, US Digital Designs’ president and chief electrical engineer.
“We are pleased to join the Honeywell team and support its efforts to add more automation and digitization to the public safety communications process,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “Reducing response times means we can protect more people, buildings and their assets.”
In the wake of the Fiplex and US Digital Designs deals, more Honeywell acquisition and partnership announcements in this space can be expected, Agrawal said.
“We are just getting started,” Agrawal said. “The vision really is to cut down the time that it takes … from the time that someone found out about it [an emergency incident]—or some system found out about it—especially in the structural-fire aspect, where we play very heavily and where loss of life and loss of assets can be pretty dramatic. That’s really where we’re going to hit the hardest.
“Think about the vision from end to end and think about all of the systems that come into play. Our job is to find that correlation and make all of those things work together—thread the needle, as they say. And as we do so, we will find several needles that we would like to own.”