Portugal suits Canadian surveillance technology company

Portugal is an important market for Canada’s Avigilon Corporation, with sales of its advanced video surveillance, video analytics and software having grown there over the years, and Lisbon serving as a key headquarters for the company’s operations in the region.

The country’s central location, knowledgeable workforce, and strong communications and other infrastructure renders it an ideal location from which to manage Avigilon’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, a region known as EMEA.

Based in Vancouver, B.C., Avigilon designs, develops and manufactures advanced security surveillance solutions for use in protecting locations such as stadiums, retail environments, casinos, airports and schools. The company has a strong presence in Portugal and the EMEA region, where it works closely with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

“Our presence in the region has been growing over the past few years,” says Gonçalo Pereira, the regional sales manager for Avigilon in Portugal as well as Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

The company was founded in 2004 by Alexander Fernandes, and tapped into a large unmet need for comprehensive high‑resolution video surveillance systems, says Willem Ryan, Avigilon’s vice‑president of global marketing and communications. It has grown to be a global leader in the security industry, selling advanced security surveillance, artificial intelligence, video analytics and access control products through trusted partners in more than 120 countries.

Avigilon expanded its sales to Portugal in 2008, and established a presence in the country in 2012. In 2016, it opened its EMEA headquarters there in order to provide billing, credit, technology and sales support throughout the region.

“Our technology is helping to redefine the way customers think about and interact with their video surveillance systems,” Ryan says, adding that Avigilon’s powerful cameras and software allow users to use surveillance technology in all kinds of new applications across a wide range of verticals, including ports, stadiums, airports and more. For example, it can be used to detect people and vehicles in critical areas and notify operators, allowing them to quickly verify and respond to potential security events.

“Our focus on innovation has helped to meet our customers’ needs, while being agile and nimble in order to provide solutions to them,” says Ryan, noting that Avigilon has had 39 consecutive quarters of revenue growth.

Avigilon had used TCS services prior to entering Portugal, Ryan says, across Europe, for example, particularly in the United Kingdom and markets such as Latvia, Austria and Germany. “The TCS has been helpful in providing guidance and advice on our business objectives within these regions, as local experts on the ground.”

The TCS has worked closely with the company since it came to Portugal and “has always been willing to help us,” says Pereira. In the early days, Avigilon co‑hosted successful events with the TCS at the Canadian embassy in Lisbon to present its then largely unknown systems to local contacts. The TCS works with the company to identify and make introductions to heads of security at major Portuguese companies and agencies in fields such as banking, insurance, government, defense, mining and hospitality.

Fatima Carvalho, a trade commissioner in Lisbon who covers the aerospace, defense and ICT sectors, says the TCS team in Portugal is supporting numerous companies in their efforts to penetrate the market there. Although Portugal is a relatively small country, with a population of just 10 million people, “there are many opportunities that Canadian companies can tap into,” she says, and Portugal can serve as a stepping stone to larger, more complex European Union (EU markets.

Avigilon offers an advanced surveillance solution to users, with end‑to‑end technology from its cameras through to the software that processes the images and the hard drives that store it, Carvalho says. In addition, Avigilon's systems are compatible with any number of products, even old analog cameras. “This means potential customers can gradually shift to Avigilon by installing the video management software, which is much more cost-effective.”

Although Avigilon now has its own venue in Portugal to host events, “the company sees great value in having the TCS act as a partner when approaching clients in a sector where trust and confidence are of utmost importance,” Carvalho says. This holds true among all Canadian businesses, she adds, “but especially for companies working in sensitive sectors such as defense and security.”

The company recognizes the value of working with the TCS, she says. In Portugal, the service has a small team that understands the local market well and offers unique solutions to each of the companies it approaches.

Pereira comments that “ensuring our customers’ trust is paramount to our success in Portugal.” With a deep understanding and knowledge of Portugal’s unique characteristics, Avigilon staff work as local consultants to provide an exceptional user experience, he says. “We provide our solutions at competitive prices to meet the needs of small, medium and enterprise‑level companies.”

The company has a global sales team that supports its sales and marketing efforts at the local level throughout Portugal, “allowing us to reach out to integrators, end users and customers on the ground,” he says.

Since establishing its presence in Portugal, Avigilon has become a well‑known company in the region. “Nearly everyone that’s in this space knows Avigilon,” says Pereira. Today the company has a team of more than 30 people based in the capital of Lisbon servicing both Portugal and the wider EMEA region, focused on working with its network to provide trusted security solutions. The team also provides technical and administrative support to several countries in Asia and Latin America.

Portugal’s advantages include the fact that English is widely spoken, Pereira says, and that there are better wage rates for skilled labour and a lower cost of living than in the rest of Europe. The country is home to several major banks and large companies, and is open to other cultures and friendly toward Canadians, he says, noting that there is high brand awareness for high quality technology from Canada.

The company’s strategy is to work directly with partner companies in fields such as security and information technology. It provides premium tech support and has production facilities in Canada and the United States, which is cost efficient, Pereira says.

Avigilon has expanded through strategic marketing programs, regional events and training, and fostering a better understanding of its products and services in the Portuguese marketplace. The TCS has been of enormous help, says Pereira, for example holding special events on Canada Day that feature companies like Avigilon. The firm has major new customers for its technology, such as the Portuguese mint and the Lisbon Cruise Terminal.

The Canada‑EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) may also present more business opportunities for companies such as Avigilon, by helping European Union countries to trade more goods, as well as by increasing the mobility of workers and information.

“In Portugal the human factor is very important,” Pereira says, adding that while the Portuguese are generally open and positive people, it can be challenging to “bridge” the two cultures.

Companies such as Avigilon must also communicate the extra value that their technologies provide and the importance of having higher-quality products and services. “The customer is not just buying a camera from us, they are buying a solution for the future,” he adds.

At the time of publication in February 2018, Avigilon and the Chicago, Ill.‑based Motorola Solutions announced they have entered into talks for Motorola to acquire Avigilon. A spokesperson for Avigilon says their company will continue to operate as Avigilon, and that it is “business as usual.”

From Lisbon, Portugal, this story is one example of how trade commissioners located in more than 160 cities around the world help Canadian companies succeed.

Read more about the Humans of the Trade Commissioner Service.

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