Volume 13 | Issue 1 | Year 2010

“I was recently in the lobby of the Empire State Building that has these huge bronze emblems representing the various construction trades and craftsmen responsible for building it and I was thinking that, today, you’d have to have more than just one emblem for the electrical trade. You’d have to have separate emblems for energy management, voice/data networks and security systems,” Jim Haskins, vice president of sales and marketing for Wachter, recounts. “These are all things that modern buildings need to incorporate that weren’t around in the 1930s.”
Wachter, in fact, has been in business slightly longer than when the Empire State Building first opened its doors for business. William Wachter founded the company in 1930 with the aim of providing quality electrical services at competitive prices. Over the past 80 years, Wachter has built considerable success by providing essential services and skills that underpin modern buildings, both directly and in support of other building management systems providers.

“The company was founded by my grandfather,” says CEO, Brad Botteron. “Back then we was dedicated to electrical construction services. In the 1980s, we partnered with IBM to install and support data cabling, so we were in on the ground floor of some of the very first building networks. As computer technology and the networks required to support it took off, so did this business. By the 1990s we teamed with one of the country’s largest retailers to provide and support the network needs of new multiple stores opening across widely divergent geographic locations. That’s led us to where we are today in offering a range of customers – both end-users and companies that support or sell products and services to end-users – a unique set of services to support the integration of their building management systems.”

Says Haskins, “Today’s convergence of electrical, voice, data, and security into integrated intelligent building systems requires a broad range of skills and knowledge to design, install and maintain. Wachter engineers, project managers and nationwide workforce of electricians and technicians understand these systems and have extensive experience spanning many industries and technologies. And, we have licensed electricians and low-voltage technicians in all 50 states. That becomes very important for companies that may very well have the capabilities to design, say, a security system, but don’t have the licensed people necessary to hand a surveillance camera.”

Wachter is headquartered in Lenexa, Kan., with a 24/7 call center located in Lowell, Ark., and has offices throughout the U.S. and in the United Kingdom to service European Union countries. It employs approximately 800. “One of several unique features of Wachter is that our technicians and electricians are direct W-2 employees,” Haskins notes. Using our own employees who are available nationally makes Wachter unique and provides a key advantage to customers. There’s a world of difference in dealing with dedicated employees who have the top training in their field and committed to our standards of excellence and subs that are randomly provided from a jobs bank.”

Also, Botteron notes that Wachter’s national network of technicians ensures quick response times. “Last year we handled 40,000 requests for service. All of our technicians have vans that are not only fully stocked with all the materials and tools they need, but are GPS (global positioning systems) equipped. We can literally take a service request from a client, find the nearest technician that’s on the road, and provide emergency response within four hours in most areas of the country.”

The company provides services to three distinct segments of building management needs. “One third of our business concerns clients who are opening new locations and require new systems installation. Another third is the deployment of new technology across the enterprise. And the final third is to service and support a client’s installed based of technology.”

“What’s common to all these segments is that it typically involves large companies, with multiple branches operating over a large geographical footprint,” Haskins notes. “We have the engineering expertise coupled with the labor force to provide what our customers need for their building management and enterprise-wide systems, anywhere they need it deployed.”

Wachter provides services directly both to major retailer, insurance, transportation, financial, health care, and other construction, commercial and industrial customers – including over 60 Fortune 500 companies – as well as to technology services providers and resellers.

“We provide our expertise and value to IBM, HP and Cisco Channel Partners, as well as working with general contractors, value added resellers, property managers and property owners,” Haskins says. “We’re looking for what’s best for the customer to cost-effectively integrate their building management technology needs across their enterprise.”

Such a project began as designing and deploying a data center with sufficient back-up capability to survive severe weather. “After experiencing a four day power outage, from a record setting ice storm, a Midwestern distribution firm turned to us to help expand and protect their data center. We designed and installed a completely new power distribution system that included utility feeds to the transfer switch, generator and building switchgear,” Haskins says. “Wachter specified and installed a two-megawatt diesel generator and transfer switch that provides emergency power for the entire eight-story building, along with a separate 130 KVA (kilovolt ampere) UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for the data center. Wachter also designed and installed a high-speed data infrastructure that included a fiber backbone, multi-pair riser and Category 6 infrastructure.

He adds, “By the same token, a vendor could call us in to help support their proof-of-concept to the end-user. Or, it could be something as simple as a VAR calls us up and says, hey, we just sold a security system to this company, and we need your licensed technicians to install the cameras.”

He emphasizes that customers’ needs to better integrate various telecommunications, energy management, security and power systems are always the overriding factor in what role Wachter assumes in designing and deploying a solution. “We’re not about selling someone’s particular product, or selling a laundry list of our capabilities. What we are doing is developing customer relationships and partnering with them to help them address their needs.

“When we meet with a company CIO, we don’t like to talk about what services we can perform for their IT department. We prefer to ask them, what keeps you up at night? What’s going on in the enterprise that’s costing you money, and what would you like to see happen to reduce or eliminate that expense? What do you need to do to work better, faster and more efficiently? That’s the starting point. We’re not about selling products or services; we’re about customer relationships where we help identify and meet their needs. We earn our customers’ trust by keeping our promises and exceeding their expectations while also continuing to expand our services and capabilities.”

In addition to improved operating efficiency, today’s building management systems also aim to reduce energy consumption and associated costs. Wachter is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, Botteron points out. “We not only design electrical systems that lower energy consumption, but entire intelligent building systems that combine the network infrastructure of voice, data, security, and lighting and climate controls for a more efficient building. We also design and install alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic panels and hydrogen fuel cells. Wachter is committed to sustainable design and construction methods and our project portfolio includes many LEED certified buildings.

Botteron adds, “Wachter’s green commitment extends beyond design and installation for clients. Our in-house and on-site practices include recycling programs and paperless project tracking. The use of building information modeling (BIM), electronic operations and maintenance (EO&M) manuals and on-line as-built drawings greatly reduce the need for printed materials in providing clients documentation in an interactive digital format.”

There are further advantages to this interactive digitization beyond cost savings. “When a project is completed most contractors hand the building owners a set of blueprints, and they wind up in somebody’s credenza. And, then, somebody needs to figure out where a particular set of cables are actually running to a control panel for lighting that isn’t working right. So, once they find whose credenza the blueprints are in, they’ve got to shuffle through all this paper and they’re still only getting a flat, two-dimensional perspective of what’s going where. You don’t really see how the cables are running through the walls. We provide an interactive, three-dimensional PDF to the building owner that you can not only pull up instantly on your laptop, but you can actually see where the cabling is. That eliminates a lot of guesswork in poking holes in walls if you’re just working from a blueprint. That not only makes your maintenance work quicker and easier, it helps you fix problems faster that could be costing you money for as long as the system isn’t functioning properly.

The state of the economy notwithstanding, Haskins foresees considerable future opportunity for Wachter to help customers achieve their goals. “The convergence of data, voice, and video into an integrated building management system that incorporates all aspects of energy management, security management and communications is what every large scale enterprise needs to achieve,” Haskins says. “Now, admittedly, because of the economic downturn, companies aren’t spending if they don’t have to. And, to be sure, there’s not a lot of new commercial construction going on, and that certainly has affected our business. But as companies are looking to gain the most efficiencies, and the most savings, in their operations, their building management and enterprise-wide systems are the first places to look to achieve those goals. We’re here, as we’ve always been, to help them achieve their goals.”

And Haskins has additional reasons to be optimistic. “I recently attended the National Retail Federation’s ‘Big Show,’ an industry expo held in New York City. Last year there was a lot of doom and gloom, but this year I’d say 90 percent of everything I heard was about new initiatives and how best to achieve them. So, as our customers are getting more confident in moving proactively to improve their building technologies, we’re confident we can help them design and implement them in ways that best add value to their business.”

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