Systems Technologies - security solutions, proudly developed and manufactured in South Africa

September 99 News

As a country we still tend to underestimate the innate creativity of our people ,but a visit to Systems Technologies in Johannesburg will help dispel such perceptions .The company was foundedin 1988 by two entrapreneurs,Mannie Almog and David Wailer .From an initial single client order of just R10 000,Systems Technologies today is a dynamic and profitable business ,employing 18 highly skilled software /hardware engineers and technicians,and ploughing back an estimated 40% of profits back into research and development.

No mean feat, and due largely to the fact that the partners are no ordinary businessmen, but are qualified engineers themselves, with a passion for solving problems and developing new solutions. Their personal specialities are telecommunications (Dave) and bio-medical engineering (Mannie), but this has not limited the range of disciplines built into their locally conceived and developed products.

Photo-Card and related products

One of the company's most successful developments has been the Photo-Card system, which was launched in 1994 as a comprehensive and cost-effective Windows-based ID badging product. Today there are more than 3500 sites using Photo-Card in 43 countries, major overseas markets being North America, Central Europe, Scandinavia and Israel. The user base ranges from tertiary educational establishments to government offices and from world-leading manufacturers to the largest utility-type companies. While Dave is reserved regarding the amazing success of this product (and the many other systems later developed to support and enhance its features) he does attribute a major factor as being that they were the 'technology leader', being the first company to offer an effective system operating under Windows. The other major factor was of course the use of local engineering skills, which were not only the best available, but kept the development cost low compared to erstwhile overseas competitors. Today Photo-Card remains a major source of income for the company, and its increasing global success has also been positively influenced by the increased cost-competitiveness afforded by the weakened rand.

The fully configured Photo-Card digital imaging ID card system makes use of a 2 Gbyte Pentium-based PC running any recent version of Windows (95, 98 or NT), and can be acquired complete with the dedicated digital video camera, or the customer can use his own (most common types being supported). The system can print photographs, bar codes, signatures, logos, graphics and text direct onto standard card stock or higher technology cards using magnetic strip or embedded chips. In fact, as Systems Technologies also represents the world-leader in card printing, Fargo, it can offer a printer to suit virtually any application. (Fargo offers a wide range of thermal transfer card printers which can produce both full colour and low-cost monochrome imagery). The software offered by Systems Technologies allows the personnel data, including photographs and signatures, to be saved to a permanent database, for use when required. A unique, and particularly user-friendly feature is the multilingual capability which allows users to set up the system to operate using any 'spoken' language. Naturally this includes Afrikaans, French, Spanish and Dutch, as well as the more exceptional Hebrew and Arabic.

To give some idea of the unbelievable market penetration of this indigenous South African product, customers in the manufacturing industry include Opel and BMW (Germany), Motorola, Coca Cola and Maxwell House Coffee. When it comes to utilities, South Africa itself is the best example, with large users being Telkom, Eskom, the Post Office and Metro Rail. If you have forgotten how many universities we have in this country, just think of a name! Photo-Card is currently in use at 25 including Tukkies, RAU, Wits, Natal and the University of the Free State. The credibility of the product is further endorsed through its use by the Israeli government for both their Parliament and Foreign office. If that is not a high enough accolade, then Systems Technologies can even boast of having the US Navy as a client (look closely at that next episode of JAG!).

Naturally, for use with Photo-Card, Systems Technologies offers its own Photo-Cam DSP video camera. This camera, available in NTSC or PAL format, was developed by the local company in cooperation with Sony in Germany, the specific application being the generation of colour or monochrome ID images. The camera comes complete with an electronically driven zoom lens and can be operated remotely through RS232. The camera can be adapted for several other applications, but is ready-to-use with Photo-Card and its framegrabber.

The development of the Photo-Card technology has been ongoing, and one of the latest additions to the product range is Photo-Lobby. The problem for most large companies who have implemented ID card technology for staff, is the control of visitors. Photo-Lobby fills this security gap and allows companies to have the same knowledge and control over visitors, using a low-cost camera to produce a self-adhesive monochrome ID card which can contain an on-the-spot photo, identity (including signature), and access authority. Depending on the sophistication of the system required, access to visitors can be limited to specific areas, their movement can be tracked, and in the case of emergencies such as fire, a true reconciliation can be made of all people still in the building, or on a specific floor.

Ever sensitive to the needs of its customers (particularly within South Africa) the company has also produced Photo-Card Lite, a smaller and more economical version of the main-line product. Photo-Card Lite offers many of the same features (some now optional) and can output using any printer that supports Windows 3.1 or 95. The PC requirement also drops to a basic 386 running Dos 6 or higher. Photo-Card Lite offers most of the advantages of the full system to smaller operations, which could include private hospitals, embassies, and other businesses where access control and personnel ID is desirable.

Access control and building management

Systems Technologies has also developed a range of access control units, which it manufactures in house. These range from the cost-effective, entry-level ST-100 right up to the state-of-the-art ST-2000. The ST-2000 range operate off mains supply, but are fitted with a UPS in the form of a sealed lead-acid battery. Like all the locally developed systems it can be configured to support virtually any type of card device, including HID, Wiegand, bar code, magnetic strip and contactless smartcard. Other options include the number of card numbers which can be stored (5000 or 10 000) and the number of card readers (single or dual). All of the access control systems can be directly operated using System Technologies Octopus 2000 software.

The Octopus 2000 is the latest innovative product from Systems Technologies, and is a total building management and access control system. The Octopus 2000 is a full-featured computer-driven access control system, which like all the company's products is cost-effective, reliable and easy to use. Octopus will accept more than 50 000 users per access point, with 1000 remote sites, making it particularly ideal for universities, hospitals and large corporates. In terms of access control the system will support all types of reader technology, including advanced biometrics, and reader types can be mixed to allow for differentiated security zoning. Octopus is fully compliant with Photo-Card, but apart from providing access control (and time and attendance data), the system can monitor and control virtually any other electrically controlled equipment. It is used for overall energy management, including air-conditioning, alarms, lighting, fire protection systems (eg fire doors and sprinklers) and CCTV cameras. Even elevators can be re-programmed or powered down during non-core business hours.

Some other developments

One of the earlier developments of the company was a system which allowed transfer of X-ray images over a telephone line, so that in emergency situations these could be studied by a radiologist on his home PC. This novel device is still in use at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg and it could find new application in treatment of patients at more remote rural hospitals, particularly with the recently announced local development of a compact portable X-ray unit. There are many other applications for transmission over a distance of both audio and video data, and to cater for this market niche Systems Technologies now offers its PhotoLink system. This wireless unit operates in line of sight situations to distances up to 8 km, and can also be used to transmit alarm signals.

Representative agreements

In order to provide its local customers with a total solution, Systems Technologies acts as a distributor for some other 'best of breed' companies. They offer the extensive Fargo range of card printers, and represent the United States based HID Corporation, which is a major manufacturer of proximity cards and readers. This latter technology complements the magnetic strip, bar code and other secure techniques offered directly by the local company.

Where is Systems Technologies going in the future with its ID systems? The answer probably lies in a much greater emphasis on biometrics, using automatic voice and fingerprint recognition as an ultra-secure access control tool. Photo-Card itself is a platform which allows extension into use of more advanced identification technology as it becomes cost effective and reliable. According to Dave Wailer the opportunities and ideas the company has are endless and it intends to keep its 'finger on the pulse' when it comes to being at the forefront of new technology innovations.

For further details, contact Dave Wailer at Systems Technologies, telephone (011) 882 1337, fax (011) 882 8806 or e-mail:

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