Feature Story: We visited the European headquarters of ZKTeco
Initially conceived as an international company, ZKTeco started out modestly, with only its products being sold abroad, without services and customization for customers. But then, at the global level, something happened that, contrary to expectations, opened new opportunities for many companies – the global economic crisis. In 2008, many security companies decided to try their hand at making it big in international markets. ZKTeco was among the pioneers.
By: Damir Muharemović; E-mail: email@example.com
Our editorial team has covered many events in the past sixteen years. Having published no less than 178 issues of a&s Adria magazine so far, we witnessed the emergence and maturation of technologies, innovations that caused controversies only to become commonplace, the disappearance of former industry greats who were thought indestructible, the rise of new companies, we talked and hung out with the professionals who, in fact, can be said to have sown everything that has grown in the past decades. But, after all those years, one thing manages to impress us every time – a story about a name and reputation that grow together out of the vision that everything is possible, regardless of the challenges. In search of one such story, this time we went to the suburbs of Madrid, a city and a corporate “forest” in which countless businesses flourish. Madrid is also the seat of the European headquarters of a company whose access and entrance control is an evergreen tree in this corporate forest. We want to tell you a story about ZKTeco.
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Creativity from all over the world
The European headquarters and warehouse were founded in 2010 and have been located in Madrid for twelve years. A pioneer in biometrics and RFID technologies, ZKTeco is now a multinational company with close to 3600 employees. From the beginning, its founders and engineers sought to independently develop algorithms to verify the biometric characteristics of the body, which over the years has become an ecosystem for identity verification and smart security. Both hardware and firmware as well as software are produced internally, at research and development centers scattered from from the India to Xiamen, Dalian and Dongguan. Today, the company’s offer is rounded up not only with biometric and RFID modules but also with access control systems, turnstiles and barriers, video surveillance, metal detectors, and integrated security solutions. At its European headquarters, where the service, sales, development, and financial departments are located together with a warehouse whose capacities will soon double by moving it to a new location, ZKTeco’s partners and distributors can receive all the necessary services. From there, they provide support to other European subsidiaries: British, German, and Italian offices, whose numbers they also intend to increase.
The economic crisis is an opportunity to change strategy
We were greeted by an extremely pleasant team of people, led by Even Wang, General Manager of the European Business Group at ZKTeco, in whose company we felt as if we were members of the personnel. Socializing took place until the afternoon and was spent in pleasant and useful conversations. Their friendly synergy, we noted later, is certainly one of the wheels that powers the company’s business on European soil, about which we will learn more later.
“ZKTeco started as a small company, with two or three people”, says Mr. Wang from the outset of our conversation and continues: “The founder is Mr. John Che. The business started as a technology firm that was researching biometrics. At that time, biometrics were not so common in the world, so they tried to design one biometric module to offer to the market. Step by step, they decided that they could develop a time and attendance terminal. So, some money was raised to move to Shenzhen, a zone known for its electronics industry.” The company started to grow but that was not enough for a major breakthrough in the market. The business was mainly done in China, and only its products were sold abroad, without service and customization offered to the clients. But then, at the global level, something happened that, contrary to expectations, opened new opportunities for many Chinese companies – the global economic crisis. In 2008, Chinese companies decided to try their hand at making it big in international markets in order to prevent financial problems. “ZKTeco was among those who adopted this strategy at the earliest stage. In the beginning, we had a small team of people, but we were also lucky that the demand for biometric systems increased sharply”, adds our interlocutor. ZKTeco made a difference in the market by offering an attractive price, a broad range of products, and quality service. Clients knew that they could count on people who are always at their disposal, which is very important in business.
This resulted in rapid business growth. They are proud, they say, of the decision taken at the time. But it was not easy. “You go to another country where no one knows you, you have to learn to live there, find customers, talk to them in your poor English. I joined the company in 2010. I initially worked in India and I know how hard it is for a Chinese company to start from scratch outside their home country. Language, laws, taxes – these are all great challenges. But we were trying to gradually adapt, find local people and partners, understand each other and bridge the cultural gap. I can say that after 14 years of development we have a great team. We now have 3600 employees, of which 450 are internationals. I think that’s the largest number of foreign employees in a Chinese company,” says Wang.
Another important turning point for ZKTeco happened in 2020, and it was marked by yet another trend among Chinese security companies – going public. The higher inflow of capital enabled them to further strengthen and expand. ZKTeco started the process of the initial public offering (IPO) a little earlier in order to become a public company and increase capital investments in expanding production and opening new offices. “The money will mainly be invested in research and development, especially in the software segment. The second part will be related to the service network; we will open five new offices, new warehouses and continue to employ local people. I think we need to have local people in every country because the value is to offer services to our clients locally”, explains Wang. ZKTeco currently has 38 subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas, but they want to open many new ones. In Europe, they plan to open offices in France, Romania, and Poland, as well as in other countries.
People are the greatest resource
Just in time when the company went public, the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Yet again, as it happened in the past with the economic crisis, ZKTeco has found an opportunity to offer new solutions to its customers, this time in the form of a cost-effective and adaptable solution for measuring body temperature and detecting the wearing of protective masks. “We got a lot of great clients, such as Telecom Italia and Spanish Telefonica, as well as the opportunity to gain access to many banks and government institutions. That helped us a lot to get through the difficult period in 2020. We have kept and even increased the number of employees. We kept working in all countries and continued with our development and research. We even opened our office in the UK during the pandemic. Even in the most difficult period in May 2020, our team continued to help our clients in Italy”, recalls Wang.
The greatest strength in the focus on entrance control
Although it initially presented itself as a biometric company, ZKTeco is always trying to adapt to different applications. “We are currently fully focused on developing entrance control technologies and solutions, including those handling the passage of vehicles, people, and luggage. I think that we can offer a high value in that. As much as AI and IoT change the world, people have to start from the entrance. The entrance is a key point for home automation and office security. For the past twenty years, ZKTeco has been working on one thing only – entrance control. We try to offer the best hardware and software solutions. That is why we have no less than 10 product ranges today. Our greatest strength lies in this type of focus”, says Even Wang, General Manager of the European Business Group at ZKTeco.
How ZKTeco managed to expand its business in Europe year after year was the topic we discussed in detail with Kinga Zarzyck, International Business Development Manager with ZKTeco, who was both our host and the person behind the organization of our visit. For years, ZKTeco kept facing one obstacle that prevented them from stepping out of the widespread stereotypical mold. In the eyes of its users, the company was mostly seen as a supplier of access control and time & attendance hardware. In recent years, however, they have focused on delivering solutions, ranging from offering consultancy and adapting solutions to project requirements to assisting with their implementation. “Our goal in the coming years is to change this perception because ZKTeco is changing and growing constantly, not only in terms of its revenue but also in terms of its solutions and their quality. To achieve this, we have opened local branches in Germany, Italy, and the UK in the last five years. We also have salespeople in Romania and Poland. We intend to open local offices in these countries as well as in France in the near future. It is very important for us to be close to our partners and to react faster and adapt our solutions to the needs of the local markets “, explains Zarzycka.
In order to provide the best possible customer support, the European branch expanded the most in the segment of its pre-sales and project departments. It is, in fact, a new segment of ZKTeco that was created not so long ago to support partners chiefly through products. While distribution is important, integration is another channel that needs support. They currently work with more than 100 partners across Europe. Upon asking whether they work directly with installers and integrators or with distributors only, we were told that everything depends on the country. “We also work with integrators, and not only with the larger ones that have the capacity to develop their own solutions. Yet, it all depends on the strategy in a particular country and how that country is organized. Not every distribution channel in a country can function at the same level or be as good as, for example, the Adriatic region”, says Zarzycka, citing the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the UK as examples of countries focused mainly on integration with security system management software.
More solutions for the customers
Our host is also in charge of organizing business in our Adriatic region. She has been cooperating with partners from Southeast Europe for four years, and for that purpose, she was a guest at our Adria Security Summit on no less than three occasions. “We have tried to get even closer to our partners throughout these years through the support received at the Adria Security Summit. We plan to attend the coming Summit in October in Croatia. It’s one way to meet potential partners and companies we could work with. It is not just about offering them our access control technology, which is our best-selling product in the region, but rather about introducing them to other solutions we can offer, such as parking ramps and turnstiles. In addition to small and medium-sized enterprises, we are also getting involved in other larger and more complex projects with varied and non-standard requirements”, says Zarzycka. To achieve this goal, they are constantly investing resources in educating partners and customers about new series of products and solutions. This is done while simultaneously working on integration with different security platforms, which means that they will be able to access the projects not only with ZKTeco’s hardware but also with a full range of specialized products aimed at other complementary security segments. Regarding the manufacturing segment, ZKTeco will soon move its warehouse to a new facility in Madrid. So, it’s all about a comprehensive approach whose proper implementation will make success inevitable.No delays in production and delivery
When it comes to storing products with the aim of timely delivery in difficult times marked by the chip shortages in the global market, ZKTeco claims that they have prepared for the lack of materials and stored a lot of raw materials. “We have no production delays, and in addition, we have doubled the stock of all the products we sell here in Europe, so we have no problems with delivery. It’s all just a matter of proper planning. I am sure that with a larger warehouse, the situation will be even better, that is, it will be an even smaller problem than it is now “, says our interlocutor. However, due to rising raw material prices and multiplied transport costs, they were forced to revise the prices of their products. But, on the other hand, they compensated for this by extending their warranty to three years.
To get acquainted with the entire range of ZKTeco’s solutions, we visited a beautifully decorated showroom, which is divided into product segments, from access control and time and attendance to smart locks for hotels and smaller housing units. We were greeted by Mr. Robertodino Sebastiano Leita, an amiable International Presales Engineer with ZKTeco Europe. As an excellent connoisseur of ZKTeco’s products and solutions, he introduced us to each product group and answered all our questions in detail.
ZKBioSecurity – the Core of ZKTeco’s Solutions
At the heart of ZKTeco’s solutions is the ZKBioSecurity web platform, which integrates multiple functionalities. It is all about the so-called modules for access control, time and attendance, online and offline elevator control, hotel and visitor management, parking lots, mobile patrols, and video surveillance. There are also new modules that allow data management from all access control devices, including body temperature measurement. VMS modules that support thermal cameras and network recorders are also included. When ProFace X [TD] or SpeedFace V5L [TD] face recognition devices are used, the person’s image is sent to the software, with the security guard being able to identify the person with the higher body temperature than usual. The people flow management feature has been added to the time and attendance module. The latest version of the platform also provides advanced security features such as FP online registration, HTTPS encrypted communication, registration using a QR code, an LCD screen to display a log of live access events, etc.
“The platform is one of our main services. I do not define it as a product, but rather as a service because it includes all the necessary solutions within the security framework. Access control is at the core of what we do, and to that, we can add more functionalities that are translated into modules. The control we provide is primarily focused on user protection. By this, I mean any type of information, such as normal entries, normal events, alarm events, and some types of anomalies – all of which are perfectly controlled. It is possible to integrate not only with our other devices but also with the products made by our partners via APIs and SDKs directly. Each module communicates with other modules, which is fundamental. This means that if you want to verify the alarm caused by an access control system or activate the alarm, open or close the door due to an event in the CCTV or sensor module, you are actually able to do it”, says Leita. The platform can be used in projects of all sizes. Its optimized architecture, which enables advanced biometric identification, and a modern interface provide users with a completely new experience and easy management of various systems.
Time and attendance from anywhere
When it comes to time and attendance data and associated hardware, the key difference is that ZKTeco generally does not use controllers but rather terminals. Still, “the market has changed a lot over the years and we are aware that mobile and cloud solutions are taking precedence. That is why one of our latest innovations is GoTime Cloud, in which a user can now use a mobile phone in addition to traditional card and biometric verification methods, while the supervisors have total control over employees: where they are, what kind of work they do, etc. You can see on the screen that each working code is marked with an image and all of them can be exported as reports”, explains Leita. Localization is available in the form of a map, which is increasingly in demand in the market, and you can also create advanced calendars, custom shift schedules, or configure all changes in your company.
Integration of mechanical entrance control and access control
The entrance control product series features several categories. There are several types of turnstiles and barriers available, which are divided based on the level of mechanics and electromechanical control one needs. The showroom featured various three-arm turnstiles and turnstiles with curved and flat flaps and barriers for parking lots, together with vertical tripod barriers used in football stadiums. But the real benefit is found not only in the products themselves but in the fact that they can integrate with their own access control. “It is important to mention that we can perform any mechanical and software integration ourselves because we are the proprietors of our technology. This means that no matter what kind of reader or controller is demanded for turnstiles, we can offer it to our customers. This greatly simplifies the work of the installers who install them in the field”, says our host.
Innovation at work
To get an idea of the designing prowess of their engineers, we were introduced to the ZPad Plus, one of ZKTeco’s best-selling products. Originally, it was a device used for time & attendance, but during the pandemic, there came a need to check the green certificate. So, they used the original public applications certified by the Italian government and integrated them with their hardware, which can now make decisions and open doors or activate an alarm relay based on the validity or invalidity of the certificate. “It is one of our best designs so far and it has been a great success, especially because we have improved the algorithm that has the ability to check personal documents, so we can be sure that the certificate belongs to the person who shows it”, says Leita.
We also had the opportunity to check the Mars Pro series of turnstiles with flat or curved flaps, designed for spaces with a large flow of people. It has a modular structure and comes with new features, such as frame modularity, which can be easily assembled and disassembled. No matter what level of damage is done to your turnstile, only its impacted part will need to be replaced. However, the most important functionality is the number of ten million cycles, which is a rarity on the market.
There are two types of barriers on the market: those with strong mechanical components, which can raise arms up to six meters long, and cost-effective barriers for residential and commercial areas. ZKTeco offers both types. The parking solution is based on LPR bullet and dome cameras integrated with barriers equipped with VR10 radar, which completely eliminates the need for any induction loop. When the vehicle leaves an area, it is not necessary to re-read the plates so a copper spiral is usually installed in the ground and it detects the weight of the vehicle and sends a signal to the barrier to open. With radar, there is no need for that, because it is simply pointed to the right side and calibrated. The license plates are controlled locally by a camera, while the VR10 controls the arms without the need to install a magnetic loop, which also makes the job easier for installers. Another good thing is the anti-shock mechanism, which detects an obstacle (e.g. a child passing by) and prevents the arm from falling. “An additional important functionality of this solution is that it can work independently or you can connect it to our ZKBioSecurity platform. So, in addition to all the information about vehicles that pass through the barrier, you can also link each car with a user in the system”, concludes Leita.
We ended our showroom tour by checking the solutions with smart locks for hotels and smaller housing units, with ZKTeco offering four series: online hotel management, offline hotel management, smart locks with local Bluetooth connection, or smart locks with cloud connection via an e-mail account. This enables remote management of credentials, without the need to go to the site.
Thirteenth security company in the world
After a full-day tour of ZKTeco’s European headquarters and the meetings with the leading people from its management, business development, and technical departments, we were left with the feeling that the company has made a lot of progress during all these years. When we reflect on its first appearances at major security fairs only ten years ago and its modest biometric solutions which focused on cost-effectiveness back then, we simply have to compare it with what we had the opportunity to see and hear during our visit. It is no wonder, then, that ZKTeco ranked 13th among the top fifty security companies in the world according to Security 50 list. They have come a long way from one product group to multi-series solutions but managed to keep the focus on one thing – entrance control. And that is the biggest advantage of ZKTeco.
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