Q&A - Seán Keating, CEO at Vilicom

July 12, 2019 by John Hatcher
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Q&A - Seán Keating, CEO at Vilicom

Sean Keating, CEO at Vilicom has worked at the company for over 16 years. He has worked across four different continents and expanded the business into 20+ countries, delivering wireless technology, in-building mobile coverage, consultancy, and data and intelligent analytics across a diverse range of industries for unprecedented productivity and efficiencies. This provides every customer with the ability to empower people across the world with the freedom to communicate and work from anywhere. Outside of work he volunteers with Dublin City University, and annually at Engineers Week, Ireland, to ignite young people with the same desire. On the weekends, you’ll almost certainly find him cycling around the city of Dublin.

How did you become involved in the Smart Buildings industry?
I suppose that would be about 11 years ago at Vilicom, when I first got involved with construction projects. It started with hospitals - lots of staff needing to be contactable all the time but working in underground operating theatres, obstacles like that. They’d use pagers and various messaging and fixed information systems which all had their limitations. My focus then shifted to include manufacturing plants, office buildings, airports, banks, universities and residential.

What excites you about the Smart Buildings industry?
There are huge efficiency savings that can be made when it’s approached right, and we make processes simpler and workspaces a nicer place to be. The same efficiencies extend to the building as a whole, so you can genuinely contribute to the sustainability of the business which is a great feeling.  

We spend over a third of our lives in work, so using engineering skills to make that work better has to be the right thing to do. Engineering has that pragmatic element of actually getting hands on, physically modifying a problem to make it better.

Are there any particular technologies that we should be aware of, but are currently under the radar?
I think it’s more a case of people surprising us than a new technology! We’re reaching a point where connectivity in urban environments isn’t optional for anything; business, personal and social processes expect connectivity and we take it for granted.

The role of smart buildings as part of this environment means that building operators and owners will be expected to deliver services that extend beyond their immediate needs, or be berated and ignored!

What services does your company offer?
We deliver wireless coverage in commercial premises that suffer from poor mobile signal strength. This problem can have many major negative impacts upon businesses and its users in affected premises. We provide professional services consultancy to companies throughout UK and Ireland and we are also a solution provider, i.e – we analyse the space to understand the obstacles that its users face, and we also provide an end-to-end solution  tailored to the customer’s specific needs, enabling their business to operate at its most optimal.

Are people aware of the regulations that they will need to comply with in the near future?
Typically, no. Mostly people need to be more aware of the spectrum of licencing and just how closely the main operators, who paid to use that spectrum, monitor their space. Any installation operating on a nearby band needs to be carefully developed and monitored; as new technologies capitalise on the remaining gaps in spectrum, being mindful of adjacent users becomes more and more important.

Beyond that, wireless systems are surprisingly challenging when it comes to energy use – it’s often the biggest operational overhead, too. There are newer regulations and initiatives governing power consumption which challenge even the most experienced consultants.

What are the benefits of a smart building?
I’d say energy conservation poses the biggest benefit, certainly as a retro fit to older properties where managing the problem becomes so much with the data you need to identify waste. Next comes easier work and the general improvements in work-life that smarter buildings deliver. And lastly, once the building contributes its smart backbone to the business, new levels of automation and simplified process are both possible, allowing actual business delivery to run leaner and more efficiently.

Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
I’ve had a lot of great bosses over the years at places like 3 and Lucent, but I’m proudly Irish, and Bobby Kerr is an Irish entrepreneur I’ve learned a lot from listening to on the radio. He’s now the chairman of Insomnia Coffee Company, after working on oil rigs and theme parks as a catering manager he founded a service business in a deepest recession and capitalised on the shortcomings of similar businesses to develop his own. Hearing him talk about how he dealt with the recession and the challenges he’s faced was incredibly influential to listen to.

What is the question you are most often asked in your business life?
“How can I leverage (get the best out of) the benefits of this system?” People understand the basics but increasingly want to take the maximum advantage, looking beyond voice and data. It’s not just about mobile connectivity anymore. Wireless communications provide a great foundation for many innovative applications.

For example, we completed a project in an aircraft hangar that allowed the owner to implement electronic flight bags, eliminating tonnes of paper and manual updates. And we’ve installed systems that enable automatic alerts if a worker suffers an accident.
Another customer with a huge campus had a wireless system for voice and data with loads of spare capacity. Wired CCTV would’ve cost millions to introduce – miles and miles of cable – but the network capacity allowed them to roll out wireless CCTV. Less campus disruption, lower overheads, more flexibility… the list goes on.

What are the best/worst things about your job?
The best thing by far is talent development. I really enjoy working with new people, making them better – make the company better by making people better.
This sector is very fast moving. Technology moves really quickly, and sometimes it can be challenging staying ahead of the curve, although this is quite interesting in itself.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Learn as quickly as possible, focus on building knowledge and skills. The company (any sensible company) will do as much as it can for you, but “you spend the first third of your career building skills, the middle part building income, and the third part giving (and getting) back.”

What living person do you admire and why?
Elon Musk. It’s hard to go into the space business and build a spacecraft without prior experience. Separate the achievements from the behaviour though, nobody’s perfect!

Where would you most like to live?
Dublin! I love living here and have lived in a few different countries like the MidWest of the States and London, so I’m confident Dublin suits me well. We travel a lot with Vilicom – I’ve even had stints in Rio and Chicago.

What is your favourite book?
Catcher in the Rye. It’s a teenage book, but an absolute classic.

How do you relax?
I’m a big cycling fan, watch a bit but do it myself a lot more, I’ve cycled competitively and have recently got back into it and I still love it.

What sports team do you support?
Gaelic Football and Hurling. Dublin County teams for both by the way.

What is your desert island disk?
Arctic Monkeys, the first one. They were just kids – that they were capable of making that sort of noise is madness. [Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not]

What is your ideal holiday?
Anywhere where you can laze on the beach with a bit of culture. Venice was incredible recently – you can step from the beach into globally acclaimed art exhibitions. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

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