- SPARTANBURG, SC-Cynergi Systems was founded on the concept of total convergence. The company saves new schools money by integrating their entire AV, IT, and telephone systems, eliminating the need for hiring separate contractors. This viable service has helped Neil Willis' company grow rapidly, but he attributes the quick success of Cynergi to timing.
Cynergi's executive staff (l-r): Ozzie Lawliss, regional VP (FL); Mike Whitman, VP of operations; Brian Calloway, VP corporate development; Jack Kolb, VP sales/marketing; kneeling: Neil Willis, president/CEO
Neil Willis, CEO and founder of Cynergi, is a former intelligence engineer for the U.S. Air Force. After leaving the service he joined an internet access company in Arkansas that blocked pornographic material for companies and families. He sold the company in 1999 and moved back home to South Carolina to build his business presence. In 2002 he started Cynergi Systems to enter the competitive world of integration.
About this time the American Institute of Architects, BICSI, InfoComm, and the NSCA began contacting the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), the group responsible for governing how commercial buildings are built that architects adhere to. A construction standard indicated all technology systems and electronics had to be installed by the electrician at a new construction site.
Electricians were already certified in their own field and not required to keep up with the latest AV technology. This was an obvious disadvantage. After a couple of years ramifying the MasterFormat, in December 2004 the CSI ratified the manual to create three new divisions for technology systems.
Willis explained, "With that change, and the technologies of voice over IP along with video over the network, everything converged. Cynergi was founded on the concept of multiple systems working together over a common platform, an Ethernet network utilizing the IP protocol. We just happened to start right when this began to kick off. It was all timing."
Finally able to integrate full systems in schools, Cynergi hit the ground running. The company installs up to 13 systems in new constructions, including wiring, data systems by Cisco, IP telephone, CCTV surveillance, IP-based video distribution, classroom protection, access control, biometrics, paging, and pro sound by Bose. This total coverage seems expensive, but the actual cost to hire contractors to install each system bypasses Cynergi's total convergence in labor costs alone. Willis expended, "Our systems are affordable to a district because a school would hire a contractor for each system that we install as one, one for wiring, one for telephones, etc. They save 20 percent, and they get more technology with our single system that covers all aspects. The systems are compatible with each other because we designed the solution that way."
Cynergi has grown more than 200 percent in the past year, doubling its staff since January and opening new branches in Charleston and Orlando. The company moved into a new 60,000-square-foot headquarters in January that includes three technical development labs, a large warehouse and an employee fitness center. "Our knowledge of the education market allowed us to grow rapidly because this is what we specialize in. We know what markets to hit and where construction is happening, how to take on new technology and take risks. We are still able to exceed growth goals every year."
To combat the changing times, Willis associates success with a particular pet peeve. "If we start to work with something and I see it's not working, I'll stop it, even if we lose $20,000 to $30,000. You can't expect different results by doing the same thing over and over again. Let's back up and see what we've done wrong and make it better. We're constantly changing the controls and processes of what we run our business on. And the people change as well. We might recognize a talent that would serve Cynergi better in a different position." Cynergi has also been nominated for South Carolina's Top 25 Fastest Growing Companies for 2006.
Throughout the past few years Cynergi has changed its concept of integrating new schools. Willis said, "We don't just react to the technology changes, we react to how technology affects learning. When we first started we thought, what's the coolest thing we can put in a classroom? We were simply looking for the 'wow' factor. Now we look at it differently. Maybe the highest-tech piece is not the best thing. If we're going to put a field system in a classroom, which can increase retention up to 48 percent, we can change the lives of the kids."
Cynergi gives back to the community it serves. Recently, they were approached by a high school to redo the sound systems and operate a video board in its stadium. ESPN was coming to the school that year, and they wanted to impress the broadcaster. Willis recalled, "This district was the one that gave me my first start. And I thought about it, I have a multimillion-dollar company that would have never come to fruition if these people didn't have faith in me. So I bought this system and gave it to them because they had given us their confidence in the past."
Cynergi bought and integrated the high-end Bose sound system and voluntarily operates the largest freestanding video board in the southeastern U.S. Cynergi now permanently sponsors the school's halftime show.
Throughout the past few years Cynergi has changed its concept of integrating new schools. Neil Willis, president/CEO said, "We don't just react to the technology changes, we react to how technology affects learning. When we first started we thought, what's the coolest thing we can put in a classroom? We were simply looking for the 'wow' factor. Now we look at it differently. Maybe the highest-tech piece is not the best thing. If we're going to put a field system in a classroom, which can increase retention up to 48 percent, we can change the lives of the kids."