Letting video do the talking for commercial drivers
Nick Mircheff remembers his reaction when Chris Planz described the dashcam video technology he was working on.
"When he kind of explained what the technology does, I said, oh my god, this is perfect. I need to have it in my vehicles," Mircheff said, referring to his family's commercial janitorial business, Cleanway Maintenance.
Mircheff figured other companies would see the benefits of the technology also, and in 2012 he and Planz formed Schaumburg-based SmartWitness.
Mircheff, the president and CEO, oversees operations and sales. Planz handles the technology side of the business, Mircheff said, calling his partner "the brains behind all this."
The idea is that video can protect two of a company's most valuable resources, its drivers and its vehicles, not to mention a company's reputation.
"If a picture says a thousand words, how many words does a video speak of?" Mircheff asks rhetorically.
It's a simple concept. In case of a vehicle accident, the video can show that a commercial driver was doing the right thing at the time -- eyes on the road, not on a cellphone, two hands on the wheel, reacting appropriately to road conditions and the vehicle that causes an accident.
And accidents do happen. Mircheff cites statistics that 20% of commercial vehicle drivers will be involved in an accident of some type each year.
"So when you're looking at this it's not a matter of if you will get in an accident, it's a matter of when you get in an accident," he said.
But commercial drivers will be at fault for only 10% of those accidents, Mircheff said. Smart Witness can prove the commercial driver was not at fault.
"Technology can give you everything, but only video can tell you how it happened," he said.
Companies also can use the video to coach their drivers on the benefits of safe driving, showing them how to avoid accidents and protect themselves in case of collision.
"We all hear there is a driver shortage," Mircheff said. "Drivers need to drive longer hours because there's not enough drivers. And why? Because we're not protecting them. They're the asset. Forget about the vehicle a second. The driver is the asset. And if you protect that driver you can give them enough guidance and enough technology ... they can understand what they're doing wrong on the road and you can prevent expensive accidents from happening."
It's an industry with tremendous potential for growth. Over half of the commercial vehicles in the United States have telematics -- technology that allows a company to know where each of its vehicles goes, how long it takes to get there, how long it stays there and how it can optimize routes -- but only 3% have video, he said.
"So that market has not been penetrated," Mircheff said. "It's a very new market, very excited. We are in the top five companies in the U.S., perhaps even globally, in terms of units installed in commercial vehicles."
Mircheff said the average growth rate in the industry is 15%-16%, but SmartWitness grows at about double that rate, around 30% year over year the last few years after a slow start in 2012.
Smart Witness clients log about 50 million miles per day, he said, "So it's quite a bit of mileage there that we record on a daily basis."
SmartWitness has been installed in more than 400,000 vehicles worldwide, and Mircheff hopes to hit 500,000 by the end of the year. Annual revenues are in a range between $50 million and $100 million and growing 30-40% growth in revenues year over year," Mircheff said.
The company has grown to about 100 employees now, most in Schaumburg. There are others sprinkled around the country, and some employees are in the United Kingdom for the European market. The company also maintains a technology office in Bulgaria also.
Something extra for Markham
When Ryan Companies got the construction contract to build a new Amazon fulfillment center in South suburban Markham, the company wanted to leave behind more than just that $290 million, 4-million-square-foot facility.
The commercial real estate firm wanted to leave behind some goodwill in the form of community improvement projects.
Markham approached Ryan Companies late in 2020 with a couple of requests for help with community parks, holiday street lighting, a fire station and other projects.
"We kind of ran with that and took their asks and worked with the people we were using for our (Amazon) warehouse project in Markham," project manager Nick Hasou said, who took the lead on most of the community projects.
For instance, Ryan Companies worked with a contractor to add power to 35-40 streetlights on 159th Street so they could handle holiday lighting.
They fixed up two local parks so that Markham kids could get outside during the pandemic, adding about $120,000 worth of playground equipment.
They renovated a Markham fire station, adding bedrooms and moving them upstairs from the workout area, instead of having the workout area above the bedrooms. Now when weights drop, they don't wake up firefighters.
"It was kind of cool to see for initial impact for Markham," said Director of Construction Eric Abrams, who took the lead on the Amazon project. "They were super excited about it."