February 11, 2014

Core Systems’ MD is targeting the US

Ulster Business January 2014

Patricia O’Hagan MBE is clear about where the biggest potential lies for her company Core Systems.

The firm, which develops software for prisons, high security facilities and government buildings, is investing £700,000 in a new expansion and R&D project to access new opportunities in the US market – creating eight new jobs in the process.

The Belfast-based company already sells to the US and recently established a business relationship with a leading provider of inmate services to correctional facilities in America – giving the company a direct route to over 50 per cent of the US corrections market. It is, by some way, the largest prison market in the world. Of the 8 million people in custody in prisons around the world, 2.2 million of them are in the United States.

“The US lock people up at a higher rate than anywhere else – their rate is about 1 per 100 per head of population compared to about 1 in 1000 in European countries,” explains Patricia. “It’s also a very competitive market and the only reason we’ve been successful is the innovation in our products.”

The company works with the producers of biometrics technology – devices such as fingerprint scanners that identify people based on unique characteristics – to create software that makes sense of the information in a secure way to enhance the performance of the physical devices and make identification more accurate, whether for access control or people logging in to find confidential information.

“We have to make sure we get the right information to the right people so we use the identification technology to determine who we’re dealing with and map that against the information they’re entitled to,” adds Patricia.

“In a prison there is typically 20 to 30 separate systems that are focused on prisoners that store information about their health, their money, their education, their welfare, why they’re in prison, when they are going to be released. They are entitled to that information but in the current situation they have to request it from a prison officer who goes off to a computer in a secure location, gets the information and gives it back to them. A simple question like how much money do I have, when can I see my lawyer, when can I see my family, you’re not getting an instant answer to it. We thought why not connect them directly to the information.”

Patricia joined Core Systems in 1999 when it was a team of four people and became its Managing Director in 2005. Today the company has 32 in its Crumlin Road headquarters as well as staff and advisers outside Northern Ireland. Yet she plays down her own role in driving its growth, saying: “I think what I do is look for opportunities and where the market is going and bring that back into the team so we can come up with solutions. I’m a facilitator to help people’s creativity.”

Her list of personal achievements suggests Patricia is being modest. She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list last year for her services to the Northern Ireland economy and was also named the Women in Business NI Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year Award. She serves on the Economic Advisory Group, is a member of the American Correction Technology Committee, and was recently appointed Chair of ADS NI Defence and Security Special Interest Group.

With a background in electronic and design engineering and qualifications in construction and software development, Patricia started her career as an analyst programmer in the shipyards. She was IT manager at Stockport College and worked briefly at CEM Systems before joining Core. It’s a company she says people want to work for because it invests heavily in product development and allows them create bespoke products such as hosted software solutions for prison services who control multiple facilities.

“We’re working on things that haven’t been done before which is really exciting. That’s one of the reasons we keep people, because they are constantly challenged,” she says. “At the moment we’re also working on an exciting project called Transforming Rehabilitation. The UK government are planning to privatise 70% of the probation service and we’re looking at what sort of technology solutions we could offer to the people who are successful in that.”

The MD also expects further progress this year with new market opportunities in the UK, Europe and Canada. “We’re currently working on our European go to market strategy. We hope to have at least pilots kicking off next year in Europe. It is very localised and in a way Europe is like the US. It’s another big step for us but also very exciting.”

To see the article click here: Ulster Business Core Systems