Company profileSecurity specialist Core Systems sees U.S. prisons as opportunity

Published 5 January 2009

Belfast-based Core Systems provides biometric equipment to prisons in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland; it is now expanding to the United States; with a prison population of 2.2 million; “In the prisons business, the United States is the market leader,” says Patricia O’Hagan, company’s co-owner

The developing peace in Northern Ireland has many benefits, not least of them for local companies. Here is an example. Belfast-based Core Systems, a software maker, has spent fifteen years avoiding the limelight, shunning every type of publicity. There is no marketing of its products, its name would not have been found on any Northern Ireland trade mission, it does not even brand its company vehicles. Until now it has been unwilling to tell its story.

The Financial Times’s John Murray Brown breaks this silence, writing that Core Systems is a key contractor to the province’s security services. It has developed an expertise in biometrics to help the Northern Ireland prison service. Patricia O’Hagan, managing director, says that at the height of the province’s political troubles a supplier of even humble, everyday items to prisons could become an assassination target for the various paramilitary groups, if it was seen to be working for the security forces. In the past few months, however, the company, in a move reflecting the improvement in the political situation in Northern Ireland, has been tentatively stepping out of the shadows. “We are redesigning our website and we have started to promote our products. It has meant we have got a lot more business. And, frankly, it’s a great relief to be in a position to be able to tell people what we do,” says O’Hagan. A Belfast woman, she co-owns the company with the two founders Tommy Maguire, commercial director, and Edward Hanna, technical director. She was brought in because of her experience of the IT industry and bigger organizations.

Core Systems demonstrated its capability in a challenging but small home market with 1,600 prisoners, but now it has become a leading supplier to the U.K. Home Office and the Irish Republic’s prison authorities. Earlier last year it opened an office in Santa Rosa, California, hoping to replicate its success in a market with a prisoner population of 2.2 million. “In the prisons business, the United States is the market leader, if you like. But being from Northern Ireland does get people’s attention. We have a reputation for an expertise in security issues,” says O’Hagan.

O’Hagan says prisons work is very different from supplying software to a construction company. “The way we have to build a profile is by engaging with technology experts in the industry. We have presented in the U.S. at the American Corrections Association congress. It is really about identifying the key influencers in the