Diodato moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in the early 1980s, during an explosion of companies using fledgling computer platforms and components from Silicon Valley. He and Jeff Roberts were young software engineers at Racal-Milgo, an electronics company. They excelled in developing industrial data communication infrastructure devices in the pre-internet era, and decided in 1983 to incorporate as Cypress Computer Systems, taking the company name from Cypress Creek Road where they worked.
“We wanted something with a local name to get in on this computer thing,” said Diodato.
The startup secured software and hardware development contracts with aerospace, biomedical and other companies in south Florida while working from home using a primitive network. Diodato’s house supplied hardware design and manufacturing, while Roberts handled software and administration.
Diodato had an alarm system installed, but was underwhelmed with the technology.
“It was stone knives and bear skins, as Trekkies say, and an ancient form of alarm reporting ironically called a digital communicator,” said Diodato, who contacted Serv-All Systems owner Greg LaMura regarding redesigning the panel. Cypress demonstrated its prototype panel, with its new microprocessor, LCD Keypad, and unheard of dial-up modem, at the 1983 ISC Show in New York City.
Cypress continued to contract while developing its own products for security, marine electronics, aerospace, robotics, and timekeeping systems. In 1983, the company developed a wide area fire and watch system for GM. Cypress’ AMS alarm monitoring system was its first financially successful product. It was sold to GM facilities into the early 2000s, with some original units still in operation.
Now known as a quick-turn solutions company, Cypress continually solved unique challenges in the facility security space. Fuel management and access control solutions, timekeeping systems and displays, Keyboard Wedges, and some niche products to extend, supervise, and convert an esoteric protocol called Wiegand, were all created by the company’s two founders.
In 1988, Cypress opened its first office in Deerfield Beach, Florida. By 1992, the company needed a permanent midwest location closer to the automotive industry, the source of much of the company’s business. Tony relocated the hardware development, manufacturing, sales, and tech support to Metamora, Michigan. “I pulled up in a U-Haul with my office and equipment and rented the lower level of a hair salon,” said Diodato. “After hiring our first employees, we quickly outgrew that space and rented a 3,000-square ft. building on the property.”
When one of the company’s GM contacts offered sales and marketing help, a third partner, George Kiess, joined Cypress. The company grew from about $200,000 in sales to 12 employees, exceeding $1 million by 1996. Trade shows, magazine ads, and travel were vital marketing efforts, along with reps throughout the US and Canada. The internet was emerging and Cypress immediately created a web presence.
As the year 2000 loomed and Y2K concerns mounted, Cypress was asked to gear up for a flood of orders. They anticipated 2000 would eventually arrive, noted Diodato, and their AMS alarm system was equipped for the Y2K rollover. “We were one of the few companies to actually guarantee in writing that nothing bad would happen at midnight on that fateful day,” said Diodato. “Needless to say, all was well at 12:01 a.m. on Jan 1, 2000.”
To accommodate all the systems being built, tested, and shipped, a 10,000-square ft. building in Lapeer, Michigan was purchased. Then sales slowed. “Apparently everyone spent two years of their budget on Y2K remediation,” said Diodato. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, sales went from bad to worse. The company downsized back to just Diodato and Roberts, plus two employees.
By 2002, Cypress had pivoted to selling smaller, high-volume “widgets” which could be easily manufactured. Time displays, Wedges, Suprex Reader-Extenders and converters went from add-on/specialty items to the entire Cypress product line, and the company exceeded $1 million in sales. Over the next two years, Cypress had recovered and product sales grew, along with staff.
Paul Ahern was an industry friend of Diodato’s, and offered sales help as a contractor. Together, Ahern and Diodato changed Cypress from a security/access control system manufacturer to an integration accessories provider. All Cypress products were designed to overcome everyday challenges faced by security and access control integrators and installers. In addition to directing sales and marketing, Ahern became a full-time employee and eventually, President, CEO and partner of Cypress.
By 2005, Cypress was known as a solutions provider for integrators and installers, and an industry leader in wireless, fiber optic, Ethernet, and twisted-pair communication protocols. With Ahern’s leadership in maintaining the Security Integration product line, Diodato began developing products in other market spaces, along with the required engineering and manufacturing talent.
Robots were a lifelong passion for Diodato. He quickly became involved in mentoring youth teams in the FIRST Robotics program after meeting program founder Dean Kamen at a robotics conference in San Jose, California. “Not only was I having fun, I was meeting hundreds of students who had exactly the skill set I needed at Cypress,” he said.
In addition to Cypress’ main product line, the company began installing security and courier robots in healthcare and pharmaceutical applications. They were mobile, fully autonomous, and patrolled facilities or carried medications, specimens, or production samples. Steeped in facility infrastructure expertise, Cypress could integrate mobile robots into facilities, opening doors, riding elevators, and talking to security and access control systems. While technologically successful, it was too early to gain business traction, said Diodato, adding “those robots are in storage waiting for the right time.”
Youth robotics, however, became an ongoing philanthropic and recruitment model for the company. Cypress dedicates thousands of volunteer hours and financial support to help youth on elementary, middle school and high school robotics teams, providing coaching, mentoring, team sponsorships and student sponsorships.
Cypress also actively contributes to the security industry. With his insight into the Wiegand interface, Diodato knew a robust access control protocol was needed. When the Security Industry Association further developed the Open Supervised Device Protocol, he became an active contributor. Cypress also began developing OSDP solutions and introduced the award-winning OSDP-Wiegand converter in 2015, the first OSDP product on the market.
Diodato later met ethical hacker Babak Javadi, and the two began demonstrating how OSDP secures the last few inches of wire outside a secure door due to the protocol’s Secure Channel encryption. The company began efforts to raise awareness about the benefits of OSDP; Google Maps now lists Cypress as the home of the OSDP protocol, which is actually assigned to SIA.
Diodato was named co-chair of the SIA Standards OSDP Technical Subcommittee in 2018, and in 2020, the subcommittee finished the process of attaining approval by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC 60839-11-5). Cypress, meanwhile, expanded its product line to overcome security and access control integration and installation challenges, which now includes both Wiegand and OSDP solutions. In 2021, SIA honored Diodato with the Standards Service Award.
Ahern was a dedicated member of SIA as well, serving on SIA’s membership committee and advocating for OSDP, and was an ASIS member as well. He continued to extend the company’s reach, and added sales representatives in the US, Central and Latin America, and Europe. Ahern traveled extensively on behalf of the company, throughout the US and beyond, to Canada, Europe, Australia, and Dubai, logging more than a million miles.
With COVID, the company’s ability to pivot was again required. Diodato made frequent trips to the building to ship products. Traditionally, at Cypress weekly meetings, staff would gather over pizza. When Michigan’s lockdown took place, Diodato had pizzas delivered to staff members’ homes and held virtual lunch meetings from his lab. This allowed staff to continue to develop access control devices and custom products, such as fleet management solutions.
In 2022, Ahern began experiencing health problems, as the company geared up to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Ahern died Jan. 17, 2023, making the 2023 milestone bittersweet.
“Paul was the perfect complement,” said Diodato. “He woke up wanting to run a business. I wake up wanting to make products. Without Paul I never could have invested the time I did into robotics and building our current team.”
Cypress restructured in the spring of 2023, with founder Tony Diodato resuming his role as President and CEO. Jon Uren was named Vice President and Chief Operations Officer. Jacob LeRoy was named Sr. Sales & Development Manager, and Alyssa Burda LeRoy has taken on the role of Financial Manager, in addition to her previous Officer Manager role.
Four decades in the security industry has not always been smooth, but it’s been worth it, said Diodato. “I started the company when I was 24, when I knew everything. The only thing that turned out to be true was knowing there’s always a path to success.”
Cypress Computer Systems is headquartered in Lapeer, Michigan.