The role of the central station is under attack. Think about the manufacturers of such technology as eight-track players or slide rules. Both made a great product that consumers loved until the day new technology—CDs and electronic calculators—left their entire industry on the bypass of industrial life.
Monitoring stations must stay current with technology to survive in today's competitive business climate. Central stations need to understand market opportunity available to them. And while a majority of them do and are using software platforms and other capabilities that enhance their ability to monitor customer safety, some are still hanging onto their old-school roots and not giving in to change.
"Getting past the current decade will be a challenge," explained Hank Goldberg, vice president, Secure Global Solutions (SGS), Irvine, Calif. "We are in the very early stage of the 'next generation' and there are few companies rising to the challenge. People are yelling, 'the sky is falling' because they are losing their digital dialer. That's not news. It's been going on for 10 or 15 years as the phone companies are moving further out and less can be done with the dialer."
Having spent the last 40 years in the central station software business, Goldberg knows about slow change and lack thereof. But he confirmed that there are clear changes in service delivery in the current phase of the industry. "As market technology starts to change, the more interesting changes will be new and creative services," Goldberg continued. "Face it, the fundamental technology is becoming obsolete," he stated.
However, as far as today's customers are concerned, Lindsay Grauling, vice president of Operations, Vivint, Provo, Utah, would disagree. "Central stations are what our customers want," she stated. "Today's customer wants the premises to be safe and sound." She argued for today's central station in their ability to serve clients with professional services. "With a central station we provide around-the-clock protection. Our customers have peace of mind with our monitoring, knowing we can dispatch immediately in case of an emergency," Grauling continued.
Simon Morgan director of Technology, SureView Systems, Tampa, Fla., agreed that change is coming but he sees a long life for the central station. "The central station remains the first line of defense," said Morgan. He confirmed that new solutions will allow a company to offer the same services and better solutions with half the manpower. DVRs, audio and video will be tied to a central platform in the control station or private command center.
"The advent of mobile tools lets the central station engage the customer in a way that they never could before via real-time alerts and video cameras to look at their site," he confirmed.
So what do customers crave? "Video, video, video," said Matthew Riccoboni, director of Marketing, OzVision, Melville, N.Y. "Customers desire the ability to see their assets and/or employees live and on historic video. Providing the customer with the ability to look in with LiveView from any device (iPhone, iPad, Droid, and Blackberry) at any time without having to manage complex systems and installations is in high demand. Central stations that provide video alarm verification services complete the value-added package." He confirmed that among the key services users want are video alarm verification, continuous off-site video recording and LiveView from any device.
Change happens; it's here in the industry
There is no question that technology has changed with the advent of virtualization and self-service. And with that shift, more people are whispering what they won't question out-loud: Why do we need central stations when customers can provide the service for themselves via their smartphones?
The driving forces include communications but equally important is the consumer, who is the one driving the marketplace. "How does the user want to receive product and service?" asked Goldberg. He confirmed that he is certain the Apps will come, "Software is a response to the need of the visionaries—people creating new consumables and salable product."
With the off-set of the Apple app, now customers expect to be able to consume all sorts of things via applications. YouTube provides a way to manage and consume video. Banking has a host of apps to manage finances. Security needs to take technology and drive it to provide customer services, Goldberg confirmed. He sees the day in the near future when the security panel will allow customers to monitor their blood pressure. He dismissed the old industry fixation on keeping data compartmentalized, under lock and key. "You can have complete security and complete access to it," said Goldberg. "We need to see that the open connection is not a dialer. You just have points of data and that information can create business-to-business or business-to-consumer solutions."
The creative forces that be
The integration of video, audio, access control and traditional alarm services provide a higher value, both to the consumer and the provider, than traditional alarm services alone, Morgan noted.
"In our business, our software is squarely focused on allowing the central station to offer the next generation of monitoring and value-added services," said Morgan. Customers have busy lives and a lot of other things to focus on than security. "There truly is a value in 24/7 monitoring by the central station. Customers like to know someone is keeping an eye on their assets whether they are awake or not."
Grauling agreed, confirming that "real-time technology is a growing trend" and that technology is important to future success. With Vivint's two-way monitoring capability, the company is able to interact with their customers in the same sense that customers are able to interact and reach out to the company.
"The vision is always having the best connection to the customer," Grauling confirmed. With two-way monitoring, "we ensure our customers stay safe and secure," she added. "As Vivint moves further into the home automation space we look forward to various ways central stations can improve our customers' experience."
Beyond the initial value-add
Yet while Goldberg confirmed that it is too early to tell what will happen in the market, security integrators and dealers should be thinking about it today so their business is positioned for tomorrow. He looks at several smaller firms as potential industry leaders.
For OzVision, the central station is a must for applications like loss prevention, employee theft, employee monitoring and general monitoring. "Self monitoring provides the next level of security required by businesses," Riccoboni said. "The central station is the independent observer that can, without prejudice, alert the authorities during or after hours should the person, with or without the iPad, be involved in the situation that is unfolding," he explained. "The central station still has a specific advantage in providing emergency response management services."
To that end, central stations should strive to become more integrated with the law enforcement, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and fire rescue teams within the areas that they cover. Systems within the central station should be integrated with the emergency dispatch and emergency (EMS and police) so they can share data seamlessly to responding personnel (alarm data and video).
"Utilizing cloud-based solutions eliminates the barriers to achieving this integration," Riccoboni pointed out. On the other end, local law enforcement groups are beginning to be outfitted with smartphones which allow the central station operator to send information directly to the responder.
But while Goldberg doesn't have a simple answer or "a great punch line" to what will happen for central stations, as an industry maven who has seen many products come and go, he is certain that a decade or two from now, this change will be a non-event in the industry.
"The challenges are clear," said Goldberg. "What the industry's response will be to those challenges is unclear."
"We are in the very early stage of the 'next generation' and there are few companies rising to the challenge. People are yelling, 'the sky is falling' because they are losing their digital dialer. That's not news."—Hank Goldberg, Secure Global Solutions (SGS)
"Central stations are what our customers want. With a central station we provide around-the-clock protection. Our customers have peace of mind with our monitoring, knowing we can dispatch immediately in case of an emergency."—Lindsay Grauling, Vivint
"Central stations that provide video alarm verification services complete the value-added package." Matthew Riccoboni, OzVision