There's no question that central stations and monitoring professionals will have to adapt to new technologies to keep up with the competitive market. It's survival of the fittest all over again and the ones that change with the time are those that will survive. This month, we went to a number of leading monitoring professionals, central stations, alarm installers and dealers and others to find out what they see as the future for central stations and the monitoring industry to be? What are they utilizing today as far as central station technology? And how do they see the benefits of recurring monthly revenue (RMR) today being applied to their company or the monitoring industry? Here's what they had to say.
Kenny Savoie, director of Operations, Acadian Monitoring Services, Lafayette, La.—The role of the central station was rather simple in the past— handle some subscriber calls, help with some basic technical support, answer alarms, contact keyholders and dispatch police, fire or ambulance. Now, central stations must focus on where the market and technologies are heading. They must know their dealers needs and keep it as simple as possible for their dealer base, which are busy running their own business. They have to take the initiative and do the R&D on new technologies and see which ones make the most sense. The trick is selecting the right ones that are a fit for both your customer's needs and your business plan.
The biggest challenge currently facing both the dealer and central stations is the migration off of analog Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines. In many cases, this is having a negative effect on the alarm industry and dealers and integrators, in particular. We are certainly aware of this and are planning on our future with solutions being implemented that can alleviate these concerns, the additions of RF-radio, Internet monitoring, GSM, wireless video verification and IP video monitoring. Acadian is capable of supporting an array of alarm formats that do not require a standard phone line. We are ramping up our network capabilities between our redundant centers to dual band BGP protocols over two different ISP service providers with 100 MB capacity to support our IP initiatives for the future.
The latest core services we released are hosted services. We currently offer a hosted video platform and a hosted access control platform, where we provide Web portal, cloud access for the customer and/or dealer to be able to access a particular account or service. The hosted video component offers both cloud storage and is compatible with our remote video monitoring, offering additional sources of RMR for the dealer. The access control piece opens up the sale of access systems to a newer market—the small-to-medium business—that was previously considered not viable due to the large up-front investment typically involved with an enterprise access control system.
David M. Koenig, CPP, partner, Capital Lock, Madison, Wis.—Central stations have to change their traditional mode of operation to deal much more commonly with video issues and lifestyle-type things in the residential market, such as interactive services. Adding multiple paths like cellular and IP allow transmission of those lifestyle-type services. Contract central stations have to help their dealers understand how they can make sure their RMR is not eroded—certain people will think they can have all the data sent to their smart phone and they are done. Central stations will have to help their dealers understand how they can turn what could be perceived as a threat into an opportunity. There has got to be some creative thought put into how dealers maintain their current base and add to it and be ready to respond to the smart phone objection.
Tony Wilson, president of Criticom Monitoring Services (CMS), Longwood, Fla.—By far, interactive services will have a steady increase. With a rise in end-user technology—such as smart phones and iPads—central stations may become less operator-centered and may place more emphasis on technical aspects such as allowing the customer to view their monitoring sites in real-time; or viewing motion-controlled areas in their home or business when movement is detected. 2011 has been a difficult year across all industries but we've been fortunate to have our RMR on the rise. To profit from RMR, we reinvest in our employees—our best asset—making sure all employees are current on training and certifications. They keep us at a competitive edge by providing customers with exceptional customer service.
Our main operating platform is UTC's MASterMind. Our core services include residential and commercial monitoring, commercial fire, medical monitoring and interactive services such as video and two-way voice. Alarm.com and Honeywell's Total Connect allow end-users to control their alarm panel from a mobile device or smartphone, giving customers more control over their panels.
Jacky Grimm, director of Security Solutions, Diebold, North Canton, Ohio —As security continues to evolve, the central station will become an even more critical source of intelligence. First, we will continue to vet rapidly changing technology. That means extensive testing before new technology is ever deployed—verifying that it performs as expected, is interoperable with other systems and doesn't expose end-users to logical risk when operating over a network. Second, we will deliver data that enables more efficient business operations. That means continuing to leverage security equipment to deliver business-related information, such as HR, marketing or energy data. Such insight gives security a more valuable business role and extends the ROI of security investments.
Those investments include all of the central station technologies we utilize today, from video management to VMS systems, access control to alarm management systems. Our offering must keep pace with evolving security needs and the availability of new features and functionalities.
Through the RMR model, security integrators like Diebold are making those new features and functionalities more accessible. We have offered outsourced services for the better part of a decade to make managing a security program and deploying new technologies easier and more flexible. This model transforms the security investment from a capital outlay to a predictable, monthly operating expense that will only increase in popularity with budget-conscious end-users.
Mark Hillenburg, executive director of Marketing, Digital Monitoring Products (DMP), Springfield, Mo. —At our forum and in other areas of the industry, you hear of alarm dealers that are completely abandoning phone lines and moving to one of three solutions: radio; Internet network communication; or cellular/GSM. But each one of these three options has their own set of pitfalls that go with them.
With AES, the good news is that you own your network; the bad news is you own your network. If a tower gets struck by lightning or gets blown over, you have to bear the cost of replacing that—no one else is going to share that responsibility. With Internet and network communication, this is really the choice for a commercial environment. The difficulty comes in a residential application where there is no IT infrastructure. Quality of service guarantees that often times the DSL or broadband routers are not battery-backed up so that creates some complication for the homeowner for residential security. Cellular looks like the odds-on favorite to be the solution of choice but it doesn't have 100 percent coverage across the U.S. From our perspective, GSM is the best solution for a residential site (has the best forward-path, speed and bandwidth); IP is the best answer commercially.
Everything these days is about RMR and adding it. As an industry, we have to remember that there is no RMR until the initial contract is signed and that typically means a security system. With that initial security system sale, there is a contract and than that security is sort of the backbone of what we do. Only then do you get to add on additional services—video or being able to arm/disarm my control panel from my cell phone. All of our development is in IP and cellular. The development of our SCS-VR virtual receiver allows that initial primary piece of recurring revenue for the security account to happen on a lower cost, easy-to-manage scenario. It allows you as a central station to build up on that with the other varied services you want to add.
Kevin McCarthy, national sales manager, EMERgency24, Des Plaines, Ill.—Technology is the driving force behind our industry. Today's customers are more tech-savvy and involved with their security systems than ever before because they are able to control them via their personal phones, iPads or other digital devices from anywhere. End-users are able to use their alarm systems for more than security. By actively checking their account history, a system owner can see if the kids made curfew, determine what time the maid arrived and ascertain if certain areas of the premise have been accessed. All of that information is available in real-time. Not only can today's systems do everything traditional systems can do, they now can send video clips and allow end-users to check into protected areas via the Internet.
While the breadth of services increases, prices will tend to trend downward. The reason is that there are viable options for that tech-savvy user that ably replace the traditional system. For the next generation or two, we know there will always be a market for central-station services because we are always available; we are always awake; and we are always ready to serve. As connected as society is becoming, a person cannot monitor their system like a central station can. Ours is a service that allows you to travel worry-free, sleep soundly at night and live life to the fullest. Should there ever be an emergency, we will be watching and reacting accordingly, 24 hours a day.
Tim Leblanc, president, General Monitoring Services (GMS) Central, Long Beach, Calif.—There is always going to be a need for monitoring. We're losing POTS lines but radio and IP are filling the gap. From a central station standpoint, we'd rather see the dealer opt for radio because it generates more revenue for us and it's more reliable at this point. And while I see video monitoring slowly expanding over the next five years, I don't think it's going to be the big boom everybody is looking for. Dealers are not up-to-date on the technology. If you went to the ISC West show, there were just aisles and aisles of video platforms out there but most of them are proprietary—and that doesn't do anybody any good. The dealers are going through a real learning curve right now and they are looking for something that is inexpensive, easy to install and easy to maintain. The other thing we see is that the alarm company today has to become more professional in what they are doing. Even if you're a small company, you have to protect your assets, make sure your contracts are right, that you are carrying the proper types of insurance and that you have got the proper exit strategy from the industry when you decide to get out of it. It's a constant education program.
We've been growing at a nice steady pace and we attribute it to the fact that we keep up with the central station technology. If a central station isn't keeping up with the technology, the dealer can't expand and grow and so they start to look elsewhere. You have to make an annual investment in technology. There's just no way around it.
Using DICE, we're going to a universal platform for video monitoring, which will allows me to run one basic platform to monitor all my accounts. We are also doing a lot of PERS business today and probably adding 1,000 PERS accounts each month.
Keith Burke, operations manager, Grand Central Station, Hayward, Calif.—The future of the security industry will see a convergence of multiple technologies that will allow central stations to supply a higher level of service to our clients. The continued trend of affordable IP-based video and analytics coupled with Universal Video interface products like Immix will play a key role in enhancing our monitoring services. Video products will give central stations the ability to collect more accurate information and disseminate that information to responders, which will heighten police response procedures and expedite dispatches.
Virtual operators, guard tours and alarm verification will become increasingly important in the future. In the past, all video events had to be handled by a live operator which was very cost-prohibitive. With the products that we integrated into our central station—like Check Video, Immix by Sureview and Video Iq—we can have the analytics do 90 percent of the work by programming very specific parameters into the edge devices. Once the equipment has performed its job, our operators can complete the process by utilizing our Universal Video Interface to view hundreds of CCTV products with a singular look and feel. These video products will open new markets for alarm companies that will significantly increase RMR opportunities.
While we support all types of both GSM and IP-based services, we see the industry moving primarily towards radio monitoring in the near future. We researched all available communication options including IP-based monitoring, GSM technology and two way radio and concluded that radio technology is the most reliable and cost-effective transmission means. Both GSM and IP-based monitoring services are cost-prohibitive because of high monthly fees and present multiple points of failure whereas once a radio network has been established, the monthly costs are minimal and radio (in our case AES) allows multiple paths of communication.
Rick Charney, sales manager, Stealth Monitoring, Inc., Dallas, Texas—Central stations need to take a more proactive approach to security monitoring and eliminating false alarms. Proactive video monitoring is the value-added service that we specialize in because that's what our customers are demanding. Partly due to the poor economic conditions, our clients are having problems with losses and property damage and want a cost-effective solution, regardless of the hardware and technology being used. Stealth offers interactive and proactive monitoring which can often reduce and deter crime before it happens. Central stations also need to develop strong relationships with the police departments in the communities they serve. The ability to see a crime in progress and convey that information to the local authorities in real-time enhances the credibility of the central station, reduces false alarms and saves the customer considerable amounts of money by not having to pay to replace or repair property damage. To be proactive in security monitoring, central stations need to combine human intelligence, technology and video analytics to respond to incidents before or during an occurrence and provide the best possible information to the authorities. They should also be able to monitor a wide range of surveillance platforms so that any equipment a customer might already have can be integrated into security solutions offered by the central station. Constant evaluation and additions to existing monitoring platforms and feedback to manufacturers based on actual security situations will result in the development of improved systems for the central stations and its customers. Today's economic climate really demands that any company providing monitoring services develop and maintain a solid crew of well-trained people comfortable utilizing the latest technologies and communicating with local police departments. Those businesses with greater RMR have less risk to try new ideas and grow towards the industries that are most favorable.
Steven Coppola, Statewide Central Station, Staten Island, N.Y.—I see limitless opportunities for central stations and their alarm dealers today. For central stations to prosper in this uncertain economy, they need to have both the technology and the people to help their dealer base grow. We continue to seek RMR opportunities from multiple avenues including managed and un-managed access control; expanding our remote interactive video services; and our two-way voice products and services. We greatly increased the RMR of many of our alarm dealers (as well as our central station) when we began offering remote interactive video solutions.
Much of our focus recently has been multi-system integration. We find our alarm dealers are almost always combining access control, security systems, fire alarms, CCTV and even intercom systems to create one integrated system. Interactive monitoring is another must for a central station facility to remain competitive into the future. Uses for this technology are limitless, and the cost can be easily made attractive to the end-user by the alarm dealer, as he/she shows the client the many ways this technology can solve problems and prevent crimes (not just report and dispatch).
One of the technologies we are using more of is integration from access control systems that allow our central station to monitor door forced opens, door left opens and access denials, just as we monitor a normal burglar alarm system. Some access control systems are serving as both access control and security system. If a door is forced open without swiping, we consider it an alarm and take appropriate action. There is no need to add an alarm system to some access control systems.
Of course, video verification technology is becoming more in demand as budgets of local law enforcement in many municipalities become strained and laws are enacted to raise revenue via fines and penalties. Other interactive monitoring solutions we provide are our Video Doorman and Safe Lobby applications. These provide the end-users with safety and convenience, are economical, combine multiple systems and give our security staff the ability to interact remotely with building staff, tenants and visitors for a fraction of the cost of on-site personnel.
Scott Haugland, chief operating officer, Sureview Systems, Tampa, Fla.—We see the future of central stations and the monitoring industry as explosive growth of video. More end-users are specifically requesting video monitoring due to increased security concerns, high man-guard costs or video verification requirements by law enforcement. As a result, we continue to improve and advance our Immix product line to meet our customers' demands. The new Immix Cloud product will be released in Q3 this year. The Immix Cloud product provides a platform for our customers to establish their own private cloud, enabling them to offer advanced video monitoring services, customize those services and allow end-users to view their video via IPhone, IPods and Androids. Immix Cloud has been architected for the explosive growth of video-monitored and video-verified sites connected to our extensive customer base.
Lindsay Grauling, vice president of Operations, Vivint, Provo, Utah— We are always listening to our customers input and needs and central stations are what they currently desire. Our primary goal is watching out for the safety and security of our customers. 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. Vivint provides two-way monitoring where we can interact with our customers and our customers can interact with us, ensuring they stay safe and secure. As we move further into the home automation space we look forward to various ways central stations can improve our customers' experience. The vision is always having the best connection to the customer. Real-time technology is a growing trend and Vivint is committed to offering the latest innovations and best solutions for our customers.
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Secure Global Solutions' (SGS) Network Navigator (via a Virtual Private Network) creates a permanent tunnel available to a company to connect instantly to all sites over port 443/tcp with a single user sign-on. The second service offered is monitoring. Once a connection is established (plug the device in and wait for the blue light heartbeat) access is controlled through the SGS 24-hour Network Operations Center (NOC). Visit www.securityinfowatch.com/sdi/einquiry 100.
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Bosch Security Systems' Conettix D6200 central station receiver software includes a GSM/VoIP compensation mode and features digital signal processing technology that enhances the performance of receivers when interpreting these signals by more than 75 percent. Visit www.securityinfowatch.com/sdi/einquiry 101.
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Linear's DXS-LRP is part of a line of personal emergency transmitters that work with the company's PERS products. It has a long lasting lithium ion battery; is shock- and water-resistant; and has a recessed activation button to avoid accidental transmissions. Visit www.securityinfowatch.com/sdi/einquiry 102.
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Micro Key Solutions' Mobile Virtual Operator application is designed for installing technicians in the field to test the zones and to receive instantaneous status updates without having to call in and speak to an operator or use older phone technology. Visit www.securityinfowatch.com/sdi/einquiry 103.
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DMP's SCS-VR Virtual Receiver is a software solution that runs on servers operating as a virtual receiver for network IP and cellular IP alarm communications. UL1610-classified, it can be used as the primary receiver or backup to existing hardware receivers. It is NIST-validated for its AES encryption to be used for high-security applications. Visit www.securityinfowatch.com/sdi/einquiry 104.
ipDatatel's Wireless Broadband Alarm Transmitter (Wi-BAT) retransmits alarm signals over broadband to any central station through standard PSTN (utilizing IP to PSTN bridge) via SIA-FSK or Contact-ID formats. It allows two-way remote communications (arm/disarm or programming) through the keypad. Visit www.securityinfowatch.com/sdi/einquiry 105.
Visonic's RealAlarm enables central monitoring stations to accurately assess the situation inside the premises in the event of an alarm and immediately establish whether it is a real emergency or a false alarm. The RealAlarm solution includes Visonic's NEXT CAM, a PIR motion detector coupled with a camera in a single housing. Visit www.securityinfowatch.com/sdi/einquiry 106.