HOAs: At Home and in the Clouds

When it comes to premises security, businesses have one set of challenges and homeowners another. But for a homeowners association (HOA) or a property management company, there is a separate bunch of hurdles to jump through before the group is able to feel its assets are safe and secure.

For one thing, a business or private residence usually has a single person or point of contact with a vested interest in the security of the property. A HOA has board members whose attention often is distracted by personal concerns. In addition, HOAs have a broad range of scattered assets to protect-a swimming pool here, a maintenance garage there, a clubhouse-and they may not even be on the same security system. In fact, members might not even be aware that their system is not functioning properly. Sometimes, it can be a storm knocked the system off line. Other times, it is something more malicious. But a security camera that does not alert is worthless.

Off site and on the job

"HOA's often don't realize they have a security problem until it is too late," said Ryan Strange, president of ControlByNet, Norcross, Ga. "A majority of our HOA clients didn't know their DVR wasn't working, was stolen or damaged until after an incident when they wanted to review events," he added. Off-site video monitoring and storage offer a good solution.

Remote monitoring and storage of information has worked well for the Town Creek HOA in Greensboro, Ga. "The board was looking for better solutions and this was one we came across," says Dagmar Betts, who is a board member with Town Creek, an upscale community east of Atlanta. "We liked the fact that nothing was being stored on our site," she added.

"Having the video offsite is very appealing," said Simon Ismail, who with brother Paul co-own Villa Sentry in Atlanta. They were the integrators on the project.

Several HOAs, including Town Creek, had experience with a wired solution connected to a DVR and a TV. "The interface was not easy to use," Ismail said. The DVR and tape were subject to theft. "With the ControlByNet solution, the video is available even if the place is burned down," he noted.

Villa Sentry hosts the video on its own Windows-based servers in Atlanta. Villa Sentry got started in the business working on upper-end individual homes. With the downturn in the economy they found HOAs were concerned about vandalism, loss and unauthorized people wandering around in gated communities. They have worked with Town Creek for two years.

"The ControlByNet solution has made a very positive impact on our community," said Jacqui Miller, vice-president of the Longmont at Sugarloaf HOA, an affluent development north of Atlanta. "Prior to the installation, we had terrible problems with people treating our swimming pool as a public facility, as well as vandalism of other amenities. Since the installation of the cameras there has been a significant decrease in trespassing, loitering, and destruction of property."
"The system is easy to use," added Miller. "Each board member has their own login ID and if a complaint is received we can look up specific dates and times in the video archives. Also, we hired a police officer to do random tours of our community during his off-work hours, and he is also able to login and check the video archives from his patrol vehicle."
Training HOA members is simple. Betts said the members of her board found the solution easy to use. While there is not the revenue for a full-scale training seminar, Ismail said they generally show a couple of board members how to navigate around the system and those members show the others. "It is so simple to use that it takes only 15 or 20 minutes to show them the ropes, describe the contents and how to navigate. That 15-minute session answers 95 percent of their questions," Ismail said.

"We work closely with HOAs to provide a solution they can access anytime and on any Internet-connected device," Strange said. "The volunteer board members are very grateful for us to take it off their plate and let them know quickly if there is a problem. We have a 100 percent retention rate with our hosted HOA clients and see this as area of continued growth as more HOAs discover there is a more reliable and cost-effective solution available."

ControlByNet's hosted service monitors cameras at HOAs both for being "up" and, in many cases, for the video captured. And once video is captured, it is secure. "You always see a shocked look on a kid's face when they break into a clubhouse and realize there is no videotape to steal," Strange laughed.

New monthly revenue

Integrators and dealers like the fact that there is a low up-front cost of the system. HOA board members cringe when faced with a $5,000 or $7,500 quote for a traditional system.

"That's a big deal to some HOAs," Ismail said. "As a reseller, I might start at $25 per camera per month. Depending on the support required, I can increase that by five or $10 a month. That's not a big deal-it is under the threshold that boards are concerned about."

Support of multiple vendors is important. According to Strange, their goal as a vendor is to support as many platforms as possible and as many cameras as possible. "We tell integrators to stick to six or eight models of cameras at most," Strange said. "That way, you know them inside and out and you can support them."

Ismail said their experience is that HOA customers can use any Web browser-Linux, Windows, Android. "ControlByNet works a bit better on Windows," Ismail said, "but it is good on any browser." Another reason the HOA clients like the managed service is that they get access to the latest technology enhancements as they become available. There is no additional cost to the association.

There is no need to have video storage onsite. At the HOA, only the network's IP cameras and a switch are required. Since everything is remotely accessible, there are no management issues for the HOA members. As a bonus, this leaves nothing for vandals to steal or destroy and deprives the bad guys of the opportunity to take away the proof after they have done their mischief.

Of course, the system will send email alerts or similar notifications when problems arise. These can be routed to multiple members on the board or on the security committee.

ControlByNet charges the customer by the number of cameras monitored and the resolution or frame rate. While they are a hosted software company, they do offer direct service in the Atlanta area. They will also provide the basic setup to integrators anywhere in the country, working with them on the initial sale and then turning the system over to the local security dealer to build and maintain the customer relationship, pricing and service.

Strange said it is best to arrange for data storage by the number of gigs stored, not based on the number of days worth of video kept on backup.

The ControlByNet solution is Windows-based software. "The software has its own database and web server built in," Strange explained. Since every HOA officer and every property management firm seems to have a different platform, the ControlByNet software can be viewed on flash video and played back on most of the popular platforms, including Android, Windows Mobile, Apple, and Motorola Zoom.

Curt Harler is a Cleveland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to SD&I magazine who can be reached at curt@curtharler.com.