Randy Arras, network and IT manager at ProTech Security, works in their main frame room.
ProTech Security Inc.'s in-house app enhances its installation and service technician's capabilities.
Photo credit: Photo: ProTech Security
Word on the street is that everyone is getting fired up about apps. But it's not just those tech-savvy folks who see the benefits of these software tools.
Now, communities, fitness centers, restaurants, retailers and even your local coffee or grocers are staying connected through software-driven applications to access instant information from their mobile device. There are Apple apps, Google apps, Android apps, cross-platform fun and games apps (Angry Birds, anyone?)-and there's no sign of the app craze slowing down as it hits the security industry full speed. Whether it involves installing cable, checking remote cameras or taking care of trouble tickets-there's a security app for that.
"Having apps on your smartphone is the ultimate in connectivity, making the smartphone an all-inclusive type of remote control, or ultimate communication device across a plethora of platforms," said Art Morrison, operations manager, ProTech Security Inc., North Canton, Ohio.
The full-service security solutions integrator prides itself on its IP-based solutions and working "as a team in sharing similar core values of honesty, integrity and commitment to providing 'best of breed' products and services to our clients," continued Morrison.
"You need to put the app into the customer's hand," he added, citing that with the proliferation of IP and networks we expect connectivity in all aspects of our lives.
"The traditional 'hands on' theory of sales is custom-made for this type of app," said Morrison. "You can demo specific cameras from your office environment to give a more diverse presentation of the features and benefits of the app."
Gary Franklyn, vice president of Business Development, Security Networks, West Palm Beach, Fla., noted that added services like apps make for a stickier customer.
Their iNet package includes energy management, home automation and two co-branded offerings called iNet Interactive Solutions and iNet Video Monitoring. The iNet Interactive Solutions lets customers control and monitor their security system anywhere, anytime. The service offered by their 150,000 affiliates is based on apps from Alarm.com and Honeywell but is branded by Security Networks.
"Our affiliates can start with a basic service and upgrade customers to these," said Franklyn.
Morrison noted the app trend has users abandoning their laptops for tablets and people synchronizing their smartphones to their laptops.
"Smartphone growth has been critical to the growth of apps as well," he said, as it is quite effective for a business, its customers and workers.
What's more, apps are driving the business especially as more people have smartphones, agreed James Ward, president of C.O.P. Security Systems, Alexander, Ark. "People are into technology. They like to have control of things on the go. And apps breathe a whole new life into security," said Ward. "The technology makes security work for them."
C.O.P. Security Systems uses the Telguard interactive app, which allows customers to arm or disarm their system, view the history of the system and receive text message event notifications. Their customers have a choice of three platforms-Android, iPhone and BlackBerry. "I've seen them all in action and they each work great," Ward added.
Get the app that fits your needs
But like most things in life, there is a time and place for apps and Richard Jimenez, general manager of IE Alarm Systems, Riverside, Calif., agreed that each app has its specific purpose. "If used correctly, and as a quick reference or management tool, an app definitely has value," he said, though he noted that an app "should not be relied upon as the primary medium for remote viewing or management."
IE Alarm Systems (formerly D.C. Electronics Two Inc.), founded by Utana and George Del Valle in 1985, provides a range of services including fire alarm, camera and access control systems.
And while Jimenez saw apps firsthand from other industry manufacturers, he uses Samsung Techwin America's iPolis app as his primary solution.
"I really like the ease of use of the GUI [graphical user interface] with Samsung's iPolis and the flexibility to use it with their analog and IP products and platforms," he said. "The multi-screen functionality and PTZ control are nice features. The app also streams fluidly with a standard 3G connection and even better on Wi-Fi."
ProTech Security has sold apps from both MobiDEOS and Lextech Labs and ensures the client is involved and the app fits their needs. "We prefer to present the highlights of each system, allowing the client to participate in the selection process, unless one app will clearly serve their interests better," said Morrison.
They also use apps for their intrusion detection systems. "From a daily business operation standpoint, we have developed an in-house app that enhances our installation and service technicians' capabilities," Morrison continued.
Technicians can accept service ticket assignments, close out service call assignments and acknowledge arrivals and departures, all via their smartphones. "This saves time for both the techs and office staff where they used to have to communicate via office phone and input the data," he added. "Now, a simple text populates a universal 'Associate Status View' graphic that appears on any desktop."
Traditionally, surveillance was a commercial product; business owners liked the ability to watch the cash register or ensure their employees were actually working. Ward sees that appeal moving to the home market.
From commercial to residential and more
"Apps sell surveillance on the residential side," he said. "They are good for watching the property. But they also are great for false alarm reduction," he added, noting that a customer can view video and cancel an unnecessary dispatch before it becomes a charge.
C.O.P. Security Systems offers a video surveillance app that allows the customer to look at their property while on the go.
Apps also appeal to areas with a Neighborhood Watch program. "If your alarm goes off, you text your neighbors and immediately everyone is looking at your house," Ward noted.
"Clients have little, if any, issues with the concept of using their smartphone as a security or surveillance remote controller, whether at home, at the office or traveling," Morrison agreed.
He is torn between several useful apps. "It is difficult, if not impossible to say one app is more effective than another. This is especially true when you realize they each apply to different aspects of our business," he said. Forced to choose, his preference would be the app for intrusion detection systems only because these systems still dominate sales. "That ability to 'verify' whether the alarm condition is real or not can often be the feature that sells the app."
The app accesses intrusion panels, allowing the client to arm, disarm and monitor status conditions. It has some notification applications such as garage door status (open/close), sump-pump failure, temperature control, environment programmable thermostats and lighting.
Jimenez feels most apps carry a similar feature-set as far as functionality. "It seems like each manufacturer does have its own proprietary app," he said. But he doesn't see this as a huge problem for his company and customers "because we have standardized on a single platform," he explained.
He is also careful not to oversell apps. "I sell apps as a convenient secondary management and quick reference tool while on the go," Jimenez continued. "It doesn't seem realistic or efficient for a manager or business owner to sit and watch video all day via their phone. However, it does allow a person to quickly reference the activity of their facilities and their employees at any given time and place, which then enables a person to more efficiently manage situations based on real-time information (using video)."
"Our affiliates get higher RMR and the retention is better-people using their system are less likely to cancel contracts," Franklyn summed up.
The mobile takeaway
Whether you use apps to stay up to date with industry developments or engage customers, app expectations are in motion and here to stay. "Apps that allow us to work smarter-with any smartphone-are essential in today's struggling and competitive economy," Morrison concluded.
WHAT'S YOUR APP WISH LIST?
"I'd like to see an all-in-one app that integrates any system and pulls together all the information," said James Ward, president of C.O.P. Security, Alexander, Ark. "Rather than having to jump from the alarm app to the surveillance app to the camera app, it would be nice if you could move around in the same app," he explained.
While Richard Jimenez, general manager of IE Alarm Systems, Riverside, Calif., concedes it might be "pie in the sky," he agrees with Ward that a third-party app that integrates multiple platforms would be great. "If I could log into a single app to view the status of and manipulate my CCTV, access control, burglar alarm and fire alarm systems-all from a single GUI-that would be powerful."
"I'd love to see apps incorporate a basic search feature as well as push notifications that can be tied to a motion or alarm event and set on a schedule," said Jimenez.
Art Morrison, operations manager, ProTech Security Inc., North Canton, Ohio, likes the apps. He'd change the documentation to boost ease of use, "preferably without having to reference a user's manual for basic tasks," he said.
An App for Remote Account Management-The MASmobile app from MAS (a business of UTC Fire & Security) allows customers and technicians to view system status summaries, event and test history, zones, contacts and can remotely place systems on and off test. It is compatible with MASterMind (the company's security automation software) versions 6.26+ and operates on iOS version 4.2+.
PSIM Software App-The VidSys mobile app, available on Android and iOS platforms, provides real-time information sharing and two-way collaboration between responders and command center operators. It provides details pertinent to a current situation to ensure an effective response.
Launch This on Your iPad-Matrox Graphics' MuraControl app transforms a users iPad into a touch panel control interface capable of remotely managing input sources on any Matrox Mura MPX-powered video display wall. The free app is available on the App Store.
App Update-Alarm.com's Android App 1.3.4 enables push notifications (cloud to device messaging) for security and home energy alerts. Users can receive real time push alerts even when the app isn't running and avoid per text charges associated with SMS. App users can arm and disarm a system, watch live video and control lights, locks and thermostats.
App Gives Access to Cameras and DVRs-Samsung Techwin America's iPOLiS mobile app enables users remote live video viewing from its network video cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs) using iPhone or Android mobile platforms.
Synchronize This App-MobiDEOS Inc.'s WebSync application allows iPad and Android users to synchronize surveillance operations from the company's MobileCamViewer system and WebView solution for fixed-location monitoring. Future WebSync releases will enable iPhone, Android tablets and BlackBerry devices.
Can't Hack This-SmrtGuard's Pro app provides tablet and other users a suite of device and data protection services including backup and restore, anti-malware and anti-spam, application transparency and anti-theft and location tracking. Other features include SMS blocking; and the scheduling of automatic scanning for malware and spam and application transparency. The app allows its user to track the tablet if lost or stolen and even wipe all information remotely.