Over the past year, remote monitoring saw tremendous growth as the capabilities that it enables, such as instant e-mail and video notification, gained popularity among users. And while electronic security has been around for decades, its real value is yet to be realized, as it moves more into lifestyle, convenience, connectivity and detection-and best of all-more recurring monthly revenue (RMR).
"There's a fundamental change occurring in the industry that's affecting the central station, putting an emphasis on the role of new services," said Gordon Hope, AlarmNet general manager, Melville, N.Y. Hope, who is also president of the Security Industry Association, said the dramatically changing communications landscape-the loss of hundreds of thousands of traditional telephone lines each month and the move to cellular and VoIP only homes-is a driving force.
"The entire connection scheme is changing," Hope said. "It's the epicenter. Installers and central station companies want to know: 'how do I protect my recurring revenue?'"
Hope said the number of services offered by the central station needs to grow and there's keen interest on portable connectivity-to iPhones, Blackberries, PDAs and other mobile devices. Yet he confirmed that the installing community has to be proactive and become a communications consultant in addition to a life safety expert.
"We have had many discussions with central stations and tell them that as they are going through this upheaval we strongly suggest they get with these customers," he continued. "We remind them that they are life safety experts, the ones connected to them. They rely on them for emergency services; if they are going to maintain that role and credibility they have to proactively reach out to them and get in front of all this change."
Hope said AlarmNet has seen many successes among central stations and installing dealers who become proactive and do this outreach, and remote monitoring and notification is one feature more than 90 percent of customers are asking for. "With remote monitoring via TotalConnect(r) to the iPhone or the Blackberry, for example, all kinds of high-end sensors can be part of the equation, including temperature sensors, carbon monoxide devices, outside motion detectors and more," Hope added.
In fact, being able to get non-security information from the alarm system is the new trend and end-users aren't even fully aware of all the emerging capabilities, according to AJ Gomez, president of Global Security & Communications Inc., Vancouver, Wash. "There is still an education process going on. Videotape versus DVRs was a big revolution that's come and gone. Now, the new thing is getting more information about your premises and facility. Whether an end-user invests in the product offering or not, they see what it can do."
Sensors hold the key
As far as the next step for remote monitoring, "I think we'll continue to broaden the types of things that can be detected," explained Alison Slavin, vice president of Product Management, Alarm.com, Vienna, Va. "Our infrastructure supports real-time alerting through e-mail and text messaging so it's really just a matter of adding sensors so that more events can be detected-and those can be intrusion events or environmental events. Anything that has a status is something that can be reported through the system in real-time and sent to the customer."
Alarm.com offers users the capability of accessing such added features as thermostat control and monitoring, locks and lighting control, directly from their handheld cell phone or PDA via the company's Web site.
And now, increasingly, customers want to be able to get a visual, like live video or even a saved video clip, on their preferred device.
"Imagine a security breach or equipment malfunction occurring at a remote location," explained Brian Geoghegan, executive vice president and CPO, Reality Mobile, Herndon, Va. "With operations teams in a central command center, these incidents can be monitored through the use of cameras or real-time high-quality video feeds originating from an employee's smart phone or other mobile device. In the event of a security breach, the command center can immediately use GPS information to locate the nearest responders and send them the live video so they instantly have a visual understanding of the event at hand."
According to Simon Morgan, technical director, SureView Systems, Tampa, Fla., remote monitoring for security applications requires two major components: edge devices and a central station software platform to monitor these devices. "To offer the most diverse range of services a comprehensive mix of CCTV/video, access control, two-way audio and intrusion alarms is required," Morgan explained. "All of these products can transmit via IP to the central station. Once these streams are received at the monitoring station, a central software package is required to aggregate these signals from disparate equipment into a single operator interface. At the edge there is a range of innovative products that can assist the central station to deliver the latest range of cutting edge monitoring services."
Two good examples of this are analytics and two-way audio. The benefits can be as broad in scope or as narrowly focused to meet specific end-user requirements.
"There are integrated solutions versus just a product-based solution," stated Yona Wieder, chief executive officer, Visentry, Paramus, N.J. "We provide a centralized monitoring facility which has proved to be more efficient for small- to mid-sized companies, especially those companies who once relied on guards or operators watching monitoring screens."
The rebirth of audio
Software designed to alert operators to suspicious activity in the event of an incident, as it is about to unfold, instead of just reacting after the fact, makes built-in analytics a powerful tool. "Video analytics allows a central station to receive video events indoor and outdoor and radically reduces the number of false alarms when compared to standard video motion detection," explained Morgan.
"Two-way IP audio is also an essential component to any successful monitoring service. The ability to talk down or conduct two-way conversations greatly enhances security at the site."
Before analytics the attempt to solve intrusions as they happened was at best based on luck. "When we stream video with an alert to the monitoring station, this empowers the operator to only see actionable intelligence and respond to alarms versus sitting and watching countless video streams," said John Whiteman, vice president of Strategic Programs, DVTel, Ridgefield Park, N.J. "A unified solution which also includes two-way audio and access control in addition to video streams with alert information provides much more functionality than standalone analytics. It increases productivity."
The monitoring of indoor environments for life safety purposes has also seen changes in remote connectivity, also tied to the demise of POTS lines, explained Gene Pecora, general manager, Honeywell Power Products, Northford, Conn. Additional options for communicating are part of the reason POTS are being retired.
"The change in technology has happened behind the scenes," said Pecora. "The fire alarm industry has kept their systems the same while the technology change has occurred. With POTS lines going away fire alarm installers were asking for alternatives." Alternatives developed include IP communicators allowing for alarm monitoring over the Internet. Central stations are now accepting IP communications in receivers, using cellular as a backup, according to Pecora.
In terms of driving RMR, video is hot in remote monitoring. "We realized about five years ago that everything was going video and integrators were going to need to augment their businesses with it," said Jorge Hevia, senior vice president of Sales and Marketing, Napco Security Technologies, Amityville, N.Y. "They can grow their RMR with new streams of revenue and can target existing customers as well."
Users want look-in convenience
Hevia said Napco conducted research on the marketplace, asking participants if they could have one security product/function, what would that be, and the response was overwhelmingly that they would love to see what's going on inside the home from their cell phone. "It's a lifestyle approach that opens the possibilities to millions of households," Hevia explained. "It transcends security, transcends peace of mind."
According to Hevia, no dealer is too small or large to make remote video monitoring part of their business. "It's scalable from one to hundreds of applications. For businesses, it becomes a remote management tool that can also provide real-time video on cell phones or any computer. And video it gives us a qualitative measure. It takes security to a whole new level," he said.
Dimitry Boss, president of Boss Security Systems, Hillsdale, N.J., said the selling points to him came down to convenience and cost savings. "We no longer have our crews pulling wire through homes or businesses in order for us to receive the benefits of video," Boss said.
Remote monitoring brings a bright future for security dealers who seek opportunity without boundaries. RMR in video represents the leading edge for those who can see now that security is much more than openings and closings.
REMOTE MONITORING SNEAK PEEK!
Alarm.com will debut their EmPower product offering in the coming months. EmPower is an energy management and automation offering which is a single platform that the customer can choose to leverage now or in the future. "So if a customer just wants security right now but decides to upgrade to home automation features a year down the road, the dealer can activate it as part of the same platform-eliminating the need for the consumer to deal with having separate systems that are not communicating with each other and that are not integrated in any way."-Alison Slavin, Alarm.com