You don't have to look far in the media to see the headlines of Apple Computers(tm) and Google(tm) Inc.'s takeover of remote computing environments as the world becomes more connected and in touch with one another. These headlines are signaling the end of the desktop PC as its Microsoft(tm) Inc.'s counterpart becomes more and more common. As with each change in technology, the question of how this shift will affect our alarm industry comes to the forefront.
As "mom and pop" alarm central station operations gear up for the sunset on local telephone networks and the movement of their entire client base to Internet IP technologies, most might be shocked to learn that their technological changes have only just begun. Simply walk through the mall or board an aircraft and you will see laptops being replaced by tablet computers and iPads(tm). These thinner, more powerful computing environments are better connected to the cloud, to the data and to the high-speed communication networks that are taking the place of older wired networks.
Adding value beyond security
One well-known industry alarm company, Ackerman Security Systems in Atlanta, knows all too well the changes and effects taking place. This fast-growing alarm company says that devices and their connectivity help to pull an extra 15 percent to their bottom line. Ackerman just recently armed all sales, service and installation crews with remote devices that include moving map displays and data tied to their accounting and alarm software.
Engineered Protection Systems Inc. based in Grand Rapids, Mich., also understands the power of remote devices. They are set to take delivery next month on a new service scheduling and tracking tool that provides moving maps to the remote service personnel and GPS tracking of each unit, as well as displaying live coverage of backed-up traffic areas based on construction or accidents. This will provide increased efficiency in dispatching of service personnel to the site, ultimately allowing more service dispatches with fewer personnel and less overhead in fuel and maintenance.
Both of the above-mentioned companies are benefiting by the massive investment of resources and development by Apple and Google. Better yet, dealer centers are planning and preparing to provide these integrated tools to even the smallest alarm companies by the droves. One of the interesting things about these new technologies is that they can be accepted and adapted by smaller dealers faster than the larger companies, which will be required to change software tools and adopt new company-wide policies. Also to the smaller company's advantage, technologies that are smaller, faster and cheaper sometimes have a way of leveling the playing field. The alarm industry is no stranger to this process. In the past, the digital dialer was accepted by the smaller and less complex alarm companies, while the industry saw older and less adaptable companies struggling or selling due to lack of acceptance.
As the CEO of DICE Corporation and an industry developer of accounting and monitoring applications that are currently on these smaller deployable systems, I have noticed the swift move to the cloud and away from standard Microsoft applications that run on PCs. It seems that everywhere you look the effects of Apple, Google and applications that run in wireless browsers are becoming the standard protocol. These products can be deployed to dealers and integrators much cheaper and in massive quantities that were unheard of in years past, allowing smaller alarm companies the chance to thrive. Furthermore, many of these devices in the hands of remote personnel do more than just show maps. There is now the capability to: show alarm data, job data and accounting information; process credit cards on site; disable alarms; process fire inspections and produce quotes; and view or print service receipts and reports by a wireless printer in the vehicle of the technician working remotely.
Does all of this have an effect on the efficiencies and the bottom line of businesses? Chris Needham and his partners at Seguin Partners LLC, Woburn, Mass., a private equity group, have invested in a number of alarm companies as well other types of service businesses. He states firsthand that the financial effects of the new technologies are significant and obvious when comparing the results of alarm companies. In fact, he believes that this remote technology trend will affect the overall value of alarm companies and how and to whom they are sold.
Only time will tell, but one thing is sure: devices will become smaller, more connected and cheaper. Those in the alarm industry who adopt these technologies and effectively utilize them will reap significant rewards.
Clifford Dice is the president and chief executive officer of DICE Corporation, based in Bay City, Mich.