At the recent Barnes Buchanan Conference, held February 9-10 in Palm Beach, Fla., financial lenders, investors, security dealers and monitoring companies came together to discuss the state of the industry from a financial perspective. While much of the presentations focused on the M&A side, there were some interesting discussions around the technology, service and other changes customers will be looking for post-pandemic.

During her company presentation, Joey Rao-Russell, president and CEO of Kimberlite, discussed the importance of “adaptability,” noting it is a theme most all have experienced in recent years. “Disruption tends to be more about the opportunity to adapt and change and offer more of what the customer wants.”

This theme was revisited in more depth during a future forecasting panel titled, “The Industry — 2028 and Beyond.” 

Pam Petrow, president and CEO of Vector Security, said customers today really want data. “Data is not just data for the customer; it is ROI. They want something out of it. … It’s not just about security but the integration of services, whether that means payroll, HVAC, etc. Our ability to work with those integrations and provide them with information that helps their business is going to be critical.”

Daniel Oppenheim, CEO of Affiliated Monitoring, added, “We have to make it actionable. We haven’t accessed all this data. The challenge for our industry is distilling it to show that value by giving them actions they can take. On the commercial side that means converged security and access control. Cameras are there on the safety side but they can also be leveraged.” 

One way to do this is through the increasing use of cloud-based systems and services, said Robert Chefitz, founder of Egis Capital Partners. “If I am in the cloud I can be integrated with other systems that surround that commercial experience. Are people where they should be? What are the implications for maintaining that building? It’s all about how to demonstrate that value. … Simplistically, what I would share with you today is I think the most important technologies that will impact our industry are augmented and virtual reality. The experience it can create [ranges from] the customer trying to decide whether to buy this system, to training that precious resource, the technician, to the vendors to demonstrate that value proposition, not to mention the implications inside a monitoring center. All of this information is coming in; how do you process it in a way that is efficient? That is my 2028 prediction.”

Speaking of the workforce issue, Petrow added, “Our people will be the toughest asset to make sure we are getting them prepared and ready. This is a workforce that has grown up with automation. They don’t want to listen to a lecture. By 2030 the average tenure of a company will be 24 months. We need to hire people who are adaptable. Your team will look very different and you have got to be thinking about that now. We are automating a lot of processes. …The reality is there will be a lot of jobs that don’t exist anymore. The way to train them and keep them engaged is through those [augmented and virtual] tools.”

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Switching gears back to the customer, Don Young, executive vice president and chief operating officer at ADT noted how the pandemic has forced dealers to think differently about how they serve their customers. “It drove us to virtualize the experience a little bit. Last month we reached a million fewer truck rolls just by asking customers to share problems on their camera and be our eyes.”

Leveraging technology to provide better customer service is definitely something companies are doing more of and will continue to do, Petrow said. “I think even before you get them as a customer you need to be trying to figure out how to meet that customer where they want to be met. You can order a pizza today and track on the phone when your driver is coming. … How they communicate with us is going to change. It is not going to be the way it has for the past 30 years.” 

Oppenheim agreed, adding, “We have to communicate with our customers in the year we actually live in, which is 2023.When we walk into our offices we take off that consumer hat where we expect all of those kinds of features and put on our business hat where we think it’s fine to have a customer call in on the phone.” That needs to change, he said.

The pandemic not only impacted customer expectations on the technology side, but also on the physical space side, Petrow said.

“I think what COVID did to the workplace is unchangeable,” she said. “We are not going back. We will see more commercial space hoteling. Access control will become critical. Video will be critical to tell what rooms to use for shared spaces. You will see workplaces will be a destination. You are not going to go there to sit in an office. It will be a place people go to interact and collaborate. We will see workplaces redefined as leases expire. We need to make a creative environment where people want to come to work. I think the workplace is going to change and it is an opportunity for us to help our customers manage their properties much more effectively.”

While time will tell how many of these predictions come to pass, it was certainly an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.