How to Buy Automation Software
Once youâ€™ve decided that you want to have a program designed especially for security contractors, you should next focus on how to compare different automation systems. Some of the considerations are: the system requirements; the structure of the program; the functions that the software performs; the ability for the system to be synchronized with other software programs; system price; ease of use; and technical support.
Other considerations are whether you will need a central station automation component or not. You may outsource monitoring now, but if you buy an automation software package that has the capability to encompass central station monitoring, then it may be easier to bring monitoring in-house later. Also, is the software youâ€™re considering geared for alarm companies or systems integrators? Some vendors differentiate their products as such.
The Challengesâ€œ[Dealers are] tired of disparate systems that they currently have in place,â€ says Veeral Lakhani, vice president of sales at Alarm Key by Reliable Group, Bellmore, N.Y., â€œwhich means that estimating is using one system, scheduling is using one system, the project managers for implementation and installation are using another system, and accounting is using another system. Thatâ€™s the typical company that we talk to.
â€œTheyâ€™re tired of not being able to have any information available to them either on a consolidated view or even on an individual view. Thereâ€™s no reportability there. If you donâ€™t have any reportability, you lose control. You lose the ability to make strong business decisions,â€ he says.
System RequirementsOne of the primary requirements in selecting an automation program is the platform. The program must be usable on your companyâ€™s current computer system. Most are designed to operate on a Windows platform, but it may not necessarily be the version installed at your company. For example, the recurring billing/ receivables program offered by Probill Software, Cedar City, Utah, is optimized for Windows XP, â€œbut will run slower on older operating systems,â€ notes John Jones, president.
In some cases, what you may be purchasing is not even software, but a hosted service from an application service provider.
For example, Bluebridge Systems, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., sells a service designed for systems integrators who focus on video surveillance, access control, and alarms. Integrators pay a fee based on the number of employees for access to the software that resides on a server in Chicago. This means that the integrator does not need to purchase any software or servers, nor employ an IT specialist to install and maintain the system. â€œItâ€™s like renting an application service provider,â€ explains Joe Pasquarello, vice president of Bluebridge Systems. The only requirement is for the computers to have Internet Explorer 6.0. (Access to the program for technicians in the field through wireless PDAs also is provided.)
Structure & FunctionalityCentral station automation software is a realm that involves many choices, including the number and type of account base, receiver hardware, and types of signals and information being monitored such as alarm, video, global positioning, and more. Many of the companies that specialize in central station automation programs, such as Micro Key Software, Kissimmee, Fla., also offer business automation software so that an entire operation can reside in one system â€“ from prospecting to sales proposals, to installation, to service and monitoring, and even insurance certificates and linked documents such as contracts.
â€œOur philosophy is you should never have to enter a name twice,â€ says David Peralta, sales manager at Micro Key.
â€œWe wrote Probill about nine years ago out of desperation because we couldnâ€™t find anybody doing recurring billing,â€ Probill Softwareâ€™s Jones says. It handles proposals, invoices, statements, late fees, central station forms, alarm tickets, service tickets, welcome letters, and other tasks, Jones says, adding that his software is designed for companies that are contracting their business to a central station and doing the billing themselves.
PricingSeveral automation vendors offer products that are scaled by feature and price to suit the size of the company.
Some programs are a flat price, while others are structured on a per-user basis. Some are based on the number of modules being used, rather than the number of users or accounts. In some cases a monthly charge is added, which may or may not cover ongoing support.
Ease of Use
Automation software companies offer demonstrations of their systems in many forms, from online demonstrations, to CDs, to Webinars.
â€œOur company has two ways to provide demonstrations. The most common is what we call the Webinar,â€ notes Mike Wiseman, vice president of sales, at Security Information Systems Inc. (SIS), Orlando, Fla. With this, high-speed Internet connections are used to do a 30- to 45-minute presentation.
When comparing automation solutions, Greg Gilbert, marketing manager with SIS, suggests dealers ask themselves: If the software is flexible enough to accommodate all of the slight differences in the way we operate, or do I have to modify my business to accommodate the software? â€œI think thatâ€™s key,â€ Gilbert says. â€œNext to personnel, this is probably the most important decision youâ€™re going to make in your business.â€
For More InformationTo help you get started researching automation programs, use the contact information provided here for many of the vendors that sell products specifically for alarm and systems integration businesses. (Note that this list may not be all-inclusive. If you are aware of other companies that sell automation software specifically for the security industry, please contact SDMâ€™s editor at (630) 694-4027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AlarmKey by Reliable Group
Telephone (888) 679-1200 n www.alarmkey.com
Telephone (866) 649-0100 n www.bluebridgesystems.com
BOLD Technologies Ltd.
Telephone (800) 255-2653 n www.boldgroup.com
Telephone (800) 786-3423 n www.dicecorp.com
iMOS (from White & Associates)
Telephone (800) 609-4405 n www.imos-software.com
Monitoring Automation Systems (MAS)
Telephone (800) 447-6721 n www.monauto.com
Micro Key Software
Telephone (888) 642-7653 n www.microkey.com
Premier Data Systems Inc. USA
Telephone (800) 533-7420 n www.premier1.com
Telephone (800) 409-4997 n www.probill.com
Security Information Systems
Telephone (407) 345-1550 n www.securitysoftware.com