WEB-BASED ALARM MANAGEMENT: $how Me the Money!
August 1, 2007
Your customer is at a night baseball game that has lasted a little longer than anticipated by going into extra innings. As the home team struggles to get just a single run into home plate, your customer’s cell phone begins vibrating.
When he answers it, he sees video of a burglary in progress being handled by your central station. Immediately notified in this manner, he leaves the home team to its efforts and heads straight to his company’s location, where he is able to assess the situation after your central station managed immediate response to the break-in.
Is this better alarm notification for which your end users will pay a premium? Most probably, thinks Gilles Prefontaine, strategy and planning, Active Response Monitoring (ARM), a brand under VOXCOM Inc., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
“We want the customer to be involved with our system,” Prefontaine emphasizes. “The more the customer is involved with their security system, the more information they get from it and the more they see value in the system, the less likely they are to churn.
“It’s a great opportunity to increase RMR,” he stresses. “We’ve proven it in our own organization â€” it will reduce attrition.”
Customer notification by e-mail of alarms and/or by video over the Internet or cell phones can be a revenue generator and can distinguish a dealer’s offerings from a competitor’s.
“On average, what we’ve seen is, if you’re considering the more traditional security package as being $30 a month, we’ve seen dealers increase that by $15 to $20 easily, especially with video services being involved there,” Prefontaine insists.
Some automated devices reside between the customer’s alarm panel and the central station. These specially designed devices may be included in a company’s alarm panel or may be add-ons.
They send alarm signals to the central station instantaneously or route them to customers depending on the type of alarm it is. E-mail, simple text messaging (SMS) to e-mail-equipped devices like personal digital assistants (PDAs) such as Blackberries, or automated phone messages to land lines or cellular phones are used.
“Our charter is to collect that data from the panel and deliver it wherever the dealer/customer wants it delivered,” declares Chuck Horne, senior vice president of marketing for Numerex, Atlanta, the corporate parent of Uplink Security Inc., Atlanta. “Typically in the security world, they want it sent to a central monitoring station over the wireless network exactly as it would be delivered over a phone line.”
The company’s products are used many times as wireless back-ups for alarm systems connected to land lines.
“We can provide customer self-monitoring, but that is not the security model we are selling,” Horne asserts. “If a dealer sells a solution to a customer, and the customer says, ‘I don’t want the central station, I want this delivered directly to me via text messages or e-mail,’ we can do that, but that’s not the norm.”
With Uplink’s system, the only hardware required for the customer is a device that is sold through distributors to dealer/integrators or already is incorporated in many major manufacturers’ alarm panels. The system can be configured for each customer through online software.
Horne sees services that telephone and cable companies are offering for self-monitoring through e-mail and video on cell phones as being a separate market. “We are looking at video and how we might utilize video in our security channels,” he concedes.
Darin Eames, director of wireless platforms for intrusion and Web-enabled software, GE Security, Bradenton, Fla., sees Web-based alarm management as a growing business. “What we see happening is that with these technologies, interactivity allows for new forms of accretive value-add to that business,” Eames declares.
THIRD-PARTY NOTIFICATION SERVICESSome manufacturers use third-party companies to provide customer alarm notification, and additional manufacturers say they are considering doing so.
Alarm.com, McLean, Va., provides automatic notification for GE Security’s products through a wireless cellular telephone module that is connected to the company’s control panels.
“We can notify via an automated voice telephone alert, as well as SMS text message or e-mail and everything,” explains Alison Slavin, Alarm.com’s vice president of product management. “All the data that we receive from the security system out there we make available to end users through a Web site.
“So our customers are able to log into their system from anywhere pretty much and see the current status of all the sensors on the system,” she notes. “They can program user codes, set up alert verifications and a lot of other features that we offer.”
The company does not operate a central station. Its signals are routed to central stations according to criteria dealers set up for the customers.
“Every time a sensor opens, it reports it to the panel, or our sensor knows it and makes a decision based on user and dealer settings whether to transmit the signal or not,” Slavin relates. “And then once the signal is transmitted to us, it goes through filtering and processing in the operations center, where we decide whether we log it, show it to the customer on the Web site or send an e-mail.
“Half our customer base is commercial,” Slavin estimates. “They’re generally smallish, no more than 5,000 square feet, burger stands, coffee shops, gas stations, convenience stores, tanning salons, that size of store. You have two or three entry or exit doors.”
The module that connects to the alarm panel or is placed in it is the only software the company supplies.
It has just launched a video monitoring service that can be viewed on the Web. “You pull up your cameras, you can also program your cameras to auto-record when certain criteria are met,” Slavin notes.
“You would set up a schedule for a certain time of week or day, and if there is motion activity, it would record the video, upload it to Alarm.com so it would be available on the Web site, and then alert me that the video is there,” she continues. “We’ll also be coming out with a short snapshot or video clip that can be sent to a cell phone.”
The company will be introducing remote storage of video so no DVR is required and the video can be secure off-site. The system also provides cellular GSM backup of the security system and operates when no phone line or VoIP is being used.
“Our philosophy is that the Web is an easier interface than any keypad you can come up with,” Slavin maintains.
The Web interface can be customized for the dealership selling the product. Customers never have to see anything connected with Alarm.com.
“Every notification is branded with the dealer’s company name so customers will remember the brand name,” Slavin notes. “They can charge more per month. They show all the advanced features so the price sensitivity goes away.”
CENTRAL STATIONS ARE NOT WORRIEDThird-party central stations sometimes offer customer notification to dealers through various methods.
“We notify every which way,” explains Jeffrey Atkins, president of Rapid Response Monitoring Services, Syracuse, N.Y. Methods central stations use include e-mail, SMS text notifications to pagers or video to cellular telephones.
“Rapid Response at the present time includes additional notification services at no charge, but the dealer can charge what we he wants with it,” Atkins explains. “We provide it as a no-charge service to the dealer.”
Gilles Lanctot, assistant manager of VOXCOM emergency response center, VOXCOM Security Systems, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is testing the alarm notification system from Active Response Monitoring (ARM), a brand under VOXCOM.
“Our head office is located here in Edmonton, and the police agency here will not respond to unverified alarms,” Lanctot reports. “You could get a video feed to your cell phone, and if you see a break-in in progress, it can be a verified response with you not being on-site.”
Customer notification works especially well for supervisory signals, which are ones that do not threaten life or property, such as power failures, low battery signals, water level or temperature signals. Supervisory temperature signals may be from walk-in freezers in food facilities, where the door may have been left open.
“Where it works best for us is large industrial facilities with many control panels in one location or many buildings on a site,” Atkins continues. “So the responding person now has the building name, building address panel, location zone or point identified instantly at his fingertips, versus the old way we used to call and notify.
“The person had to get a pen and write down all the information and then hang up the phone,” he remembers.
Rapid Response uses its own proprietary software to accomplish this task, Atkins declares. He does not think his business will be threatened by systems that notify customers.
“What if that person is away at lunch?” he asks. “Not everyone has their cell phone with them every second, so that is not a fail-safe system; it just augments what you have. There’s nothing as good as a security system with a 24-hour, human-monitored central station.”
Lanctot’s central station just uses its regular procedures if the customer is unavailable. “We would follow our standard protocol and dispatch the authorities as normal,” he relates.
Interpreting video verification of alarms is not easy for professionals, Atkins points out. “We have 30- and 42-inch monitors, so we can see the detail,” he observes. “You think they’re going to see all the detail on their little cell phone? I don’t think it is a threat at all.
“There’s a market in residential for alarm and video where the customer wants to know what’s going on in his house, because he has a lot of kids and knows it’s a false alarm, but as far as commercial, I haven’t seen it yet.”
Atkins thinks residential self-monitoring is a distinct market from commercial. Residential thrives on the privacy that only the end users see video.
But Atkins sees customer notification growing as an add-on to augment professional monitoring. “Every single month, we get more demand for video and automated notification,” he reports.
IS SELF-MONITORING A TREND?John Smith, senior marketing manager for Honeywell Security, Louisville, Ky., does not see a movement toward end users doing their own monitoring.
“A lot of customers don’t want to have to manage a system. They want somebody else to manage it, and they want to pay somebody else to do it ,” he says.
“I see a central station market expanding over the next couple of years,” he predicts. “We’re moving more toward the central station for dealers to get more recurring revenue.”
Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for intrusion products at Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y., also thinks that central stations are not going to be replaced anytime soon.
“The end customer buys an alarm system because they want to know if something happens, so if they’re not there, somebody is going to come and help them,” he points out.
“It’s a very desirable service to know at the same time the central station does that there’s an event at your location, but for you to have the responsibility of contacting the location, that’s what you’re paying a central station for,” Mechler emphasizes. “I don’t see it as a replacement for a dispatch from a monitoring center.”
CUSTOMER NOTIFICATION IS PART OF CONVENTIONAL SYSTEMSIf the trend in alarm monitoring is notification of customers, some conventional types of software from major suppliers offer notification of customers whose systems may or may not be monitored.
For example, WinPak Pro central station software from Honeywell Security, Louisville, Ky., allows customer notification of alarms over cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) such as Blackberries, or pagers.
Sometimes unmonitored companies will want to receive notice of prealarms to prevent false alarms, such as plants waving in air handling systems and setting off motion detectors. In cases like these, such services already might be available from conventional software systems for which dealers can charge extra.
Another income opportunity for dealers is charging for reports to customers about alarms. “It’s something we allow our dealers to turn on or off,” Smith notes.
Some central station software can be logged onto remotely by customers through the Web to get reports on alarms. “From a dealer perspective, it’s another source of recurring revenue,” Smith points out.
Products from Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y., also currently have various methods to notify customers.
“We have the capability to do that in a number of different ways,” declares Tom Mechler, Bosch’s product marketing manager for intrusion products. “For the most part, it would be performed through some sort of server application at the monitoring center or the third-party location.
“In addition to that, we do have a residential panel that can contact the SMS server directly and send an SMS message to a phone, but what I anticipate will happen will be much more efficient, to do this all over IP with a server set up for the purpose,” Mechler says.