May 1, 2008
Access control is not an area in which central stations traditionally have been involved. But that’s changing now that more end user organizations have wide area data connections capable of supporting IP communications. Increasingly security dealers and systems integrators are finding a new source of recurring monthly revenue by offering remote monthly management of their access control accounts â€” either through their own central station or by using a wholesale central station that offers access control services.
Many business customers welcome the opportunity to offload system management to their security dealer or systems integrator. Smaller businesses are particularly good candidates for central station managed access control, as they typically do not have dedicated staff to handle access control system changes and software upgrades.
“If end users are not interfacing with their access control system on a regular basis, they can forget how to do it,” notes Kevin Stone, chief operating officer for Doyle Security Systems, a Rochester, N.Y.-based security integrator that operates its own central station. “And if someone quits in the middle of the night, we can take the person off the system right away.”
A central station managed system also can provide a higher level of security by ensuring that forced doors or propped open doors receive an appropriate response. And they can offer an extra level of convenience by remotely unlocking a door in the event that an end user forgets his or her card â€” after following steps to ensure that the end user is authorized, of course.
The Doyle Security Systems central station handles a range of functions for end user organizations, from administrative tasks such as adding and deleting users, to generating reports and monitoring. Pricing is based on a grid that takes into account the number of users and the number of readers, but runs approximately $25 per door. Customers are typically allowed weekly reports and 15 to 20 changes per month. They also can request up to five additional reports.
To support the offering, Doyle installed the WinPakPro central station system from Honeywell, which Stone notes was a “considerable investment.” No special equipment is required at the customer premises above and beyond what they would normally use for access control, other than a wide area data connection. Also, the access control system used must be from Honeywell.
Doyle’s access control accounts are handled by the same central station personnel who handle the remote programming of alarm system panels, as the skill sets required are quite similar.
An â€˜RMR-Onlyâ€™ Sale?“About 85 percent of people buying access control buy monitoring,” Stone notes. “We’re seriously considering only allowing our people to sell it this way because we’re in the recurring revenue business. When you sell traditional access control, the margins are fairly thin.”
Although Doyle offers central station monitoring for alarm systems on a wholesale basis to other security dealers, the company does not have a wholesale central station managed access offering at this time.
Security installers and integrators don’t need to operate their own central station to offer this service. There are several monitoring companies that offer access control system management on a wholesale basis, including two that have made news recently â€” United Central Control (UCC) of San Antonio, Texas, and Marlin Central Monitoring of Kissimmee, Fla. Both companies have been able to minimize their upfront investment by using hosted solutions from third-party companies that have developed software platforms for this purpose.
At press time in April, UCC was gearing up for a May launch of its iConnect offering, which was already in use at several trial locations. The offering is based on a platform developed by Digital Synthesis L.L.C. of Albany, Ore., which is hosted on servers in Las Vegas. The hosted approach gives authorized end users the ability to make their own administrative changes â€” essentially letting them operate their own system while minimizing system investment.
“It eliminates the need for additional equipment on site â€” computers, software, etc.,” explains Mark Matlock, senior vice president for UCC.
UCC hopes the offering will open up access control to a new market of small businesses that would have relied on conventional lock hardware in the past. “Seventy percent will be one- or two-door systems,” Matlock believes.
Dealer and systems integrator clients will price UCC’s service as they see fit. But Matlock estimates the typical monthly charge to end user organizations at around $35, which includes Web site log-in, basic reporting and data hosting over the Internet, which would net the dealer a margin in the range of 30 percent to 40 percent. Although Matlock does not rule out the possibility of making system changes for customers, that is not part of the basic offering and would entail an additional charge.
“Our intent is to empower the customer,” Matlock says.
In the initial launch UCC will only support systems from HID, but the company may expand its offering in the future.
Marlin Central Monitoring’s central station managed access offering is based on a platform developed and hosted by Reach Systems of Oakland, Calif. Marlin’s approach is different from UCC’s in that its central station operators, rather than end users, typically handle card additions and deletions, and other administrative functions.
The Reach offering has been integrated with most central station automation systems, which makes it easy for Marlin operators to work with, notes Nick Perry, business development manger for Marlin Central Monitoring.
To use Reach Systems’ solution, central stations must have an IP-based receiver, but no other equipment investment is required, notes Dennis Raefield, president of Reach Systems. “Our system automatically generates reports and sends them out on a daily or weekly basis with the central station or integrator’s logo on it, so it looks like it comes from them,” Raefield explains.
He says the system also can support remote door locking and unlocking and can send an alert to authorized end user personnel via e-mail or cellular short message service in response to specific events. For example, end users might ask central station personnel to alert them if a certain individual enters a company location, Raefield describes.
End users served over the Reach Systems platform typically pay between $20 and $50 a month per door for a fully managed system, Raefield says. After central station and hosting charges, the installing dealer can keep as much as 50 percent of that revenue, he adds.
ADDING VIDEO TO THE MONITORING MIXWholesale central station Acadian Monitoring Services, a division of Acadian Ambulance of Lafayette, La., emphasizes monitoring in its access control offering, which is marketed as America On Watch.
“What we offer is alarm event management off of the access control system,” explains Matt Jimenez, operations manager for Acadian Monitoring Services. The system is based on a platform called Immix, developed by SureView Systems Int’l of Swansea, U.K., and can recognize door held and door forced conditions. Central station operators then can alert appropriate end user personnel and, for an added fee, can bring up video images associated with the door in question. Based on instructions provided by the account and stored in the central station’s database, central station operators can take appropriate action depending on what they see on video.
The offering works with access control equipment from AMAG, Lenel and others. “Our system doesn’t change the way the dealer or integrator installs the system,” Jimenez notes. “All we require is an IP address. There is no typical integration where you put wires between devices.”
The central station charges about $35 a month to monitor systems with up to four cameras, which typically includes 25 events. If the client exceeds that number of events, there is an additional charge of $5 per event. Security integrators can charge what the market will bear for the service, but typically earn a margin of 25 percent to 35 percent, Jiminez says.
Acadian also is exploring the possibility of managing access control systems â€” adding and deleting cards and generating reports â€” and may offer that service in the future.
Sidebar: Systems Integrators Discover New RMR OpportunitySecurity dealers for years have focused on generating recurring monthly revenue. But for systems integrators that focus on access control, monthly monitoring or management is often a green field opportunity.
Dennis Raefield, president of Reach Systems, estimates that 90 percent to 95 percent of systems integrators don’t have a central station and 60 percent don’t have a relationship with one. But that’s changing with the advent of companies such as Reach, which offers an access control management platform that it sells to systems integrators and through central stations on a wholesale hosted basis.
One systems integrator that has found new revenue opportunities in access control management services is Security Concepts Inc. of Inglewood, Calif. Although the company traditionally has used a wholesale central station for security system monitoring, its access control accounts did not generate monthly recurring revenues until six months ago, when the company purchased an access control remote management platform from Reach Systems. The system is similar to what Reach offers on a hosted basis to wholesale central stations and lets Security Concepts personnel remotely manage customers’ access control systems.
“Customers love it,” says Greg Daniels, systems account manager for Security Concepts. “Instead of a large PC in the back room, they use our service.”
Customers appreciate the cost savings and the convenience, Daniels relates. “The maintenance of a server is expensive but with our service, there is no maintenance on their end,” he says. “They just e-mail their changes to us.”
Customers pay between $25 and $150 per month, depending on the size of their system and how many reports they want. To support the offering, Security Concepts trained three employees to use the Reach Systems software. The service is supported 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Daniels estimates that 75 percent of new access control customers purchase monthly monitoring. He adds that Security Concepts also has been able to up-sell customers that previously purchased access control systems.
Houston-based Infrastruct Security Inc. is another systems integrator that is having success generating RMR from its access control accounts. The company installs access control, video surveillance, life safety and intrusion detection systems and has long relied on Acadian Monitoring Services for monitoring. But only recently have access control accounts been monitored.
“Forced door and door propped are our primary offerings,” notes Andrew Wray, executive vice president of business development for Infrastruct. When either of those conditions occurs, the central station receives an alarm signal and, depending on what level of service the customer has chosen, central station operators also may be able to view video images associated with the door that is in alarm.
“They go through a buffered pre-alarm and follow through post-event,” Wray explains.
The cost to the customer depends on the number of cameras and events the customer wants to monitor. Without video, a four-door system costs about $25 a month. A single-door, single-camera system costs about $50 a month. Infrastruct typically includes about 25 events in its monthly charge, with extra events costing about $15 each.
Infrastruct also offers a database maintenance service that costs about $99 a month. “We do a download of their control database that provides a snapshot of the entire system and creates a restoration point,” Wray describes. As part of that service, the company also will add and delete users in response to a fax or e-mail request.
Although it is not in the central station business per se, Infrastruct operates a backup central station facility for Acadian. The backup central station normally is not attended, but in the event of an emergency, Acadian personnel would operate out of the Infrastruct facility.