Give em What They Want
Customers might not care what specific software a central station uses, but they do care if a central station can do what they want. Security dealers with a central station or third-party central station managers definitely care about software. Their ability to do what their customer wants is dependent on the software. That makes versatile software key.
With that in mind, suppliers of central station software have developed a host of new features to keep dealers’ customers satisfied and a dealer or manager’s monitoring business running smoothly. Here are a few of the innovations that have been introduced recently.
STRENGTHENING THE BACK ENDImproving the back end of monitoring, such as billing and service, is just as important to Wayne Torrens, president of Micro Key Software Inc., Kissimmee, Fla., as innovating on the front end, where alarms and calls are answered.
“The beauty of our system is that we do it all â€” we do both sides well,” he says of front-end monitoring and back-end billing. “That’s a new thing about the enterprise job costing and inventory tracking and integrating piece that was huge this year.”
Correlating payments and monitoring is more efficient with a single software system, Torrens maintains.
“A big problem for many alarm dealers, and another really big problem for a central station, is that billing and monitoring goes two ways â€” who are the people that I’m monitoring that I am not billing, and who am I billing that I’m not monitoring?” Torrens asks. “If I’m paying for something and you’re not monitoring, that is going to be a bigger problem than if you’re monitoring me and I’m not paying you.”
Another feature from Micro Key is integrated job costing, so alarm dealers or central stations of any size can track the profitability of jobs from proposal to completion.
The software also converts proposals into jobs and invoices them automatically, progressively invoices job tasks, creates time sheets with multiple technicians on a work order with a variety of pay rates and creates work-in-progress reports.
LONE WORKER: A REVENUE SOURCEA new source of revenue offered by Bold Technologies Ltd., Colorado Springs, Colo., is its lone worker program that allows those who work alone to receive help if they need it.
“This is basically a device that actually looks like a badge,” explains Rod Coles, Bold Technologies’ president. “You put your ID in it, and it’s a very thin profile. You clip it on your belt or on your shirt, and it’s for people who are nurses that may go out on-site, or for those working in the housing market, such as real estate agents selling houses, or for anybody working on their own.
“It has a mechanism whereby you can press a button and alert a central station that you may be in danger,” Cole explains. “It sends a voice clip into a central station.”
Legislation in Canada that makes employers responsible for their employees’ security is encouraging adoption of the equipment in that country, Coles says. He also suggests it is suitable for hospitals and universities anywhere.
“Part of our philosophy is one point of control â€” taking different technologies, such as GPS, the lone worker, different sources of video and combining them into one user interface, so that the central station operator doesn’t have to learn 15 different packages to deal with each technology,” Coles relates.
Among the other new features in Bold’s Windows-based central station software is BoldNet, which allows access from the Internet to be branded by a dealer or central station.
“They can put their own logo skins on it to make it look completely like their own Web site,” points out Coles. The company also is beta testing the integration of its software with Honeywell’s WinPak CS software.
ACCESS INTEGRATEDAn integration module in MASterMind software from GE Security, Bradenton, Fla., is promising potential RMR increases by integrating access control with central station software. The module will allow the central station software to be integrated with the company’s Alliance hardware platform.
Alliance features intrusion alarm and door and access control capabilities. The integration, which will combine access control, intrusion alarms and video events into one integrated platform, is being tested this summer.
“If a customer wanted to add access, you don’t have to install another panel,” explains Rick Denos, GE Security’s engineering manager of MAStermind monitoring. “You go in and literally enable the onboard capability, which can handle a certain number of doors in its base configuration. It is not infinitely expandable, but you can get up to where you are handling thousands of readers by just expanding on that initial installation.
“What we found was several of the large, full-service monitoring centers were extremely excited about the RMR model, being able to offer a service-managed account and being able to do it from within MAStermind, so people don’t have to learn a new GUI,” Denos continues. “What makes Alliance unique is that onboard it is intrusion and access and video all bundled together. You don’t go in and install three separate bundles or systems to do this.”
Technicians can use a preprogrammed IP module or a Web GUI program when they install the hardware. “All the preprogramming configuration management of that system could be done remotely,” Denos relates. “Our estimates are if the installer doesn’t have to deal with software components onsite, he can spend 75 to 80 percent less time onsite, because so much was the software setup.”
Operator load balancing also can be performed with the company’s software so operators at different central station locations who are not as busy as those in one location can be pressed into service to aid the busy location.
OPENING UP TO WINDOWSDICE Corp., Bay City, Mich., is using automated voice to reduce central station operator workload. “It can handle inbound calls for putting accounts on and off test,” explains Adam Eurich, DICE’s director of core products. “What’s new about it is we’re making you do outbound calls as well.”
These include low battery and tamper alarms and a storm mode for natural disasters or power failures. “It basically takes a lot of the low-priority alarm work off the central station operators so they have a lot of time to handle real issues.”
The company also has the ability to customize its software. “We want our software to work the way our customers want it to work, so we do a lot of customization to change things to meet a particular alarm company’s needs,” says Fred Wager, DICE’s chief software architect.
DICE’s software has been a Linux- and Unix-based system, Wager points out, but a Windows version is being developed along with one for the Web.
“Unix and Linux have always been more secure choices for mission-critical software applications, but Windows is really improving their reliability, which is why we’re considering them now,” Wager declares.
“Some younger people have grown up on Windows,” points out Lesley Guyse, DICE’s COO. “Microsoft made great strides in making it difficult to hack in last year. We will be able to integrate a lot of the more modern tools available.”
VIDEO, ACCESS CONTROLLEDIncreasing RMR opportunities is the goal of a new capability added to central station software from Innovative Business Software Inc., (IBS), Irving, Texas. Control via the Internet of access and video with its Security Business NET (SBN) central station management software is included. This capability was developed in conjunction with Digital Synthesis LLC, Albany, Ore., utilizing the company’s digital fabric technology.
“We have affiliated with a company that has a digital skin or fabric, so almost no matter what cameras the customer has installed, the operators are accessing it through a unified player,” explains Andreas Jensen, IBS’ vice president of development. “So if you have an analog camera, if you have a digital camera, or if you have a DVR, the video appears the same to the operator and the controls are the same.”
Another capability one of the company’s customers requested was to have an audit trail that indicates whether an operator viewed an entire video clip or just part of it to determine whether there was a problem.
“If you have a 30-second clip and saw all 30 seconds of it, that is a correct view, but if you turn off the player after 28 seconds, we then record that as an incorrect view,” Jensen notes. “If we have an illegal view, we have in the central station recorded what the operator saw, what he did in manipulation.”
The suspect video also is stored at the central station in case the customer accidentally overwrites it or does not store it long enough, Jensen points out.
Customers have the ability to manipulate their cameras themselves over the Internet with the company’s software. Operators also can follow access violations and eliminate employees from the contact and access list at the same time, Jensen says.
Video and access are integrated with the intrusion and fire alarm systems with the software.
SAVING OPERATORS TIMESaving central stations time and manpower is the goal of improvements by Security Information and Management Systems Inc. (SIMS Inc.), Plano, Texas. The company has updated its TeleLogik software with fax and e-mail on-demand reports and a text-to-speech process that is due out this summer.
“Now the big problem central stations are facing is the quality of the operators â€” getting enough good operators,” maintains Ken Utley, SIMS’ president. “So anything we can do to help them control those particular costs is a tremendous advantage to them.”
Time-intensive processes such as repetitive calling to find a person who will respond to an alarm or calls to warn of low batteries in equipment are automated through an “operatorless work station,” Utley says. Automation allows a dozen such calls to be made at the same time until a responder is located.
“Most times nobody wants to accept the responsibility,” Utley explains, adding that sometimes central station operators have to call as many as 20 people to find someone who will respond to a non-emergency alarm.
The automated system also will be able to handle technicians’ calls to put the systems they are installing on test. Technicians with personal digital assistants (PDAs) will be able to access a Web browser to accomplish these tasks.
Another feature is the use of SIMS software with accounting software such as QuickBooks, Peachtree, Great Plains by Microsoft and other programs.
“We’re creating a package that interfaces between our software and multiple accounting packages, so we can actually use the information in the monitoring side to create invoices in these mainstream accounting packages,” Utley notes. The addition of MAS90, Dac Easy and Accpac is planned.
SATISFACTION GUARANTEEDCentral stations searching for software that lets them give their customers whatever they are asking for are getting more options. Each new software available to central stations offers additional features, promises more flexibility and addresses specific needs expressed by customers. That means more satisfied customers who can get what they want.
SIDEBAR: Central Station Operations to be Featured at ESXCentral Station Operations is one of seven educational tracks to be featured at the new Electronic Security Expo (ESX), to be held June 25-27, 2008, at the Nashville Convention Center. This event, owned and sponsored by the Central Station Alarm Association and the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association, is open to all security professionals.
Some of the planned central station sessions are:
- Measuring Central Station Operator Performance
- False Alarms & Signal Management
- Central Station Software for the Remote Video and Access Control Central Station, and more.