Specialty Monitoring: Think Inside the Box
What else can you tie to your customer’s security alarm panel box that will provide more value for them and more revenue for you?
Specialty monitoring alerts customers to changes in critical environments that take those environments out of desired/normal conditions. These changes typically involve temperature, water, humidity, pressure, flow, and power. In order to offer specialty monitoring successfully, experienced dealers and integrators recommend “thinking inside the box.” Think about what else you can tie to your security alarm panel box that will provide more value for your customer and more revenue for you.
“When our sales people walk through a facility, they look around and ask what would happen if this freezer, conveyor belt, or other piece of equipment failed?” says David Bitton, vice president and chief technology officer, Supreme Security Systems, Union N.J. “If you’re selling burglary, access control, fire, and CCTV, you should be selling environmental and industrial process monitoring. Often, customers say they didn’t know we could do that for them.”
David Smith, director of marketing and communications at COPS Monitoring, a third-party monitoring firm headquartered in New Jersey, states, “The monitoring possibilities are endless.” COPS monitors, among other things, elevator emergency phones, blood banks, wastewater recycling plants/pumping stations, cooling/storage systems, boiler temperatures, fish egg hatching plants, and power for critical home health care equipment.
All-Guard Alarm Systems, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area near the heart of California’s wine country, provides environmental monitoring to help wineries protect their inventories. “They may have millions of dollars of perishable product in their cellars,” notes Sean Cooke, branch manager. “Temperature and humidity are the major concerns.” Cooke adds that the company also monitors wine cellars in higher-end homes.
Sonitrol Pacific monitors for water in the USS Blueback, the submarine featured in the film “The Hunt for Red October” that is a floating exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The integrator also monitors freezer temperatures that store human brains for Alzheimer’s research. “We have found that water or temperature damage can have a devastating effect on a business or homeowner,” says Jim Payne, vice president of sales and marketing for this Washington-based integrator.
Specialty monitoring products are available from many manufacturers, including Advantech, APS-UPS, Enviro Alert, Flair, FLIR, Honeywell, Pelco, System Sensor, Tyco, and Winland. “We select products based on the application,” says Bass United President Brad Higdon. “In most cases, we combine products to create a complete system. If you have a knowledgeable, experienced technical staff, they’ll find most products easy to install. UL-mandated manuals also are so informative now that, if you can read, you can usually get products installed and operating properly.”
Higdon adds that it is important to match the product to the application, especially industrial applications. “When we’re called in for a repair or update, we often find that someone had installed an over-the-counter product that couldn’t hold up to the tough conditions of that industrial setting,” he describes.
“Ninety percent of installations are not technical,” states John Lutz, general manager, Guardian Protection Services, Warrendale, Pa. “We don’t place as much emphasis on sensor technology as we do on what’s provided by the customer’s equipment manufacturer. Commercial coolers and freezers, data center HVAC units, and other equipment often have critical limit outputs. We bring those contacts into our standard security control panel as a monitored zone. We almost always use wireless communication because landline failure is likely to accompany environmental failure.
“If customers ask us to create the means of monitoring, however, installation gets considerably more complicated and increases risk and liability. In these cases, such as setting up moisture detection monitoring for a multi-million dollar data center, we don’t scrimp on the installation. We’ll use multiple sensors, build in redundancy, and increase testing frequency intervals to, perhaps, every six hours.” Lutz adds that Guardian is “very particular” about handling water detection applications. “Water can be so damaging that we tend to shy away from it,” he comments. “When we do it, we’ll overdo it, putting in lots of sensing cable under the floor of a computer room, for example, to catch conditions early.”
Very low temperature freezers are one of the biggest installation challenges. “We won’t make the penetration for the probe,” says Sonitrol Pacific’s Payne, “because we don’t know where the refrigeration lines are in the freezer walls. But we will work with the freezer supplier to get the penetration and proper sealing.”
Supreme Security’s Bitton comments that, “we install our own hardware only when ambient temperature sensors are needed inside freezers or buildings. Most of the time, our customers tell us where we need to put our wires. We don’t get involved in industry-specific process equipment. We come in, know where we’re going to tie into customer systems, and pull wires to where they need to be.”
All-Guard’s Cooke says monitoring products are easy to install and integrate with most alarm panels. “Wireless technology makes it easier to get wires to devices in harder to reach places like wine cellars,” he says. “Easy installation means lower installation cost, too, which contributes to profitability.”
Central stations handle specialty alarms the same way they handle security alarms, but may prioritize those alarms differently. Dispatch on a fire alarm, for example, may be given higher priority than a low-temperature alarm, but “we’re talking a difference of seconds, not minutes,” says Lutz.
Specialty monitoring can increase monthly RMR. Sonitrol Pacific adds a fee to its base monitoring fee for environmental monitoring, plus a charge for each device monitored. “We’d be hard-pressed to build a business strictly around environmental monitoring as a standalone service,” says Payne, “but it is a great addition to our security monitoring because customers perceive it as an added value of doing business with us.” Payne estimates that about 35 percent of Sonitrol Pacific’s intrusion monitoring accounts also use environmental monitoring.
“This work isn’t necessarily hugely profitable, but it will absolutely differentiate you from your competition,” Lutz states. “Customer risk isn’t limited to burglary and fire. There’s also financial risk when equipment is down. Helping customers avoid these problems is a win-win. They no longer look at us as someone they just buy an alarm from, but as a partner in their profitability. As a result, we typically don’t lose these customers to attrition.”
According to COPS’ Smith, “Unless there is higher signal traffic or greater time involvement, the dealer/integrator cost for critical process monitoring is comparable to security and fire alarm monitoring. That way it can be a profitable business for them and for COPS.”
To sell specialty monitoring, just let existing customers know you offer it. “When you’re talking with customers about burglary and fire, you’re talking about security systems they may never have had to use,” advises Guardian’s Lutz. “But odds are good that they’ve had an HVAC shutdown or a cooler failure. Monitoring that equipment may be even more important to them than burg and fire.” Lutz recommends talking with customers abut risk generally and asking questions to find out where their “heartburn” is. “Go beyond security,” he says. “Talk to all the major stakeholders — IT, facilities, engineering. They may provide the key to getting the sale.”
Regulations & Requirements
There are myriad codes, regulations and laws impacting environmental and industrial processes. In the food industry, any facility that manufactures, processes, handles, or stores perishable products must have a Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan that includes establishing critical limits and monitoring procedures. Do dealers and integrators need to learn about HACCP and other industries’ requirements?
Not according to Supreme Security’s Bitton. “I don’t make it a point to know what conditions are good or bad for my customers’ business. That’s not our core competency and we don’t want to be held responsible for determining what is an off-normal condition. Just tell me where to put my wires so we can send notification of off-normal conditions to the central station.”
Sonitrol Pacific’s Payne says it’s not practical to try to keep up with each industry’s specific regulations, but he tries to maintain at least a basic understanding of those affecting his customers by reading industry blogs, communicating with vendors, and talking regularly with customers. “We always ask customers to tell us about changes in their industry and any new requirements we should be aware of when we meet with them,” he says.
“There’s a lot of business out there,” concludes Bass United’s Higdon, “and I think many integrators are missing the boat by not pursuing it. The RMR potential is there. Today, it’s cash flow — not profit — that enables you to make better business decisions. Your customers will hand you the business if you present it to them. It’s not hard. Just send a quote.”
Tips for Success
Do a detailed scope of work to ensure that equipment is placed where it can best detect the problem. If a water detector is placed on the opposite side of the room where leaks tend to occur, response will be slowed. Consider pre-install walk-throughs with customers, installers, and sales.
Secure manufacturer certifications as available. They can deepen your credibility and minimize your liability.
Commit to learning the products and actively look for sales opportunities in your customer base. You’ll find that opportunities present themselves every day.
Choose vendor partners well and do your homework so you understand the challenges involved in this business.
Minimize risk by staying within your competency and comfort level. Detecting radiation in a healthcare facility requires a different level of monitoring because of the potential for mass casualties. Monitoring large-scale industrial processes, particularly outdoors, presents unique technical challenges and requires different components and larger network capabilities than more mainstream indoor applications.
Tie price to the value of helping commercial customers mitigate potentially large losses. Find out what it would it cost the customer if a process failed. In some cases, the price may realistically be set at three to four times the standard monthly monitoring rate — and be accepted by the customer.
Make sure you have a strong contract with limits of liability and exclusions. Limit your liability to receiving and responding to signals, not generating them. Also look at your insurance policies. You may be insured for burglary and fire, but not environmental and process situations.
Be specific about the conditions you are monitoring and the response required from your central station.
If a customer is monitoring temperature, water, or other conditions themselves, don’t give up. They may be open to using your service as a reliable backup.
Partner with equipment providers. Contacts you land on must be clearly identified. Discuss testing. It could be better for providers to take the process to the threshold of an alarm than you, given the potential damages involved if there is a problem.
Specialty monitoring itself can open doors to more business — literally. Suggest adding a card reader to the door of a remote facility where you are monitoring temperature or water.
Mining for Business
Often located in remote, pristine areas, gold mines use cyanide to leach gold from rock. In Canada, there are strict standards governing transport of the waste slurry of ground rock and cyanide to tailing ponds where exposure to sunlight destroys the cyanide. The cost of a leak to the mining company, in cleanup costs, fines, and reputation, would be potentially devastating. The cost to the Canadian wilderness would be incalculable.
Sixth Sense Processware (SSPW), an Ontario, Canada engineering company that specializes in infrared imaging, developed a system to monitor a Canadian mine’s 1.6 mile slurry pipeline for leaks between the mill and tailings ponds. The system uses 22 IR pan-tilt cameras mounted on poles about 15 to 20 feet high. Each camera takes a series of images, scanning a grid of 100 yards. Every five minutes, SSPW software puts 40 to 120 images together in a high-resolution, 12MP panoramic image of the pipeline around each camera pole. Another software program compares the new image with those taken 30 minutes, one hour, four hours, and eight hours earlier. “Image quality is critical,” says John Craven, SSPW president. “Compression algorithms can create artifacts that look like thermal motion on a pipeline. Raw video is essential to detecting leaks, so designing a network for high bandwidth is essential.”
Mine operators previously attempted to detect leaks using flow meters at each end of the pipe. “Unfortunately, the pipe would have to lose a considerable amount of liquid before the leak was detected,” Craven describes. “In tests, our system detected leaks that were 100 times smaller.”
The biggest technical challenge was coping with the effects of sun, shadows, and wind across the pipe. “It’s easy to tell if it’s raining or snowing, but a cloud can lower the pipe’s surface temperature 10 degrees in 10 minutes,” Craven explains. “Wind gusts can drop ground temperatures by 5 to 10 degrees between camera shots. You can’t be sure if that change is caused by a leak or weather conditions. The solution, which seems counterintuitive, was to mask out the pipe (which has the highest thermal variation due to environmental conditions such as sun and clouds) in the images and focus on the ground around the pipe.”
Craven says it’s important to manage customer expectations for infrared image monitoring in all types of applications. “A well-engineered thermal monitoring solution may not be able to provide 100 percent detection performance in extreme weather conditions such as snow and rain, but it can significantly lower risk with respect to process defects such as pipeline leaks.”