Smart phone
Honeywell’s Total Connect mobile app with virtual keypad is displayed on an iPhone.  PHOTO COURTESY OF HONEYWELL

As technology marches on, one of the “new normal” rules of the game is that while a product/device/software set might be cool today, pretty soon it is either obsolete or has died.

Within the past year I’ve had two hard drives collapse, an iPod go bad, one cell phone decide that it didn’t like swimming, and a wireless mouse/PowerPoint controller pass away in the heat of a training session. Everything electronic works faster these days, and the devices die faster too.

I guess it was the wireless mouse dying that really got to me. I would have sworn that I’d bought it just a couple of years ago, and distinctly remember paying more than $200 for the device and receiver. After returning home from the training class, I whipped out the offending device and performed my usual tricks for re-animating zombified electronics. Dave’s secret tricks include: trying new batteries; removing the batteries and shorting the positive and negative terminals together (this often does the trick); removing the circuit board and shorting everything sticking out to everything else; and the time-honored “pick it up and drop it from four feet to the floor” maneuver. None of these stunts did the job, and the device has joined my old brick cell phone, various Palm Pilots, and damaged desktop PCs in my pile of dead devices. And it’s off to the computer store to buy a newer/better/faster/cheaper device to replace the one that’s gone south.

It should be obvious even to baby boomers like me that modern electronic products aren’t made to last more than a year or two on the outside. Some of you will remember the discussions of “planned obsolescence” in the automotive manufacturing world of the ‘60s and ‘70s, back when we all would trade in our cars every two years. The cars then weren’t made to last — just like today’s electronic devices.

I am probably demonstrating my age, but (cue the James Brown music) “there was a time…” when alarm equipment displayed the same tendency to expire within a year or two after installation. Back then, alarm control panels and remote devices were commonly killed during lightning storms, with a typical central station receiving hundreds of signals as a storm passed through an area. With improvements in lightning and electrical transient protection, modern control panels and devices typically can withstand even moderate electrical surges without damage; they don’t get blown off the wall unless the lightning is a direct hit.

With the current control panels now in use, alarm systems have much greater reliability and fewer failures than they did in the past. In general this means that end users will leave their alarm control and devices on the wall until they move away from that particular home or office; the customer has no compelling reason to upgrade his or her system.

Before writing this column, I contacted a few sources including the Security Industry Association (SIA) to ask whether a study had ever been done to determine how long the typical burglar alarm panel stays in continuous use. No one seems to have investigated this formally. I called a couple of my dealer buddies, such as Jim Hassenplug from Arlington Security, who told me that in most cases, alarm panels stay on the wall until they die. He mentioned that there often is an opportunity to upgrade a system when a home or business is sold; the new occupant/owner sometimes can be convinced that a new system will provide needed features and benefits.

However, often the new owner of a home/building is besieged with unforeseen costs for various needed improvements and upgrading the alarm system gets pushed off to the future, particularly in this tough economic environment.

These realities make our existing alarm systems the equivalent of “white goods,” such as clothes washers/dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators. When do you replace your ‘fridge? When it dies, right? Otherwise we will continue to use our existing appliances even when we know that there are more energy-efficient devices available that can save us, as consumers, substantially on our electric bills.

Professionals in our industry know that the latest security systems can provide IP video, remote control of HVAC systems — even put a perfect facsimile of the customer’s alarm keypad onto their iPhone, as the Honeywell Direct Connect product line provides. The question is how do we get our existing clients to invest in these upgraded systems?

I believe there are a couple of approaches that can make a big difference in the sales of upgraded alarm systems. The first concept is quite simple, yet I still find it amazing when I ask salespeople in our industry whether they themselves have a current alarm system installed in their house/condo/apartment. In many cases the queried person will say “no.” How can you sell alarm systems to consumers if you yourself don’t believe that a security system is an absolute requirement for your home? Alarm companies should make it inexpensive for their salespeople to get updated systems installed in their homes. What can be more powerful than an alarm system salesperson whipping out their Droid or iPhone or iPad and showing clients how they can control their own homes from remote Internet connections? Car dealers don’t sell vehicles from the brochure. The buyer takes a test drive in a car they might want while the salesperson points out the benefits. Our industry needs to use the same “show me” type of sales presentation.

The second approach involves the discussion of simple realities to the end user. If a system is over eight years old, it is likely that either: a) the manufacturer is no longer in business or b) the manufacturer still is in business, but doesn’t make that product line anymore. Service people should point out to customers during annual system tests/battery changes if the client’s control or system is obsolete, and provide them with information about the latest and greatest systems that are available from that alarm company.

I believe many alarm dealers fall into the camp of, “Sell the system, get the RMR, and hopefully never talk to that end user again.” This is short-sighted thinking that will backfire on such security companies. Demonstrate the latest and greatest to your clients before they visit someone else’s house, see a cool new feature, and buy their new system from your competition.