MKS 2016 Users Conference: MKS Listens & Provides Learning
March 23, 2016
The MKS Users Conference in Orlando, Fla., took place March 8 to 10 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel, boasting a record number of old and new customer attendees.
An MKS slogan is “We don’t have customers — we have partners,” and it indeed felt less like a customer conference and more like a meeting and growth opportunity for partners in security.
According to its website, the annual conference is held “to show our users new developments in the products you work with every day. Additionally, the users come together and trade stories, share best practices and work together to form a special relationship with each other.” Specifically this year Victoria Ferro, MKS president, and other MKS specialists spoke about the benefits of the MKS’s new software version, Stark.
“The main benefits we are offering our customers this year is a newer, matured version of our new UI, (Stark), new general ledger and inventory tracking, and countless enhancements to provide a deeper level of automation in our central station software,” Ferro said. “We also tried to demonstrate how all the new features launched can be integrated to enhance existing operational work flow.”
Ferro and the staff showed a genuine love for what they do; throughout the conference they displayed a camaraderie and dedication to making the product better in sessions, roundtable discussions and meet-and-greet style cocktail hours. In the opening session she and the MKS staff introduced many of the new benefits with skits, videos and even some singing.
“MKS hands-down has the best customers in the alarm industry, and I mean that whole heartedly,” Ferro said. “The conference enables our entire staff to interact with our customers, get feedback on future development directions that are applicable to our industry, and keep our product relevant with customers’ ever-growing business needs. The interaction also enriches our personal relationships with customers that extend long after the conference.”
Brad Casper, MKS director of development, discussed some of the structural changes since he came on board. The first thing he did was to organize the process flow. MKS now follows four steps: request, fix, test and deliver. Now, Casper said, MKS gives time estimations. With this streamlined process, MKS attacks bugs in new software or those that result from modifications — usually the bugs are introduced in a fix — with what he calls a “smoke test” to eliminate them. Under his leadership the MKS development department has doubled.
Ferro said the most exciting announcements of the conference were SMS texting for the processing of low-level alarm signals for central stations, Millennium Accounting in the cloud and the launch of MKS’s new sister company, SecurCloud which will manage MKS’s hosted monitoring solution.
The benefits of using MKS are many, according to Ferro. “MKS truly runs the entire business operation of our customers — sales, accounting, service and, if applicable, central station operations,” she said. “Our solution creates efficient service departments and efficient central stations. Our billing ensures our customers continue to get paid, and our financial software keeps track of their profitability. Our solutions enable our customers to take on more business without creating additional overhead to support that new business.”
And MKS is certainly a company that has shown its ability to grow and evolve with the changing industry. Ferro said dealers and central station owners are more technologically savvy, advanced and educated shoppers. “To keep up with market demand, we have be to smarter in what enhancements and features we choose to invest and deliver in our products,” Ferro said. “Technology becomes more and more advanced each quarter making sophisticated solutions affordable to the average consumer. It is imperative as a solution provider that we work with the best partners in the industry to make these new product offerings available for our customers to offer to their customers to remain competitive in their market space.”
The biggest change MKS has made over the last 31 years, Ferro said, is transitioning from a small to a mid-size company, which, she said, “required us to refine our workflow processes to a more formalized model. As we have grown and transitioned, our No. 1 priority has always been our dedication to the successes of every alarm dealer and central station customer in the spirit of true partnership.”
That dedication seems to have paid off based on what MKS partners said about the conference. John Siska, CSM supervisor at Safeco Alarm Systems Inc., Kingston, N.Y., uses MKS for central station monitoring. Siska said, “I really liked hearing about many of the new features and enhancements in the latest version of MKS, as well as learning more about many of the existing features that MKS has in its central station software that we don’t currently utilize.
“In addition, it was great to speak to people from other central stations, whether they are smaller in size like mine or a very large one such as All American Monitoring, and being able to network with them and share ideas on how to make our central stations more productive and better enhance the overall customer experience. The all-day lab was also great; I was able to speak to a few of the MKS technical people and discuss any issues that we have and get pointed in the right direction on how to fix it.”
Siska shared suggestions for improving the software in one of the roundtable discussions and said he was reassured hearing other attendees bring up some of the other issues he wanted to share.
Charles Brooks, president of Brooks Security, Baldwin, Mich., said his company has been using MKS software for about 18 years. "MKS Users Conferences are always very enlightening," Brooks said. "You learn so much from both the MKS staff as well as other company users. One of the key reason we attend the users conference is to see the new software and learn how it can benefit our company. MKS software seems to get better and better with each upgrade."
Brian Roth, site manager at TowerSentry, Lakeland, Fla., said he was also able to share a few ideas concerning action plans that he hopes MKS puts to use in the next version of MKSCS. “The Users Conference offers a place to toss around ideas in my head and involve MKS staff as well as other users in finding creative solutions to problems that would otherwise be difficult obstacles to overcome,” Roth said.
Roth said he appreciates how the conference instructors show not only what the new features are, but how they affect everyday business and productivity.
John Lindberg, president of Dial One Security, Cincinnati, was originally drawn to MKS as they merged two central stations. “MKS has turned out to be the right choice for our operations,” Lindberg said. He said the conference is a great forum for sharing ideas with other central station operators that are also using MKS. “The roundtables and the general networking that occur at the MKS conferences are always great for sharing best practices — and sometimes worst practices. You can get a real idea of what works at other central stations and what does not work.”
The conference did seem like a community of people all dedicated to the same thing, and to improving service wherever possible, and the MKS Users Conference was the facilitator of this collaboration.
Tuning up Central Station Productivity
In one of the informative breakout sessions, MKS Implementation Specialist Amy Spurgeon presented the Top 7 Dos and Don’ts to Maximize Your Central Station’s Productivity:
- Use Alarm Package in Alarm History to assist operators in learning how to read signal data.
- Use new Operator and Excessive reports.
- Use Emergency Management mode.
- Create your own Alarm Conditions to suit your specific needs.
- Use email/text notifications for lower priority signals instead of calls to cut down on “busy” work.
- Use ODBC to create custom reports in Excel.
- Use Web/Dealer, Mobile Virtual Operator or Virtual Operator to allow techs and dealers to put their panels on test and check signals on their own.
- Neglect to train all central station staff on how to turn on MKS Database and SPA.
- Enter signal IDs and all data in CSID zones, if the format is standard; create a communicator format instead.
- Neglect to scan and save customer paperwork/emails to Subscriber folders.
- Neglect to use calls to make a record of important phone calls or emails between you and your customers
- Use video driver Generic’s Visor Net; it will not work in Stark because it was replaced with Commands.
- Leave any shift without at least one operator who has the central station supervisor permission.
- Change the Alarm Condition on system generated signal IDs.
For exclusive video interviews from the MKS Users Conference, www.SDMmag.com/videos and select the category "MKS Users Conference."