Q&A With Sentinel Alarm's Ivan Spector
The alarm industry is constantly evolving. With 35 years in the industry, Ivan Spector talks about industry changes, what makes him successful today and where the industry is heading.
Ivan Spector, president of Sentinel Alarm, Montreal, Quebec (www.alarmesentinelle.com/home/) is well-known for his commitment to bettering the security industry at many levels and in many ways. He serves as treasurer of the Central Station Alarm Association and as a board member of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, among other positions. SDM recently spoke with Spector about management issues, industry change, and the importance of volunteerism.
SDM: Tell us a little bit about the history of Sentinel Alarm.
Spector: Sentinel was founded in the late ‘70s. It was originally conceived to do low-temperature monitoring via telephony as a result of energy setback systems as the price of oil spiked.
I had been working during my student years at a company that my father ran and grew to be the largest independent fuel oil distribution company in North America. I worked in their repair garage on trucks, in the parts warehouse, and in the service department cleaning furnaces. Upon graduation I was offered a job selling oil and energy conservation setback systems.
I requested and was given permission to immerse myself in the security business. In 1981 we had some clients that were monitored at the fuel oil company’s 24-hour service department on a Franklin receiver and with some reverse polarity direct line modules.
In 1982 the name was changed to Sentinel Alarm/Alarme Sentinelle. In 1984 the company was moved, and we became ULC listed in 1985. I became the full proprietor soon after.
SDM: Toronto implemented verified response to alarms at the beginning of 2016 [although at the time of this writing, that policy is on hold and has not yet been implemented]. What is the response situation in Montreal, as well as in other major cities in Canada, and what is the impact on the security industry and its customers?
Spector: The false alarm rate — or false dispatch per system per year (FDSY) — has been dropping significantly and there are multiple reasons for this: better equipment and false alarm immunity technology, multiple-call verification prior to dispatch, better and easier accessibility to contact lists, and fines.
In Montreal there is an escalating fine for false dispatches, with a free one every 365 days. The recipient of the bill is the homeowner. There is an allowance for call cancelation if the responder has not arrived on site. There is a registration process which is the responsibility typically of the monitoring station. In spite of the concern that these unfavorable regulations may inhibit market growth, that has not happened. And the other phenomenon has been the growth of responder options in areas that can afford to support them.
SDM: The research firm IHS predicts steady, solid growth for security systems in Canada over the next three years. What do you see as the best opportunities for professional security dealers and integrators to earn revenue?
Spector: Everything is now app-driven, and clients are demanding that our systems do more, driven by the accelerated pace of technology adoption, addiction to data, and the Internet of Everything. On the CCTV and access sides there will be continued migration to cloud-based hosted solutions which will lower the ownership cost and drive RMR.
SDM: What offices do you hold and/or association committees are you a part of in the security industry in North America?
Spector: I was CANASA national president and spent about 15 years on the National Executive Committee. I was fortunate to work closely with Dave Currie, Rick Snook, Alan Nutik, Don Nelder and Marc Mineau. Marc became president of SIA, and he asked that I represent CANASA on the SIA board of directors. I was also involved with CSAA and was on their board of directors and am currently on their executive committee as treasurer. I am also on the SIAC board of directors where I am proud to have been a founding member.
Association work is volunteer work; it is typically thankless and unrecognized. But it is important to give back and better the industry in which you make your living.
SDM: Your online bio at Sentinel Alarm describes you as a “hands-on president.” How do you help your employees be more successful?
Spector: I stay in touch with all of our department heads through weekly progress meetings. I also try to attend as many meetings as possible with our various department personnel: installation and service, customer care, monitoring station, and sales. I try to get out of the office onsite or with clients once a day, so that regimen keeps me “hands on” by keeping my finger on the pulse of the business.
SDM: Compared with when you first started operating Sentinel Alarm 35 years ago, what are the major differences in terms of how you run your company?
Spector: It is always a difficult transition from a small to a medium-size business. You need to be able to put people in positions so you can delegate to them. I found that transition to be tough — that I can no longer do everything. But to survive and flourish you do not have a choice.
SDM: Since you began in the security industry, what has been the largest disrupting influence in the industry?
Spector: We no longer have the luxury of being in the security industry. We are competing with DIY systems, MIY [monitor it yourself] systems, and competing with new entrants that did not exist just a few years ago. We need to differentiate ourselves and demonstrate a very convincing value proposition for the services we provide in an increasingly crowded space.
SDM: If you could change one thing that’s currently impacting the alarm industry, what would it be?
Spector: The need to continually elevate the level of professionalism in the industry is a constant battle. Some provinces have requirements that sales people, installers, technicians and monitoring station personnel all need to pass background checks. This is a good start. And training that is offered by the various associations is an excellent resource to continue to raise that bar.
SDM: What do you consider your proudest achievement in the security industry?
Spector: We have had CO detectors create an alarm and a fire department dispatch that, without our intervention, a family would not have woken up the next day. We have dispatched the fire department that resulted in people surviving a fire. There is nothing more rewarding than that.
SDM: Your favorite hockey team?
Spector: The Kitchener Rangers in the OHL because my cousin Mason is a star on the team.
SDM: I guess when you’re from Canada, hockey is in the DNA. Do you play it yourself?
Spector: Every Tuesday. All year.
SDM: Favorite vacation spot in Canada?
Spector: Bark Lake 90 minutes north of Montreal where my off-the-grid home is accessible only by water — the definition of peace and tranquility.