Interactive Services: On the Cutting Edge
The latest interactive services feature greater user-friendliness, voice control, and passive control.
In recent years, interactive services have been the cutting edge of security systems design, bringing new revenue opportunities and offering dealers an entrée into the smart home market. Manufacturers continue to innovate in this area, offering new capabilities such as voice control, making systems more user-friendly, incorporating more passive methods of control and more.
SDM checked in with manufacturers about how they’ve enhanced interactive services recently and what they’re working on for the future. Here’s what they told us.
It could be argued that the key value of interactive services is to make systems more user-friendly, so it’s not surprising that manufacturers are working on enhancing user-friendliness.
Springfield, Mo.-based Digital Monitoring Products (DMP), for example, has added the ability to program systems more granularly. As DMP Executive Director of Marketing Mark Hillenburg explains, “You can go into the app and say, ‘When someone walks down the hall and trips a motion detector, I want the lamp in the living room to turn on for two minutes only.’” Potentially the customer could even ask for this to occur only after dark on Thursday.
St. Paul, Minn.-based Alula recently did focus groups with end users to learn more about users’ needs and preferences. Alula doesn’t sell directly to end users, but did the research to make its products more user-friendly, explains Dave Mayne, vice president of product management for Alula.
That research led to several changes in the company’s offering. For example, the company’s app now offers a single view for cameras and sensors. Previously, those were separate screens, but as Mayne explains, “people don’t think about different technologies; they think of an area in a home.”
The easier interactive services are to use, the more likely customers are to use them and the more capabilities they are likely to use. One of the ways to make interactive services easier to use is to minimize the effort customers must make to enable system features by offering more passive methods of control.
The latest systems from Austin, Texas-based Resideo have several features built in to enable passive control.
“The home should anticipate my needs and not make me pull out my keyfob,” explains Scott Harkins, vice president and general manager of the connected home for Resideo.
The new Resideo systems eliminate the need for customers to use a keyfob or enter a keypad code to disarm the systems by using a combination of Bluetooth and facial recognition. Facial recognition confirms the family member’s identity and by using Bluetooth to communicate with the user’s smartphone, “We know that’s your phone and it’s paired to the system,” Harkins explains.
The same technology can be used to automatically arm the system when the user leaves the house.
It can also help eliminate another pain point for homeowners with security systems and the dealers who service them: It can recognize when the battery in a sensor is running low and ask the homeowner if he or she would like to reorder a battery. When the battery is ordered, it is shipped out from Resideo’s sister company, ADI Distribution, to the end user under the dealer’s name, eliminating the need for a service call.
Moving forward, we also may see the industry adopting artificial intelligence to add further passive control capability to their interactive systems.
Alula, for example, is working on adding the ability for a system to learn users’ habits and preferences. As Mayne explains, this capability could be used to enable a system to tell the user, “I notice you always turn on the light when you get home,” and to ask the user if he or she would like the system to automatically turn on the light in that case.
Several manufacturers have added the ability to control their systems through smart speakers, also known as personal digital assistants, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Jon Adams, director of business development for DMP, notes that this capability is particularly useful after homeowners have gone to bed for the evening, enabling them to tell a smart speaker in the bedroom to lock doors and arm the system.
Resideo has gone so far as to enable its new panel to function as a smart speaker using Amazon Alexa voice control technology.
“If Alexa controls the door lock, my control panel can control the lock,” Harkins explains. “It dramatically expands the ecosystem partners that can be controlled by the consumer in the home.”
Adding Interactive Services to Legacy Systems
Customers with older security systems traditionally have been unable to use interactive services without swapping out their control panel. But now there are other options.
Atlanta-based Telguard, a business unit of AMETEK, recently released FlexHub, a module that, according to Telguard President George Brody, adds interactive control to any security system and has a suggested dealer price under $50. Telguard offers an app that works with the module and can be branded with the dealer’s logo and contact information.
The offering can dramatically expand the customer base to which dealers can sell interactive services, Brody explains. “The dealer can upsell [existing accounts] and add RMR,” he says.
Amityville, N.Y.-based Napco also has products that add interactive services to control panels not originally designed to provide that functionality. The products, which are sold under the company’s StarLink brand, connect to the bus of Napco, DSC and Honeywell control panels, explains Jorge Hevia, Napco senior vice president of marketing and sales. For other panels, the product attaches to the keyswitch input. Functionality is more limited with the latter option, though, as dealers will not be able to download to the panel.
At a time when some dealers are finding intense competition on the price of monitoring, upselling existing accounts may be a particularly good opportunity by targeting a dealer’s existing base, Hevia notes.
This gives dealers an opportunity for growth that doesn’t entail going head-on with a new crop of competitors such as Amazon and Simplisafe, Hevia comments.
Interactivity Helps Technicians, Too
Interactive capability can help dealer technicians, too, and several manufacturers have enhanced those capabilities.
For example, Alula now offers technicians the ability to add cameras or other devices to a customer’s system.
And DMP now offers dealer technicians the ability to use an app to log in to a customer’s system and open a view to the same screens that the customer sees.
“Often customers call in and they’re trying to describe what they’re seeing in an app,” Adams explains. But communicating the details can be difficult. The new capability gives the dealer the ability to say, “If you will allow me, I will log in like I’m you,” thereby enhancing the dealer’s ability to address the customer’s concern.
The new app also lets technicians run diagnostic tests or send test signals from a customer’s system to the central office, enabling technicians to troubleshoot the system with minimal customer involvement.
The DMP technician’s app paves the way for a dealer to generate new RMR by offering what Hillenburg calls a “concierge service” — making system adjustments such as raising temperature settings at the customers’ request when they are unable to do so themselves.
When the security industry entered the business of apps and interactive services, they joined a movement, interacting with tech companies of all kinds. An important truism about this movement is that end users are constantly looking for new capabilities. Fortunately, the security industry appears up to the challenge of offering continuous innovation in their interactive services and the apps that support them.