Central station transformation

The IoT is pushing central monitoring stations to become more sophisticated. It requires significant investment in technology, development and staff to stay competitive
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—The Internet of Things culture, where everything is connected, is changing the way people interact and the way business is transacted. It’s also changing the central station landscape, pushing centrals into a new world where they are being asked to monitor more devices and to provide a variety of information to customers, instantly and around the clock.

To keep up with this demand, central monitoring stations need to become more sophisticated. This requires significant investment in technology, development and staff to stay competitive. It’s a challenge that not all centrals are poised to do themselves, according to experts who spoke at TechSec 2015.  

Don Childers (photo on left), who is now with Smoky Mountain Systems, moderated a TechSec educational session that took a close look at the central station transformation. The speakers were Morgan Hertel, VP of operations (middle photo), Rapid Response Monitoring Services, and Brett Springall, CEO, Security Central (lower photo).

“Integration is the driving force behind what’s going on out there,” Springall said. The variety of systems and sensors that centrals are being asked in to monitor and integrate with is enormous and growing, including everything from smart home devices to temperature controls to systems that streamline and automate the way dealers add accounts to central stations. 

Hertel said that Rapid Response does “custom integrations for dealers on a regular basis … and it’s not a simple, easy process.”

Springall added, “You’ve got to have the staff to do that. It’s huge.”

Hertel said that Rapid Response has “12 full-time developers, most of whom have master’s degrees in computer science” and the company is in the process of hiring more. Those developers are working around the clock. Hertel said he has enough development projects in the pipeline “to keep them busy for a year-and-a-half.” He pointed out that these developers “are not maintaining our existing systems. I’ve got a whole other team to do that. They’re only working on mobile apps, web portals and other integration out in the field.”

How will central stations with fewer resources keep up? Many won’t, Springall and Hertel predicted; they’ll either become niche players or they’ll begin to partner with larger central stations.

“What I predict is that leading central stations are going to continue to be leaders and the niche players will move down into niche areas because they don't have the resources to keep up. So you’ll see greater separation between leading central stations and niche players,” Springall said.

Springall said only a “handful of players have vision and ability that can deliver [these kinds of] services and make it work, everyone else is a niche player and the gap is widening.”

“Those [centrals] who can’t [make these investments] have to look for partners who can do it,” Springall said. “There are not that many, we’re starting to see some of the leaders that do have the ability to provide services and be hosting partners for smaller central stations, especially those that can’t keep up with investment required,” he said.

What kinds of non-traditional services are central stations offering besides monitoring services?

“It’s data. Data in and data out,” Springall said. “Video application, access control, home automation, all of those applications that need the central station to be a component, down to … [account creation where information goes back and forth between dealer, lender, others]. Data is pushed into the central station and out to partners and it all needs to stay in sync,” he said.

Centrals are starting to become “key partners” in the growing areas of hosted video and access, Springall added.

Hertel said “it’s not just alarm signals anymore. We’re tracking 125,000 assets around the world. The majority of that is people, but a lot of it is freight and other stuff.”

In a certain sense, a modern central station is a call center. “We’re a 250-seat call center that is taking inbound calls and making outbound calls based on things that do or do not happen. But there’s a whole bunch of stuff [automated transfer of information] that’s going on in the background,” Hertel said.

Springall said, “as well as being a call center or data center, we are an information center. … Somewhere along the path you need human interaction, that’s what central stations do.”

Bandwidth is central to the transformation of central stations, Hertel and Springall said.

“You really have to look at the worst case scenario. You have to have multiple sources and you have to be able to shift on the fly. It’s not simple,” Hertel said.

“In an IP world [signals] come at once, so you need the capacity internally to deal with that,” Springall said.

How does DIY and MIY (monitor it yourself) play into the changing world of central stations?

Interestingly, DIY installers tend to do a very good job installing their systems and they tend to understand their systems better than the average user, according to the speakers.  And those who MIY are likely to become partners to central stations.

Springall and Hertel believe the future of central stations lies in automated services and integrations and interacting with customers in new ways.

“It really comes down to software development. The way software is developed today is very different than a decade or more ago. You used to be able to design it to do one thing and do it well, then you’re done. Now when you design software the questions you have to answer are: ‘What is it going to talk to? How can I make it integrate with other things? How is it going to communicate?’ That is coming into our world. And it’s how we will move forward,” Springall said.

These integrated applications and automation reduce the amount of human input needed in central station work and this create efficiencies. Some of a central station’s “workload will be shifted out to the consumer as well,” Springall said. For example, those who do MIY can work with central stations to “pre-verify” that an event is happening.

Hertel added that centrals will start to use new ways of notifying people of events through sensor alerts and so forth. “You’ll see applications that use push notifications to devices, smartphones, iPads, IVR platforms that speak and listen in English and Spanish and other languages that now interact with subscribers,” he said. SMS will be used for announcements and bi-directionally, he said.

“I see central stations as a giant IO gate. We’ve got stuff coming in from all different sources, and stuff coming out and somewhere in the middle there are times when a human has got to take the reins and do the job. But the majority of [the interactions and exchange of information] is happening in the background without human interaction,” Hertel said.