IP broadens security horizons

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

The last 10 years have seen an explosion of technology and communications. Wireless phones and Wi-Fi networks, PDA devices, iPods and iPhones, laptop computers with enormous computing power, and, of course, the Internet itself, have come to dominate our daily lives. Consumers--and businesses--are increasingly demanding in terms of their expectations for how technology can better their individual situations. A few key requirements, though, continue to dominate the customer priority list: simplicity, mobility, security, and customer control and enablement.
Despite advances in monitoring technology and large commercial applications, some will argue that the security industry as a whole has lagged in its embrace of feature-rich technology. Historically, residential customers have had a fairly passive relationship with their security provider, and have not integrated security into their otherwise high-tech lifestyles.
Changing times, however, coupled with technological advancement, are opening exciting new opportunities for all.
In this digital and IP age, consumers are becoming more and more comfortable with integrated technology. A cell phone, for example, now pushes e-mail and provides Internet access, while it doubles as a digital music player and triples as a digital camera. Don't forget about its SMS, PDA and GPS capabilities. By the time this article goes to print, it will have probably added a few more acronyms to its repertoire. Oh, and it also takes phone calls.
The security industry is incorporating this momentum and sense of empowerment in its product portfolio. Protection One, for example, with e-Secure, has expanded its offerings to include security system control and notification via the Internet and cell phone. A handful of other companies are offering similar services to provide residential and small-business customers a level of mobility and control they desire.
These new, Web-based security-system enhancements are attractive and viable, in part, because of the near-ubiquitous nature of the Internet. You can find it in your hotel room, your favorite coffee house, the airport, making interaction with security systems possible from almost anywhere, at almost any time. And when you add control and notification capabilities via your cell phone, the convenience and accessibility factors become even more appealing to the growing number of consumers who have come to expect it.
With this type of enhanced service in place, consumers can be alerted to non-alarm events, like interior doors opening or environmental conditions like water leaks, with notifications often received in real time. Customers can log on to a secure Web site to arm their systems, view event history or manage users, or even arm and disarm using cell phones.
These web-enabled security systems will allow customers to monitor multiple locations simultaneously, from around the world. Business people sitting in their offices in one city, for example, can access their Web-enabled security system to control and monitor remote facilities and operations around the world.
All of these new capabilities have expanded the public perception of what a security system is and what it can do. It also provides a growth path for the security industry in terms of further incorporating security into people's daily lives and businesses.
Some might argue the security industry has seen steady growth over the last decade with very few technological changes in the way a residential security system works. Why fix something that isn't broken? Because we'll otherwise find ourselves scrambling to find solutions while the rest of the world's service industries march on without us. Technology and the marketplace do not stand still. The upcoming AMPS sunset serves as an example of how the industry must proactively address market changes.
The security market will continue to evolve. Today it's not just about detecting intrusion, fire, etc., and calling the authorities, although that's still a critical core competency. With IP and remote access, the industry has taken steps toward whole-home security and safety. As the security industry expands its role, it's also discovering new revenue streams.
Generally speaking, the Web-based services available today are enhancements to traditional security systems, not replacements, and can yield additional revenue for that reason and because these also have a very high perceived value among consumers. They value the convenience and control over their systems, and knowing more about what's going on in their homes when they're not there.
Web-based systems also help put everyday value back into security systems (more interaction and real-time feedback for busy home and business owners). Getting more involved in their security will almost certainly help customers see the advantages of traditional central-station aspects of their monitoring as well.
In a 1949 Popular Mechanics magazine, it was predicted, "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." Technology almost always evolves differently than we can predict and almost always at a speed that requires us to constantly anticipate how it will affect our industry and customers.
As we traverse the digital/IP landscape, technology will continue to provide the platform for applications to improve and simplify more and more facets of everyday life. And if security companies plan on keeping up, they must continue to adapt and advance as well. Web-based security systems are paving the road to a new model of service and customer evolvement.

Jim Boots is Director Residential Sales at Protection One. He can be reached at jimboots@protectionone.com.