Market Trends: NOC, NOC

Who’s there at Network Operations Centers in the security industry today and in the future?
Tuesday, November 11, 2014

YARMOUTH, Maine—Like many elements of the competitive and warp-speed security industry, network operations centers have different meanings for different players in different roles.

One industry expert says a true NOC has limited presence in the security industry, while another applies a broader definition of NOCs.

It’s easy to define what a NOC is not. It’s not a central monitoring station, and it’s not a security operations center. But if it quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, is it necessarily a duck? Security experts don’t always agree—and if they do, they may not agree tomorrow when the market landscape changes.

“A services-oriented NOC is typically capable of delivering alarm signals over various technologies to a central station,” said Gordon Hope, vice president of marketing and business development of Honeywell, in an email interview with Security Systems News.

“A NOC, unlike most central stations, must process technological solutions because alarm signals arrive in one or more ways to a central station,” Hope said.

Network Operating Centers, according to at least one online definition, have been around since the early 1960s. AT&T is said to be a pioneer, which makes sense to Jerry Cordasco, chief technology officer for G4S Technology Services Center, which has headquarters in Jupiter, Fla., and Crawley, England.

“A NOC is really a large-scale telecommunications operation” with security components, said Cordasco. “Verizon will have a NOC.” But “very little of what we do” in the security industry is directly related to network operations, Cordasco said.

There are large security companies that have NOCs, but they are usually developed as a by-product to manage and service growth in the maze of connections and relationships of the technology apparatus needed to keep end users happy. G4S built the fiber optic network for the New York State Thruway and built what Cordasco calls a “makeshift” NOC to maintain the network.

Cordasco believes that NOCs exist primarily on the perimeter of the security industry, not inside it.

“There are a lot of terms thrown around in the security industry” that have more cache and buzz than actual presence, Cordasco said. “There are tools in a NOC that are foreign to security people. … You won’t hear security people talk about them.”

Integrators say NOCs not only react and respond to security “events”—they provide insurance when Internet connections fail. A NOC is a multi-faceted problem-solver, recognizing layers and webs of problems that the end user can’t see. The end user typically detects one problem—“my Internet is down” or “we have a security event and we need data, now.” The NOC is a platform for coordinating disparate components of the security response.

Interface Security Systems, based in St. Louis, handles alarm activation, life safety situations, camera deployment, Internet coordination and video-audio synchronization, to name a few services.

“We can intervene and take care of bad things happening,” said Jeff Frye, vice president of sales and marketing at Interface Security Solutions.

“We have a broader definition” of NOCs than standard industry definitions, said Frye. “An event is an event,” meaning that the Interface Security Systems’ NOC collects data on a wide range of security scenarios so that the in-house staff can present a comprehensive profile for the end user.

With a web of coordinated communications platforms, the NOC can process patterns of people moving in and out of buildings. It is “plugging holes” of incomplete information provided by cameras, or card activation systems, audio or alarms. The NOC provides backup Internet and manages the systems in-house. It tests for sound quality for audio detection. “It’s very important to have a high degree of reliability and a backup,” Frye said. “Nobody can afford to be down.”

Interface’s clients include large restaurant chains, fast food chains, investment and insurance companies, and retail stories. Jewelry stores in particular show their interest in the “immediate and interactive” nature of NOC work, Frye said.

The interactive aspect is customer-driven, Frye said. End users are far more savvy now about their security needs than they were five years ago, and as a result ask more complicated questions.

“In the old days an alarm company would hang a panel on the wall and tell you to get a phone line,” he said. “Now the customers are asking for more data. … We talk about the aggregation of multiple services.”

Morgan Harris, director of enterprise solutions at Protection 1 Security Solutions, based in Lawrence Township, Kan., had a similar take, noting that the relationship between end users and NOC specialists reflects an increase in technological savvy of customers—which inevitably changes the market landscape.

Noting that IT experts are typically portrayed and perceived as geeks who operate out of sight in the basement of a company’s headquarters, Harris said end users “have a good idea of when there is an issue. We try to get our folks out of the basement.”

Harris said Protection 1 looks at NOCs “from a holistic approach.” It “designs, installs and communicates” solutions to myriad telecommunications problems that security firms run into every day.

When Protection 1 brings new employees into its NOC, Harris said, “We don’t have a large book to follow” for protocol and procedures. “We have to have reactive, responsive people” who think on their feet.

A central monitoring station is just one component of the network that NOC services and monitors (monitoring the monitor is one of its functions).

“A central monitoring station is very structured,” said Harris. “Typically it’s a static operation. … Each time there’s an event there’s a post order. … It’s a very repetitive process.”

Conversely, a NOC is a “universal translator,” said Frye. “It’s a communications platform to solve problems. It’s all about resolving the event.”

But it’s also about revenue, according to Cordasco. NOCs could be perceived as portfolio diversification in order to bring in accounts beyond a security company’s core market.

“There’s a lot of talk in the security industry about recurring revenue,” Cordasco said. “People are trying to find more ways to generate revenue—beyond [security] alarms and cameras and fire alarms. They say, ‘Maybe we can operate a network operations center.’ ”

Cordasco maintains that setting up a NOC today is beyond your average security company, but as the security markets expand, it may not be such a stretch tomorrow.