Range of services keep monitoring on the move

Video, two-way voice, GPS and PERS are all part of a service evolution in the central station and security market
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Friday, October 1, 2004

From video to GPS to personal emergency response services, central stations are broadening their array of options as they seek ways to build dealers’ repertoires.

“For us, video, GPS, two-way voice are all a small part of our business, but it gives the dealer an entrée into that customer,” said Jeff Atkins, president of Rapid Response Monitoring. “The customer is looking for a one-stop shop; a complete integration of systems,” he said.

Atkins said two-way voice now makes up about 30 percent of RRM’s business, while video is in the 3 percent range and GPS is just in the process of launching.

“Most dealers are looking for new avenues of revenue,” said Mike Zydor, head of dealer relations and sales and marketing for Affiliated Central. Offering services, such as PERS, he said, “is another method to get in front of the homeowner.”

PERS is an example, said Fred Rosenfeld of Amcest, “of everything old becoming new again.” Although Amcest has had a medical alert division for nearly 30 years, the graying of America combined with the use of the Internet as a marketing tool, has driven more interest in PERS, both among end users and alarm companies, he said.

PERS now makes up 20 percent of Amcest’s business, said Rosenfeld. “It all fits the concept that we are looking for niche markets in monitoring for our dealers.”

Adding revenue streams

Video and GPS are also being looked upon as ways in which dealers and central stations can add customers and revenue streams.

Steve Baker, president of NACC, said the interactive video market “has potential,” but it also presents challenges in terms of cost and training. NACC, which finished a video beta test about six months ago, is now actively pursuing dealers to sell the product, said Baker, both among its existing dealer base and within the integrator and CCTV dealer market.

Video makes up less than 5 percent of NACC’s business, said Baker, “but in the next five to 10 years, on a revenue basis, it will dwarf other accounts.”

What is most difficult about video, he said, is the lack of a single protocol. Baker said he uses MAS software to interface with the various DVRs being used. “Early on it was a challenge because DVR companies weren’t inline, so it was a clunky process,” said Baker. End users are also required to have a high-speed Internet connection, but that has come around much more quickly to the point where 95 percent are compliant.

“Remote video monitoring is still in its beginning,” said Atkins. He concurred with others that a big issue with video is the lack of standards.

“The manufacturers in the security industry have proprietary protocols. From a central station perspective,” he said, “it would be easier to monitor if they would come up with a single protocol,” as has happened on the alarm control panel side.

Remote video monitoring, combined with two-way voice, provides about 6 percent of Diebold’s monitoring business, said Jacqueline Grimm, director of security solutions.

In two years, she said, Diebold has grown to monitor 2,000 sites via remote video, either over traditional phone lines or VPN.

Steve Ipson, director of monitoring services at Diebold, said the false alarm problem and verification has driven the video segment, along with the lower cost of digital equipment.

“Video verification is part of a large risk management strategy,” said Grimm. And it provides cost savings in terms of reducing the dispatch of guards or store managers to verify an alarm.

Harvey Cohen, vice president and general manager at Affiliated Central, said video “is the buzzword now” in the industry, especially when linked to video verification for false alarms.

But he is cautious about the central station’s role with video, citing the amount of infrastructure currently needed to monitor different video formats as well as liability issues that include having dispatchers make the call on verifying an alarm.

The company is set up to handle video from several of the major providers, said Zydor, who adds widespread use of video monitoring “is a couple of years off.”

Diebold’s Grimm said because video isn’t foolproof, it’s necessary to work with customers to determine what constitutes an alarm event. “What are the triggers? How are cameras placed? Is there enough lighting? These are the kinds of questions that need to be answered,” she said.

“We work with customers to develop a video management strategy,” said Ipson, who acknowledged that video “doesn’t see everything.”

Despite its challenges, Grimm said she sees remote video “as a major growth area.”

“Once you’ve bought the hardware,” she said, referring to the DVR, “why not connect it together and get better information?”

Rosenfeld at Amcest agreed video has gotten a lot of buzz as of late, even though he’s been doing some form of video monitoring via phone lines for 27 years.

Amcest works with about a dozen vendors through software interfaces, he said, which are handled by an in-house MIS staff.

Video is replacing human assets, he said, such as weekend guard services. “I’m amazed at the unique applications,” he said. What video requires, however, is a set of rules, said Rosenfeld. Even with two-way voice, which Amcest doesn’t employ, “it’s hard to know the boyfriend from the pool man,” he said. “In order to be effective, you need very specific guidelines.”

New services on the horizon

In the GPS category, NACC’s Baker said its potential for inventory tracking, personal protection and fleet maintenance have made it appealing as an offering.

He said the company recently partnered with Guardian to supply GPS tracking and now it’s a matter of having the dealer base sell the solution.

Rosenfeld said Amcest has passed on GPS services, so far. “I’m not sure if we’re missing the boat or not. I just don’t see a call for it,” he said.

Affliliated’s Cohen said while there are a lot of GPS technologies on the market, he isn’t sure if it will be a function of the central station or communications providers, such as AT&T and Verizon.

Also on the horizon is voice over Internet protocol. Baker said with so many products headed in that direction, and the speed associated with it, customers will begin asking for it.

Grimm at Diebold said they have also had queries regarding VoIP, “but we’re not confident it will work yet.” She said power issues change the cost structure. “It’s something we’ll explore, but we want to make sure it works.”

Although not something they can sell to customers, those interviewed by Security Systems News said giving dealers more information on their accounts and in a more timely fashion also improves their ability to build their businesses.

Atkins said because RRM “is built-in technology, most of the dealers are technologically oriented to begin with.”

Thus, he noted, they are employing two-way pagers and two-way cellphones, along with other wireless devices, to access and alter account information.

On-line services have also increased to the point where they are permanently replacing paper reports.

Diebold’s Ipson said dealers have the ability to sign up for free services that enable them to review alarm events, call lists, action plans and the like via a secured web site or through electronic formats. And processing of changes, he added, has been reduced to three hours from three days.

“When we first released it,” said Grimm, “most customers were most interested in when their site was tested.” But now, she said, they are asking for the top 10 worst offenders in false alarms, so they can stay on top of their problem sites.

Because of the move to the Internet, Grimm said there is a price associated with providing paper reports. “That’s how we encourage them to go on-line.”

Affiliated’s Zydor said a combination of email and Internet has become the way they provide dealers with information.

“We’ve given dealers the ability to view their bill online as well as the data that goes into making up the bill,” explained Cohen. Also provided, he said, are business activity reports that outline a dealers growth, or lack of it.

Although Amcest had “long ago gone online,” the nature of its clients mean they supply reports in a variety of forms.

“Everything we do in terms of communications is layered,” he said. “We offer new services, but we don’t do away with the old. We are the central still willing to let dealers read information over the phone to us. You have to remember, this industry isn’t new.”