Self-monitoring systems: Friend or foe to the professionals?

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Without a doubt, there has been an increasing trend toward DIY security systems, which are not only installed by the homeowner but also monitored by them (also referred to as MIY, or “monitor-it-yourself” systems). Many homeowners are discovering the advantages of these systems, such as eliminating the monthly fees associated with the central monitoring station that are such an integral part of the professional offerings. 

While these DIY-MIY security systems have been well-received by consumers, there has been an understandable tendency for companies that sell professional systems complete with 24/7 monitoring to view these new-age systems as a threat. Many of these professional entities feel that their offerings are the most effective way to provide a high level of security, particularly with a CMS that is watching over your house 24/7. But the reality is, many homeowners don’t feel the need for this “around the clock” surveillance, when literally no devious or dangerous activity is going on the vast majority of the time; they would rather just get a notification when something does happen, along with the ability to do something about it quickly and effectively. 

The desire of many consumers to avoid a monthly monitoring fee cannot be overstated.  A report from Strategy Analytics included the results of a recent survey showing that about 22 percent of online households currently subscribe to professionally monitored security, paying, on average, $39/month. When asking those not subscribing to security services how interested they would be if those services were free, 43 percent of online households reported that they were interested or very interested in security if it cost nothing.

Still, there are consumers who enjoy the peace of mind of 24/7 monitoring, and are more than willing to pay for the service. And they prefer to have a professional install their system to ensure it’s done properly. The point is that there is room for both types of systems based on consumer needs, wants, budgets, and level of technical “handiness.”

But the issue goes well beyond the simple fact that the consumer now has the choice between two separate and distinct avenues to achieve their security goals. With the growing popularity of DIY-MIY systems, professional security dealers, installers and integrators have the opportunity to enhance their sales by incorporating these do-it-yourself systems into their current product arsenal.

Consider: Over the last 15 to 20 years, the professional monitoring market has been fairly well established—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. In fact, for years the home security market has struggled to get beyond a penetration threshold of 20-25 percent. In other words, the consumer base that wants professional installation and monitoring as a solution has been very stagnant. That leaves anywhere between 75-80 percent of homes that are either disinterested in a security system of any kind (not likely) or looking for alternatives to the traditional model (very likely). 

To be fair, many of the traditional, professional security-systems companies do offer DIY systems that can be installed by the consumer but are still monitored by a CMS. These systems highlight a willingness on the part of the industry giants to recognize that the traditional “we install it, we monitor it” model does not suit all consumers—certainly a step in the right direction.

But what about adding systems that are both DIY and MIY to the mix?  Professional security companies would have a chance to address the large percentage of homes with no system at all. Granted, there are homeowners who feel that a strong lock and a loud dog are all the security they will ever need.  But for homeowners who want a security system, are confident enough to install the system themselves, and don’t want a monitoring center, the DIY-MIY mix is extremely enticing—and can provide a new market where sustainable growth is not only possible but likely. An article from Inc. Magazine in January 2017, stated that “DIY systems are on track to take over 34 percent of the home security market by 2020. They're also projected to account for more than 62 percent of the market by 2035.”

It’s not just a matter of offering both a DIY-MIY and a professionally monitored system separately.  What about merging the two into a single offering that adds additional cost savings and efficiencies?  It’s a known fact that more than 98 percent of the calls to the monitoring center are false alarms. To mitigate this problem, many law-enforcement agencies are requiring video verification before generating a priority response, hoping that these false alarms can be significantly reduced.

In response, monitoring centers are adopting the capability of receiving video verification from an event scene, which can then be sent on to law enforcement, first responders, or medical personnel, depending on the event. Still, even with video capability, the central station is at a slight disadvantage. Let’s say your dog sitter trips your house alarm by accident. The monitoring center gets the call and sees the video. Unfortunately, they don’t know if your dog sitter is really a dog sitter or a burglar. So the monitoring center has to call the homeowner to verify the “intruder’s” identity. If they can’t reach the homeowner, now what? 

With a video verified DIY-MIY system, the homeowner gets the alert—and the video—immediately, and they can verify instantly that it is in fact Susie who has come to walk Fido. So the addition of a DIY-MIY system to the professionally monitored system in place can be a powerful and effective combination.

To be clear, if the homeowner has a professionally monitored system already, it may not require installing a complete DIY-MIY system on top of the system already in place.  It could mean just adding cameras or other functionality, along with the app that will send the notification to the homeowner first. The bottom line is, before the alarm goes out to the monitoring center, the homeowner or caregiver can become the first line of defense to decide whether the person caught on camera is someone who is allowed to be on premises or not. 

We’ve addressed the professional dealers and the opportunities that DIY-MIY present, but what about the installers? How do they benefit? The fact is, even with DIY, there are those homeowners who would still want their system installed by a professional to make sure it is done right, especially where video is concerned. They would look to the professional installer to also test it out to make sure it works properly and even talk the homeowner through its operation—sort of a “white glove” service. 

Clearly, MIY-DIY security systems are not the “enemy” of the professional security dealer or installer. They represent another offering that can be used in conjunction with an existing professional system to augment its capabilities, or they can be marketed on their own to homeowners who currently have no system at all. It’s basically another way for professional security dealers to grow revenue and truly be able to say to every prospective customer, “We’ve got a system that will work for you.” And for installers to say, “I can do that for you if you’d like.” 

In both cases, the customer benefits, which makes everyone in the pro channel a winner. 

Jorge Perdomo is the senior vice president of corporate strategy and development for Mivatek, a Fremont, Calif.-based company that specializes in Mobile Interactive Video-verified Assurance (MIVA) technology,