SSN News Poll: Readers debate central station of future

Readers say business as usual is not an option. Nontraditional services expected to play larger role
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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

YARMOUTH, Maine—Though central stations will always hang their hat on the value of their core monitoring service, their transformation into hubs of more than just alarm signals is well underway.

There’s no consensus yet on what the central station of the future will be, but most respondents (55 percent) to the latest SSN News Poll say central stations, given the Internet of Things movement, cannot be content with doing business as usual.

Thirty-six percent of respondents, however, believe that alarm monitoring is going to remain the backbone of the central station value proposition, and that nontraditional services, such as PERS devices, in-home video and energy management services, will be the proverbial “bells and whistles.”

Many respondents to the poll noted that the central station of the future, by virtue of prioritizing automation, is going to dramatically streamline signal transmission.

“I think the central station of the future will be less labor intensive,” said Bob Gamble, central systems operations manager at Wilmington, Del.-based Security Instrument. “We are already using a ‘virtual operator’ to handle low-level signals that never need to have a live operator touch them. With full implementation of the ASAP-PSAP protocol, dispatches can be handled electronically with minimal operator intervention.”

Gamble hopes that minimizing operator interaction on day-to-day alarm traffic will allow central stations to dedicate more time and effort on “more labor-intensive tasks” like video monitoring, virtual guard tours, and PERS and telehealth applications.

“The central station of the future just may look like a data center,” Kristin Hebert, dealer relations, Acadian Monitoring Services, said. “At Acadian, we are moving all server equipment into virtual server environments. This allows us to be versatile with our backup processes, as a virtual service is a fluent transition during failover events.”

As for the potentially disruptive monitor-it-yourself devices beginning to proliferate, some readers suggested that monitored security will retain its value by adding an additional layer of assurance these devices won’t be able to provide.

“Video verification will be an essential piece in dispatch decision making, and the central will provide a vital link to assure the local system is still operational and able to communicate,” one reader said. “A system that links to a smartphone lacks that integrity. We always want a live operator to make sure the local system is alive.”

As the role of the central station expands from a service standpoint, the nature of the interactions between customers and central station will undergo fundamental transformations as well.

One reader, who said the central station will become “fully cloud-based and automated,” said email and text messaging will become the chief means of communication. And, whereas in the past it was industry doctrine to minimize customer interaction to reduce attrition, the mobile trajectory of the industry is turning that ethic on its head.

“The future of the central station will see it become an entity the customer interacts with on a more frequent basis,” the reader noted. “Previously, it could be a year or more before the customer had interaction with the central. Now, we are seeing an increase in interaction due to the newer technology. We should embrace this since the more interaction with the customer, the greater the perceived value.”

Another reader said it’s not an either/or proposition when it comes to what central monitoring stations will become. The facilities will be a composite of both the old and the new.

“In the foreseeable future, the answer will be something between the traditional central station of today and something much more advanced which leverages the potential of the Internet of Things but still provides the personal service necessary in dealing with the monitoring of life safety systems and the difficult situations they encompass, in which a properly trained, experienced human being responding to that customer adds much value,” the reader noted.

Greg Fowl of UCC said the time is ripe for a wholesale revision of how the industry self-identifies. “You can either adapt and grow, or try to hold on to what you have and decline,” he said. “We need a paradigm shift in our industry, where we no longer view ourselves as just ‘alarm monitors.’”