TechSec 2017 Panel: Monitoring the next tech

Key figures in the monitoring industry present on technological trends
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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—The hot topics in the industry—drones and robotics, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, big data and data mining—all impact monitoring centers, as well as integrators and end users.

At the TechSec Solutions 2017 panel, “Monitoring the next tech,” Morgan Hertel, VP of technology and innovation for Rapid Response Monitoring, and Jim McMullen, president, COO and founder of COPS Monitoring, explored how industry trends will impact their side of the business. 

Jay Hauhn, CEO and executive director of CSAA and moderator of the panel, started by asking the panelists which topics covered in the earlier sessions at TechSec Solutions 2017 will have the biggest impact on the monitoring world.

Hertel started by pointing to the keynote and the topic of drones. “We’re not even calling ourselves a central station anymore, we’re really becoming a critical events center. Anything that can be critical in a human being’s life is something where human intervention can help—we’re trying to get into that space,” he said. “When you start to see things like intelligent drones, intelligent video, intelligent access control start to become real that starts to change what our scope of work can look like.”

Hauhn followed-up on Hertel’s comment about the term “central station,” pointing out that the CSAA, the Central Station Alarm Association, is changing its name to The Monitoring Association to better reflect the current nuances of the monitoring industry.

“We [may], in five years, have an air force where drones are responding to events much quicker and faster,” Hertel continued. “While the current model today is we don’t respond—[with] people or technology—to those kind of things, it’s certainly starting to look like that landscape may change over the next few years.”

McMullen echoed the sentiment on drones. “One of the other areas that I see for us, that I walk away from the show [with], is video. We keep hearing about video and I don’t think anybody’s figured out an RMR model yet that fits into the wholesale space well for video… I think that it’s coming.”

Wholesale monitoring centers gather very large quantities of data, and some are exploring potential benefits to their dealers.

“Our center is going to become more and more of a data mining center, a data resource center, because we’re receiving all of this information and we store it in our systems for some ungodly amount of time. It’s there, it’s available—it’s just a matter of how to use it,” McMullen said. He went on to bring up a concern also shared in the big data session. “The challenge with that, though, becomes privacy; who does the data belong to, and can we use it?”

Hertel and Hauhn brought up a current initiative in the monitoring side of the industry: a partnership between CSAA and Verisk, which can give home insurance companies info on how a user is interacting with their system. This can lead to stronger discounts for customers.

“The insurance companies give them a discount, and are they using … the system or not? And if they’re really not, maybe the insurance company’s going to take away their discount. Or, if they are, maybe the insurance company is going to give them a bigger discount,” McMullen said.

“That gives you guys a value add,” Hertel told the audience. “The data’s there. We currently don’t do anything with it, other than what the dealers ask us to do. We don’t sell it, we don’t aggregate it. … But, I see the day when that will change, and as those applications become relevant and positive for our industry—then I think we’ll start to look at them.”

McMullen agreed. “The term ‘data mining’—we’re going to become part of that in the future. … I do think that there will be an opportunity for everyone out there, going [into] the future.”

Hauhn addressed cybersecurity, a topic that each panel at TechSec 2017 had been able to discuss as it relates to that portion of the business.

Cybersecurity is certainly a concern for the industry, according to Hertel. “If people can get into the pentagon, I have no delusions that they can get into just about any one of our networks if they really want to. The idea is to … try and keep as [many] layers and as much smart behavior as possible to try and defend yourself. Do I think any of us are invincible? Absolutely not. … But, pay attention to what you’re doing and it will help.”

McMullen agreed, “It’s a difficult thing to stay on top of, and you do have to have good policies. We actually operate seven centers around the country and to stay on top of all seven centers with keeping the software up to date with the security patches and all can be challenging.”

The industry, and monitoring centers, will have to do more to promote cybersecurity, according to McMullen. “As an example, we have an outside company that does this: we do penetration testing, both internal and external … every three months,” he said. “One of the things I can tell you about it: it makes me sleep better at night. It actually helps keep us on our game better.”

Mobile monitoring is a growing application within the monitoring industry. Hertel said that Rapid monitors mobile devices for a variety of applications, including medical devices, freight, lone workers—which can be specialized based on different verticals such as for real estate agents.

An attendee asked about the different types of medical monitoring. “Telehealth, when you’re looking at physical changes in one’s body, whether that’s something that's right then and it’s critical—it has to be dealt with—or it's a slow progression of something going up or something going down, really spans both mobile and fixed,” Hertel responded.

Training for these types of operators is different from traditional security operators, according to Hertel. “It’s time consuming, it goes from a three-and-a-half minute burglar alarm-type dispatch, to a 15 minute-plus dispatch on a mobile device to figure out where somebody’s at, get them help.”

The emergence of mobile monitoring is a big change for the industry, Hertel added. “Five years ago, Rapid was doing zero mobile.”

The expanded definition of monitoring centers means including Internet of Things devices, Hauhn pointed out. He asked the panelists more specifically what they are doing in the access control space for integrators today.

“One of the things that we are seeing more and more work on is: how do we integrate the subscriber into our world?” Hertel said. He gave the example of “door propped” signals, which a company might have hundreds a day. “How do you filter the ones that are right, how do you wade through the noise and come up with the ones that are really actionable? … Getting the subscriber to be part of that change of events becomes pretty critical.”

Subscribers can become engaged through reviewing the event, and video associated to it, to determine if it is a critical event needing a dispatch, he added.

“In the integrator space today, if you look at something that’s critical, that’s life threatening, it can be monitored—it’s likely that we’re doing it or looking at it already. It’s just a matter of how do we filter the noise and make sure that what we’re doing is appropriate,” Hertel said.

McMullen said, “I would echo that. I think, when we go into a new market or we start monitoring something new, there’s a learning curve.”

Hauhn asked if the companies are monitoring networks as well as systems. “We have a lot of AV companies that are looking at just making sure that TVs are on the network and the cameras are on the network. Sometimes it’s just simple pings, and sometimes it gets into remediation, it just depends on what the application is,” Hertel said.

“We have conversations … with some of the larger companies out there, national companies, where they have their own center, and then they’re looking for us to back up their center,” McMullen said. “The challenge for us with that, is that we have to put in the equipment that they have … to keep them operating.”

“There's no limit I can think of [where] we can't monitor something out there,” McMullen said. “We don’t deal with the end user or the retail public directly, in any way. So, we're depending on our dealers to be creative and go out there.”

One venue for new and emerging technologies—with increasing relevance in the smart home and security space—is CES. Hauhn asked the panelists what caught their eye most during the 2017 show.

McMullen pointed to residential drones that would investigate home security alarms and conduct guard tours. Hertel said that there were a variety of different platforms Rapid saw potential integrations for.

An attendee asked about whether the panelists are concerned about the DIY market. “The one thing that we have noticed … it’s not taking away from a lot of what the traditional dealers are doing,” Hertel said. “DIY … is a whole new market that’s being consumed by a different consumer that you probably wouldn’t have gotten as a dealer anyhow.”

He continued, “While the technology isn’t exactly new, the marketing that’s going to come with it is going to be unbelievable. So, you guys just need to be prepared as integrators so that when the DIY comes out, you’ve already told your customers that you can do that.”

McMullen added that COPS has traditional dealers that are also interested in the DIY marketplace.