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Someone's itching to give you $10,000

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Friday, October 23, 2009
I got a press release from ESA the other day. That's the Electronic Security Association, or what used to be called the NBFAA, or National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association. The release points out ESA as the "evolution" of NBFAA... and here we just thought they'd simply changed their name... Anyway, it appears ESA is now accepting applications for their annual Youth Scholarship program. Everything costs more nowadays, so if you're a security professional with kids at home in need of higher education, look to your industry's associations for help. It's what they're there for. SIA also offers a scholarship for first responders. Good luck with all submissions.

Milestone raiding Microsoft

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Thursday, October 22, 2009
Once is a happening, twice is a coincidence. How long until we see a trend? A couple weeks back, Milestone announced it had grabbed Hans Joergen Skovgaard as head of product development. Hans most recently was at Microsoft with responsibility for the product development of Dynamics AX Production and Logistics and had a staff of 120 under him. Of course, I have no idea what Dynamics AX Production is or means, but Microsoft, that I've heard of. Now, today, the company says they've landed Jesper Balser to join the board of directors. Who's Jesper? Well, most recently he was head of global strategy for Microsoft Business Solutions, having founded Navision in 1985 and then sold it to Microsoft for $1.55 billion in 2002 (well, actually, he took it public and then Microsoft bought it, but, either way, I'm sure Jesper did okay). Now, with a little spare time on his hands, he'll "add further strategic competence with an eye towards the [Milestone's] continued international expansion."
"It is very positive that Jesper Balser joins the Milestone Board of Directors. Over the years we have built up an international sales and distribution channel, and our expansion continues – the latest initiative being this year’s new subsidiaries in Australia and Spain,” comments Lars Thinggaard, President & CEO, Milestone Systems. “Jesper Balser has great experience with developing global business channels for software, and we are pleased to gain from that expertise.”
So, maybe they're not raiding Microsoft, exactly, but if the next guy they hire is trading in a Microsoft badge, I'm going to start to get suspicious. Obviously, Microsoft knows a little something about building a giant software company, which is what Milestone would like to do, so it makes sense that Milestone would pry away a couple of their top execs. Isn't Microsoft, like, evil or something, though? (Hey, wait a second, did my Apple iBook just type that for me? I don't remember typing anything about Microsoft being evil. Can I get tech support in here, please!)

Who is zee new ally of ADT?

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Why it's Z- Wave. ADT's gone and joined the Z-Wave Alliance, the company announced in a press release today. What's the Z-Wave Alliance? Here's how they describe it.
Home control has been the subject of science fiction and futuristic magazine articles for years. But the reality has been rather disappointing. What home control systems have been available until now are either too expensive, too difficult to install and use and too limited in their scope. The Z-Wave Alliance has changed all of that. It is a consortium of leading independent manufacturers who have agreed to build wireless home control products based on the Zensys' Z-Wave open standard. Having this standard means every product that bears the Z-Wave mark will work with all other Z-Wave products, with no special programming, regardless of who originally manufacturers the item. As a result, total home control has been made simple, accessible and affordable to consumers everywhere.
What does this mean to you? Stay tuned. I'll be talking to ADT and Z-Wave before the end of the week. And here's the press release.
Milipitas, CA – October 21, 2009 – The Z-Wave Alliance, an open consortium of leading global companies dedicated to building home control products based on Z-Wave wireless technology, today announced the addition of its newest member, ADT Security Services. “We’re thrilled to have the world’s number one electronic security services provider, ADT, join the Z-Wave Alliance,” said Raoul Wijgergangs, chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance. “They are a giant in the industry with a highly-respected brand and an incredible customer base.” Besides ADT, other companies providing access control solutions in the growing global Z-Wave ecosystem include Schlage, Black & Decker and Wayne-Dalton. Earlier this year, ADT announced the development of a new interactive services solution that will help revolutionize the way homes and businesses are protected and managed. The new solution will provide ADT home and business customers with a variety of service enhancements and is expected to launch early next year. “With interactive services, we intend to better connect people with their homes and business owners with their facilities to help make life safer, more convenient and to enhance productivity,” said Don Boerema, chief marketing officer for ADT. “By joining the Z-Wave Alliance, we are expanding our partnerships with a number of leading companies to deliver very compelling solutions to customers nationwide.”

Unisys TweetChat grade: incomplete

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
These are heady Twitter days, no doubt. The company's worth a billion dollars even though I have no idea how they produce revenue. Everyone's talking about it and setting up accounts. Even the president tweets. Just look how useful Twitter is for those of us who couldn't attend the CSAA annual meeting in Athens (and no, that's not Athens, Georgia, home of R.E.M.). So, Unisys can be excused, lauded even, for attempting one of those TweetChat things where everyone agrees to use a specific "hash-tag" (basically, you put a hash sign in front of a topic indicator; today we used #securitychat) while posting on Twitter so that you can follow every post that uses that hash-tag and a sort of chat ensues, where people can respond to each other and the "leader" of the chat, etc., while information is given out. It can turn into a free for all, it can be constructive, it can be dull. For instance, it's dull when no one participates. Check out what happens when you collect all of the #securitychat posters. A total of six people used the hash tag: Unisys, leader of the TweetChat; Unisys' PR person; a guy named mvandermeuter, who is likely affiliated with the company; a KZ_McMaster, who seems to be a real person; Me; and kcaretta, who retweeted my tweet that the event was going on. Unisys had some interesting information to disseminate: Its semi-annual security index, a survey of the public's perceptions of security, which includes financial security, identity security, terrorism perceptions, biometrics perceptions, and lots of other interesting stuff. And they wanted to Tweet about it. Makes sense. Unfortunately, in the half hour period they put aside for the Tweeting, Unisys' Brad Bass, PR director for Unisys Federal Systems, Public Sector and Enterprise Security, and Mark Cohn, VP of Enterprise Security (who were likely sitting together in the same room) tweeted 33 times, and everyone else tweeted three times (me twice - I was trying to be helpful and encouraging more than anything, I wanted it to work). That's not much of a chat. So what happened? Well, my guess is that no one knew it was happening. How would they know? I sent out a tweet right as it started, but I only have 239 followers, and how many of them are just sitting there watching Twitter (other than Ari, I mean)? And Unisys only has 325 followers, so that's the most amount of people who would have been alerted to the chat via Unisys' posts. So, were they relying on media types like me to spread the word via "normal" media to alert people to search the #securitychat hash-tag? They're not unlike those porn bots who follow you on Twitter and you go look at their account and they're following 1,000 people and don't have a single follower. If you Tweet on Twitter and there's no one there to read it, have you really Tweeted? Also, no one thinks of Unisys as a "broadcaster" or media and information creator. We naturally seek out Twitter accounts from CNN and the Weather Channel and NPR because we know them as content creators and we expect to learn something from them. NPR news has 130,783 followers. If they were to host a chat, you can bet some people would be involved, but there would also be the problem of trying to sift out the chatter's posts from all the chaff of people weighing in and discussing. But they really just use it as a broadcast mechanism to point you back to their web site. I actually find it tremendously ironic that they have an rss feed for their Twitter feed, which only points you back to their web site. Why not just sign up for the web site's rss feed and stick it in the Google reader? I have no idea. Regardless, I think you see my point. CNN has 555,598 followers. They could do a chat. Unisys probably can't until it gets more of a following. However, instead of failing Unisys for their efforts, I've decided it's really more fair to grade the effort as incomplete. It's the first step in a move toward making the company more available to the general public, and, really, it's cool in the abstract that anyone in the world could have conversed with Mark about how people in the U.S. and other countries feel about their personal security and their fears of terrorism. It's just that no one actually did.

Carlyle invests $10 million more in Supercircuits

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
PeHUB is reporting that the Carlyle Group has invested another $10 million in Supercircuits to "invest in new technologies and products and to fully retire Supercircuits’ debt." Retiring debt is always nice. But what new products and technologies? Brian Wood, Chairman and CEO of Supercircuits, said in the release, “We also intend to expand our product offerings and further invest in Law Enforcement and Dealer initiatives.” I've always thought of Supercircuits primarily as a distributor, but they're clearly focusing on their manufacturing and private-label arm. Their deal with MonitorClosely.com is part of that, OEMing for them, rather than slapping the Supercircuits label on there, but originating the product, just the same. It's a philosophy question where distributors differ: Do you white label while you distribute, or don't you. Anixter, for example, will never put their own brand on products that compete with their partners'. Neither will Graybar. But Supercircuits doesn't have a problem with it. If you want to read a whole story about the white-labeling debate, go here.

What's the 411 tweeting in from Athens?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
ATHENS, Greece--So I was checking out my Twitter feeds from the CSAA Annual Meeting in Athens, Greece today, and there appears to be some pretty heavy stuff going on. And while it's true I'm definitely NOT in Athens, Greece right now (we had our first snowfall over the weekend in New England, which may or may not have helped the Pats trounce Tennessee...), through the magic of social networking, it's almost like I'm actually there covering the meeting. Vector Security's Pam Petrow's (Twitter handle PamPetrow) phone keyboard has been on fire during the sessions with topical (and perhaps tropical, given the meeting's location--according to the member survey at this year's meeting, next year's should be held in the Caribbean...) tweets on issues such as the new FTC Red Flag Rules, which will go into effect Nov. 1. The FTC Red Flag Rules apply to financial institutions and creditors and are intended to help protect consumers by fighting identity theft. At first, I was confused how this applied to the security industry, but then I saw a tweet from Pam that put it in perspective.
alarm ind.qualifies as creditor under FTC defn. If bill in arrears,extend credit,have mtple pymts you must comply
Makes sense that the industry could qualify as a creditor if it regularly extends credit, through payment plans, to past due accounts. CSAA has been letting us know about these impending rules since last year. Another tweet--this one from CSAA VP of marketing and programs Celia Besore's Twitter handle CSAAIntl--let me know that ETL had, indeed, become the the next nationally recognized testing laboratory, allowing the industry more choice in whom they go to for their testing lab listing or approval. My colleague Martha Entwistle wrote about ETL's rise here. UL and FM were the two NRTLs approved by CSAA. ETL has been covered by SSN before, and the CSAA member vote to change the by-laws and allow companies listed by any CSAA-approved NRTL other than UL and FM to join association was expected. Pam also let us know Honeywell Security and Communications president Ron Rothman was approved to the CSAA Board to represent associate members. Martha also interviewed Ron back at ISC West. A kind of big issue facing the security industry today is the life expectancy of POTS (or Plain Old Telephone Service) lines, and the increasing need for solutions to have multiple pathways of communication between the panel and the central station. An announcement from Verizon--AICC-10 yr life projected on POTS by Verizon (as tweeted by Pam)--should raise even more concern from the industry. The AICC is a pan-association group, made up of the three main associations in the industry: the Security Industry Association, the Electronic Security Association (formerly the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association) and the Central Station Alarm Association. An SSN Market Trends piece from 2008 addressed the need get off of POTS post-haste. I'm actually working on a story right now about a partnership between NationWide Digital Monitoring and Visonic that will help dealers future proof their solutions with multiple pathways of communication. NWD EVP and chief technology officer Mark Fischer, in an interview with me the other morning, said the time to expand beyond POTS was now. "Right now, what's happening in the world is there's a move away from having POTS phone lines," Fischer said. "What you see is--especially with people 30 and under now--you go to houses and people don't have standard phone lines, period. If they even have phone lines--they're just cell only ... By allowing multiple paths you have a higher degree of security." It's all about more security.

I want one of these things - bad

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Monday, October 19, 2009
Got a cool press release from Maryland's Clark School of Engineering today (via Reuters) about a remote-controlled monocopter, or "Robotic Samara," which is based on the design of a maple seed. You know, those things that spiral to the ground, falling like they're only half-aware that gravity exists? There are lots of cool possible applications, with surveillance high among them, since they can hover in place and be launched from just about anywhere and are just about noiseless. Check out the demonstration video: It's not entirely clear to me why this is better than a helicopter, but I think it's basically just fewer moving parts. Either way, it's cool, and I want one. What do you think the MSRP on that baby is?

Does anyone have a disruptive design?

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Monday, October 19, 2009
Google led me to stumble across this provocative post by John Sviokla on the Harvard Business site. In it, he focuses on the idea of disruptive business design, and that "the minimum efficient scale of doing fantastic things is getting orders of magnitude lower in some industries." Basically, how do you create a company that, like Craig's List, say, so turns an industry on its head that you can do things like clear $1,000,000 per employee in profit? In some ways, the security industry has done this once not that long ago, when the mass marketing alarm companies started giving away alarm systems so that they could reap the recurring revenue - just like Craig's list gave away advertising for everything but jobs so it could steal all the classifieds away from the major newspapers. Of course, the hey day of the mass marketers may have come to an end as the general public seems to have basically decided it's okay to pay a little more up front if it means better service and support on the back end. The industry has not drastically coalesced, as many predicted, and while ADT remains a giant gorilla of a company, there remain thousands of mom-and-pop alarm companies who do alright for themselves. But Sviokla raises the question, "Imagine a security company that was truly designed around the inexpensive, internet connected, monitoring equipment available today." What would that company look like, and does it already exist? To what "monitoring equipment" is he referring? Is there something that would allow alarm companies to go forward at "a fraction of the cost to deliver the same services"? Well, what do security companies have for costs? The overhead of the central station and the operators (or the margin that must be shared with a third party); the installing technicians, their salaries, and the trucks that ferry them around; and maybe marketing? And, if they're essentially giving away the system (or leasing it, whatever), there is the cost of the equipment, itself, which is most often referred to as financing growth. However, many of the most profitable installation companies say they at least break even on every installation. I don't know if that's true or not. Say it is. Then what's left to cut? Basically, it's the installers and their trucks. With the advent of reliable wireless connectivity, both for monitoring and for in-the-house sensors, isn't it true that self installation is pretty possible? The thing is, uControl is already trying that. And before they got very far down the road, they instituted a dealer program and created a channel that's not direct-to-end user. Plus, the New York Times has already declared that DIY residential alarm systems are easy-peasy, yet I've hardly seen a rush of homeowners bypassing the traditional alarm industry. I haven't heard a single alarm company owner complain of the competition that DIY systems present. So, is there a disruptive design out there? Have you done one of these cool fiercest competitor workshops that Sviokla references and foreseen a future where the current business model is stood on its head? Does the "free" video verification proposed by Videofied represent a significantly different paradigm? Is there an equivalent in the commercial installation marketplace? Even better, who are the talented individuals who might come up with this disruptive business model? Are they inside the industry now, or will they come from the outside, IT or elsewhere? Are they working at your company right now, but you don't listen to them because their ideas are crazy?

The man from Bryan, the natty nut, and the balloon boy

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Monday, October 19, 2009
Of course, you're probably wondering what the headline means. I found myself thinking about false alarms this morning upon reading a catchy headline--Alleged pork chop theft a false alarm--and saw a developing trend in some of the stories I came across in my Google Alerts. This blog post's headline refers to three stories with the common theme of people making stuff up, causing an unneeded and expensive emergency response and then, I'm sure, wondering what all the fuss is about and why they're being treated like criminals. The first story is about a guy from Texas who called in a hoax 911 call about his grandmother having chest pains. The caller then gave the dispatcher a fake address. That is just not cool. Waste of time, tempting karma with your grandmother's wellbeing... This kid should be locked up. It's curious to note his middle name is Wayne... which, if you follow News of the Weird means that he is, according to scientific proof, destined to most likely be a serial killer... Let's save him from himself and put him away now. The second story is out of New York and concerns a guy--probably mentally ill--who authorities assume pulled a fire alarm in order to vacate the firehouse and then slip in while emergency responders were out investigating the false he caused. Again, waste of time and money... another guy who would be better off locked up. And probably the worst of the lot is the balloon boy's father, who we now realize put his son up to the hoax so that he could get his own reality show. I won't, in this blog, call this guy the many names that come to my mind right now. Another guy who's lies and pathetic need for attention cost tax payers a lot of money. He should also have his kids taken away from him and be locked up. False alarms are not cool. They're a huge problem to the alarm industry and to municipalities and emergency responders. People who incite false alarms and panic on purpose, to gain attention need to be locked up. Just my opinion. I welcome yours.

Hooked on a feeling

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Friday, October 16, 2009
Dr. Bob Banerjee, over at Bosch, just put up a post about his experiences at the ONVIF plugfest at ASIS, which struck me as very closely mirroring my own impressions at the PSIA plugfest. Have a look: Dr. Bob: Arch competitors were shaking hands and discussing experiences as if they finally had a common goal that was bigger than the individual companies and their personalities. Me: Truly, there was the feel that someone had just landed people on the moon or something. People were lining up for awkward photographs. Engineers with iffy social skills were drinking wine and wearing ill-fitting ties. People were clapping each other on the back. Dr. Bob: The epiphany though, was realizing that ONVIF is not only real, nor that it is achieving milestones in record time, but that it is utterly unstoppable. Me: IBM’s Frank Yeh, the sort of guy who puts his Second Life persona on his business card, was pronouncing: “We’re witnessing history in the making here.” Basically, people are eager to compare and contrast the two organizations, and I've been guilty of it from time to time, certainly, but as more than one person has said, it's probably good that there's a little competition involved. It makes things move faster, people work harder, and there's a bit of sex appeal there to make people pay attention. Still, the reason both of these organizations are making progress is mostly because it feels right and it feels good. Engineering and code writing for profit is a profession, certainly, and a lucrative one for some, but engineering and code writing for the perceived common good is intellectually and personally fulfilling in a different way and it's great to see that being so obviously expressed in both of these organizations.

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