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Siemens bidding for Nortel's enterprise biz

Thursday, July 30, 2009
Many of you know that Nortel is in bankruptcy, which is sort of hard to imagine when you remember that within the last decade the company was the single highest-valued stock in all of Canada. The part of Nortel that you care about is its security business, which I'm not sure was ever very large in the first place, but was large enough that John Sheridan, who ran the security integration practice at the time, was invited to speak at Securing New Ground 2007. And Nortel partnered with Assa and MDI on the whole LearnSafe thing. And Pelco just hired a former Nortel exec as a senior VP. So, Nortel's been in and around the industry a bit. Now Siemens is battling with Avaya and others for the company's enterprise services assets. If Siemens grabs it, I've got to think they can leverage some of those capabilities in their security biz. If Avaya grabs it, maybe not so much.

Irony of ironies

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Now that I'm kind of "in" the security industry, I find myself pimping security systems to just about everyone I know. If I hear people complaining about a nanny, a tenant, or a roommate, I'm always chiming right in about cool video alerts you can get, tracking capabilities for when people came and left, being able to deny access if a bill isn't paid, etc. And at this point I feel like the system is worth it for the deterrent value if you have any kind of nice stuff - a lot of my friends are musicians and musical instruments get stolen and hocked all the time. "You should really get a security system," I'm saying, like, all the time. I've had to actually dial it back lately because people think I'm selling Amway or something. But I can lately see how people become less than enthused with their security companies. After my folks got broken into about five years back, my mother insisted on getting a security system. This was before I was in the industry, back when I was doing nothing but writing about music and the arts and other frivolous things like that, and so I thought that was probably a dumb idea. The guy just walked in their back door. I said to start with just locking the doors. But mom insisted, so they got a system from one of the large national companies (I'm not throwing stones here - everyone's got skeletons in the closets). Of course, they hardly use it. When the tech came to do a first year check-up, he found they hadn't changed the PIN from 1-2-3-4. And the system basically became a joke. Every time my parents go away now, my wife says, "how long until we get a call from the security company?" Because of course we're the enhanced call verification contact. Usually, it's about six hours. The battery in the smoke detector is low. One of the sensors in zone five seems to be bad. Etc. It's never "serious." But, as luck would have it, every time they actually arm the system, something seems to go haywire (despite the fact that batteries and sensor alarms should be independent of arm/disarm). But, lately, it's out of hand. The last three nights we've gotten a call around 10:30 p.m. Me: "Who could that be calling at this hour." The wife: "It's the stupid security company." Me: "Hello?" Stupid security company (to use my wife's lingo): "Hi, Mr. Piffle?" Me: "Pfeifle. Yeah?" SSC: "Hi. This is a very nice young woman speaking in a very friendly way from a big national security company. Anyway, we're getting a bad sensor reading at your parents' house. It's on the garage door, so it doesn't appear to be a big deal right now." Me: "But my parents must be home. Why didn't you call them?" SSC: "We've called both the home number and the cell numbers and we can't reach them. Do you know if they're out of town?" Me: "They're definitely home. Okay, but I'll tell them, thanks. No need to dispatch or anything. Ha." SSC: "Ha. Have a nice night." Me, dialing my parents' house... Dad: "Hello?" Me: "Dad, answer the goddamn phone when the security company calls for christ's sake." Dad: "Oh, God, they call like every night, we've just started ignoring it." Me: "Yeah. I know. Because then they call me." Dad: "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Were you asleep?" Me: "No, I wasn't asleep, but that doesn't mean I was hoping to spend a little time with the central station operator at 10:30 at night (though she did kind of have a cute voice). Why are you ignoring the calls, anyway? You're paying them to call you when something's wrong." Dad: "Oh, we're just going to cancel it. They call us every single night. Apparently the sensors never go bad in the day time, or the batteries never last more than three weeks. It's driving us crazy." Me: "So get them to fix it. That's their jobs." Dad: "We call them all the time and they never come. We don't know what to do. We're just going to cancel it." Me: "Whatever. Bye." (I generally resort to the way I spoke when I was a teenager whenever I'm around my parents. It keeps them young.) Do I just have bad luck? It can't be economical for a big national company to constantly be using operator time to call my parents about bad sensors, right? Does this have anything to do with big-nationalness, or is this just something that happens from time to time to every company?

Support for Ron Walters and his family

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
It was with great sadness that I visited the blog maintained by SIAC's Ron Walters to update friends and family on his daughter's condition today and learned that Ron's daughter Elena passed away Monday. Please keep the Walters family in your thoughts and prayers. Here is link to the blog. Ron and his family have asked for no calls at this time. They have asked that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the ARDS Foundation (acute respiratory distress syndrome), or any other appropriate charity. There will be a celebration of Elena's life on Friday, July 31 at 1:00pm, followed by a catered meal, all taking place at Florida Bible Church, located at 9300 Pembroke Road in Miramar. The service and the following celebration is open to all of Elena's friends and family.

SIA adds new features to central station course

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
My cohorts Martha and Leischen forwarded an email from SIA on to me. It looks like SIA is improving its central station training courses beginning in August. From the email:
Starting with the August class in Alexandria, Va., the CST course will include expanded instruction on: ETL certification; how to read formats (with an explanation of the various languages); alternate signal delivery to include IP and GSM; and other topics.
I wrote a story on the SIA CST recently and at the time, MJ Vance from CenterPoint Technologies (who underwent the course, herself) said the course was of extreme value.
Taking the SIA instructor classes really shows your level of commitment not only to educate yourself on the industry, but to educate your employees and help them sharpen their skills. At CenterPoint, we really felt it was our responsibility—management’s responsibility—to ensure every employee is given the right tools to succeed in the position they were hired for.
More information on the courses can be fond at SIA's website.

Housing market hit bottom?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The lead story in today's New York Times talks about recent signs that the housing market has bottomed out in most metropolitan areas in the country. The notable exceptions are Phoenix and Vegas—the places where the expansion in housing ba-boomed in the past decade. An optimistic point of view from the story:
For the first time since early 2007, a composite index of 20 major cities was virtually flat, instead of down. “We’ve found the bottom,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American CoreLogic, a data firm. The release of the surprisingly strong Case-Shiller Price Index, compiled by Standard & Poor’s, followed earlier reports that sales of existing homes rose last month for the third consecutive time, while sales of new homes rose in June by the largest percentage in eight years.
And a word from the not-so-optimistic:
All of these improvements are tentative, and come after a relentless decline that knocked more than half the value off houses in the worst-hit cities. Some skeptics say they believe the market is merely pausing before it resumes falling and that much of the life in the market is coming from speculators. Even the most enthusiastic analysts acknowledge that rising unemployment, another leap in foreclosures or a significant jump in interest rates could snuff out progress.
Here's a link to a cool interactive graphic that gives details about housing prices in different cities. And here's the link to the story itself.

Someone help this town

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Despite lingering questions about the value of public surveillance, it's clear that public surveillance remains a viable market. At some level, it's not about rationality or statistics. It's about people loving video and wanting to be able to see for themselves. Check this classic small-town story: The good people of Waynsefield, Ohio, want to stop their graffiti problem. How badly to do they want to stop it? Well, they've dedicated $350 to solving the problem:
WAYNESFIELD — The search is still on as Waynesfield Village Council members continue looking for additional surveillance equipment to install in its park as an effort to prevent future vandalism. After checking with retailers such as Radio Shack and Sam’s Club, Waynesfield Police Chief Lee Ziegler said he found several cameras and receivers but they did not come packaged with anything like a DVR to record up to long periods of time.
Ack! Radio Shack and Sam's Club? Why would that be the first idea? Because maybe the security industry is kind of crappy about advertising its services and abilities? Hard to say.
“For me to be able to put something adequate together for the allotted $350 I was allowed might not be possible unless we were to purchase something used,” Ziegler said during Monday night’s meeting.
Somebody help these guys out. First of all, is it possible the graffiti is only causing $350 in damage? If it's a problem at all, you've got to think that's a really low number. Someone do an ROI analysis, STAT! Also, someone needs to be out there with a leasing option for these people. I'm sure this is based on an annual budget, so it's more like $350 a year they can spend. I'm sure someone could set them up with a nice $30 a month system using Videofied (or whomever - but this is sort of their bag right now) that would send video clips on motion to the cops and virtually eliminate the graffiti problem.
Councilors advised Ziegler to further check into purchasing additional park surveillance equipment through an on-line retailer or contracting the installment of a new surveillance system out with a security company. He is to have prepared with price quotes for council’s next scheduled meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 24.
Double ack! Option 1: Sam's Club and Radio Shack. Option 2: Online retailer. Option 3: security company! What's wrong here? Um, basically that the public, in this case, doesn't value the services of security companies in the least. The assumption is that that solution will be the most expensive and that there isn't value associated with that expense. That's bad.

False alarm education online

Monday, July 27, 2009
I was going through my email this morning upon return from my vacation last week when I came across this small news item from the Bay Area News Group's The news is from Vallejo, Calif. False alarms are obviously a huge problem, and it's great to see municipalities stepping in and helping out by providing end users a way to not only learn how to use their alarms, but also to learn why false alarms are such a big deal. The industry's various associations also have online training in false alarm awareness. CSAA has a course found here, while FARA has options here. SIA points out many municipalities are beginning to offer false alarm training/awareness schools and programs to help fight the problem. Especially in today's economy, let's all do our part to help solve the problem.

Study: Sprinkler mandates don't affect new home construction

Monday, July 27, 2009
The National Fire Protection Association shot down an argument by the National Home Builders Association yesterday, with the release of a study that shows that residential sprinkler mandates do not negatively affect the number of homes being built. Here's the press release. The homebuilder/sprinkler rivalry is nothing new. For many years, the national and local home builders associations have actively opposed sprinkler mandates on the grounds that they're too expensive and/or will have other negative effects on the real estate market and homeowners. The NFPA has been working more closely with sprinkler advocates of late to promote the adoption of residential sprinkler mandates at the state and local level. In January they launched the Fire Sprinkler Iniitative. Click here for more information on that effort.

A wrinkle in the CIT story

Monday, July 27, 2009
So, I got a nice email from reader Marty Mayo this morning alerting me to CIT's past connections with Tyco and the infamous Dennis Kozlowski. It was before my time, but in March of 2001, Tyco announced its intention to buy CIT for $9.2 billion, saying this:
"For years, our operating managers have advocated creating a financing capability within Tyco to support the growth of our businesses," said L. Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "After evaluating several paths to this goal, including developing a financing capability in-house, we concluded that acquiring CIT gives us a faster, more efficient and more robust solution at lower risk than anything we might have done internally or through joint-venture or other approaches. Putting in place a fully established leader in the commercial finance industry is the ideal platform for us to fulfill this need.
I guess that made sense at the time. But it was apparently a move made at the height of Kozlowski's hubris. Just a year later, Tyco was getting permission to sell CIT to the public via IPO, hoping to get just $5 billion back. Nice return on that investment:
Tyco also said it would take a noncash loss of about $6 billion as part of the offering. It will take most of the loss by restating its earnings for the quarter ended March 31 down by $4.5 billion, and the remainder after the deal is finished. The loss represents the difference between the value of CIT on Tyco's books and the amount that outside investors are willing to pay for it. Tyco values CIT at $11.3 billion, so if the company sells CIT for $5 billion, for example, it will have a loss of $6.3 billion.
Looking into this also brings to mind how short our memories can be in general. Take a look at this article about CIT, post-Tyco. It's just seven years ago, but at the time here were the concerns:
The problem CIT faces is that it's still a difficult business environment and companies it lent money to are struggling to pay their bills. Even though delinquency rate on loans in CIT's portfolio fell to 3.74% from 4.09% at the end of March, the company's executives say it's too soon to declare an end to the corporate credit problems.
Corporate credit problems? 2002 didn't know corporate credit problems. In fact, can anyone remember the corporate credit problems of 2002 in the context of the past year's credit disaster? These things can clear up quicker than we think. To get back to Marty's email, does the Tyco-CIT connection have anything to do with the company current problems? Doubtful. Does it have anything to do with CIT's former work with the alarm industry? Not really - though maybe their association with Tyco turned them on to the recurring revenue nature of the alarm business and it was part of what made them look more closely at the industry four or five years ago. Regardless, it's always interesting to see the hands of Dennis Kozlowski still touching pieces of the business world.

These guys are full of hot air

Friday, July 24, 2009
I've been writing a fair amount lately on security companies that are productizing (nice verb, right?) solutions that they find themselves putting together on a regular basis for similar clients. Like these guys. And these guys. But brand-new ideas are fun, too, and it's hard not to like the flySWAT, a helium balloon with a camera attached to the bottom. They're not the first to have the idea, certainly. Here's a different version advertising a $1 million camera attached (which hardly seems possible, or smart, for that matter). But cCubed have clearly used their heads to come up with something that has a clear application.