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ESX roundup

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

With ESX 2014 in the rearview mirror, I wanted to combine some of my experiences into one summarizing blog of an event rich in educational seminars and insightful speakers. Here are some of the sights and sounds, in more or less chronological order:

How, in 2014 and beyond, does a security company remain relevant? That’s the question Safeguard Security CEO John Jennings addressed at the ESA eye-opener breakfast, urging audience members to free themselves from outmoded ways of doing and thinking about business.

Titled “Dinosaurs, Woolly Mammoths, Saber tooth tigers and you,” the presentation very directly explored strategies to help security companies avoid becoming, well, extinct. His recommendations? Promoting unorthodox perspectives, challenging the obvious and fostering divergent ideas. He encouraged listeners to emulate the disruptive, risk-taking attitudes prevalent in the tech startup culture—first by considering failure not as an endgame, but as an occasional and even necessary obstacle along the pathway to better ideas.

Jennings also told attendees to ask the tough questions about their businesses, and to be uncompromising about having employees who both perform in the field and elevate the atmosphere in the office.

Strategic planning, Jennings noted, can be relegated to the dustbin of history. In an industry so rapidly evolving and so hard to predict, such projects no longer constitute a good use of time. Oh, and organizational charts? Those can go too. Divisions between personnel need no longer be so neatly divided or even hierarchical, as leaders should aim to pool ideas from all levels of their management structure.

Jennings also made a persuasive and rather funny case for doing away with the term “central station.” “Central station—really?!” he asked with half-serious outrage. He then asked if anyone outside the industry actually knows what a central station is. He’s got a point. There’s something a little unsleek and Star Trek-y about the phrase. And that’s misleading; the facilities I’ve visited are nothing if not sleek.

In the afternoon I moderated a seminar featuring Tom Szell, SVP, ADS Security, Mike Bodnar, president, Security Partners, and Brandon Savage, SVP customer experience and operations at My Alarm Center/Alarm Capital Alliance. It was a good mix of perspectives, and the trio wasn’t shy about proposing some forward-thinking ideas. Savage urged attendees to make customer support not just a differentiator but the key differentiator at their companies. Szell affirmed that the interactive services revolution is an enormous positive for the industry, but said the next imperative is figuring out how to provide top-notch support for this ever-expanding array of services. With respect to the hiring and training process, Mike Bodnar encouraged attendees to identify people with the right mix of hard and soft skills, and added that the demand for operators with those characteristics is only going to increase.

From a monitoring standpoint, the panelists left no stone unturned: PERS, mobile PERS, installer apps, subscriber apps, the ASAP to PSAP program, customer surveys, video verification, and interactive services and the new expectations for customer support they’ve produced.

In the latter part of the session, the audience members posed some superb questions as well. Some asked how to extend the life of PERS accounts or how to develop the most effective and informative customer surveys. Others asked about the threat of DIY  / MIY systems and how best to cope with broader market awareness of these systems.

The ESX show floor kicks into full gear Wednesday. I plan to be there the next two days and to make a point of getting to as many of the educational seminars as possible. 

 

DAY 2 - ESX 2014

 

It had the feel of a seminar anyone in the monitoring space needed to hear. Moderated by Don Childers, COO of Security Central, the panel titled “IP, the Central Station and All that Jazz” got down to the brass tacks of what it takes to be a monitoring company in 2014. One of the ruling themes: You need to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your monitoring company now to determine how well suited or not it is to be reliable hub of IP signals.

The panelist lineup included Sascha Kylau, VP central station solutions and services, OneTel; Morgan Hertel, VP of operations at Rapid Response Monitoring; and Mark McCall, director of IT, Security Central.

The “Internet of Things” movement was broached early in the session, with Kylau mentioning some possibilities for monitoring that might have seemed farfetched a few years ago but that now seem totally plausible. Pet tracking, mobile medical monitoring, mobile tracking, geo fencing, aggregating information from household appliances—Kylau touched on all these possibilities. Some of these services, such as PERS, are already well-established streams of RMR for some monitoring companies, and only stand to become more mainstream in the years ahead.

The panelists agreed that investing in quality ISPs and bandwidth will pay off in the long run. Hertel noted that during Hurricane Sandy, Rapid Response was hit was an astonishing rate of signals for two weeks straight. With such taxing scenarios in mind, he advised monitoring companies to invest in reliable, first-rate ISPs, and to work closely with automation providers to ensure their company can accommodate IP traffic in any set of circumstances. To that point, McCall added that it’s crucial to invest in a network monitoring platform that tracks signal information and informs you when the IP firewall is about to max out.

The panelists didn’t just discuss the equipment investments in the central station IP domain. They also touched on the human capital aspect of the business, which is evolving in proportion to the technology. Hertel said Rapid Response now employs a 25-person IT and software development team.

Later in the day I caught up with Jeremy Mclerran, director of marketing at Qolsys. The company’s big news at the show was the launch of its new user interface intended to make the customer experience more consistent and sleek. To that end, the new look is a rousing success; it’s an uncluttered, clean, visually appealing interface. McLerran explained that Qolsys is so closely integrated with Alarm.com that remodeling the company’s own interface to make it closer in alignment with that platform’s look and feel “just made sense.”

Though the new look features flat, monochromatic icons, McLerran pointed out that the changes aren’t just cosmetic. The company’s intent was to design a “forward-compatible” panel that interoperates with a host of wireless radios and has a slew of home control functionalities already embedded. Qolsys also managed to elicit some guffaws with its anonymous banner ads adorning the escalators: “1980 called. It wants its panel back.” The banners also encouraged industry members to take a deep breath and  “just say no” to rubber button keypads.

In the afternoon I met with Dave Mayne, VP of marketing at Resolution Products, which today announced the release of its new Helix panel, scheduled to ship everywhere in December. Mayne said the panel reflects Resolution’s goal of creating a panel that reduces the amount of time dealers need to spend servicing accounts, while giving them a pathway to adding new home control functions. The Helix employs software and interactive services from SecureNet. It will ship to a select group of early adopters in July, he said.

I also spoke with Kirk MacDowell, VP sales, intrusion-Americas, at Interlogix, about the company’s recent acquisition of Ultra High Speed, a technology provider of telecommunications infrastructure equipment. The move expands the company’s global intrusion portfolio in the residential and small- to medium-sized retail verticals. A big draw, MacDowell said, was that UHS was a “proven, developed and launched” service.

First thing tomorrow morning I’ll be attending the ESX Rise and Shine breakfast, where I’ll be listening closely to what some of the new entrants to the industry have to say about their go-to-market strategies and their vision for the security industry of tomorrow. I’m eager for this session, and from what I’ve heard from attendees, I’m not alone. I expect to see few if any empty seats.

 

Day 3 - ESX 2014

 

The final day of ESX began with a highly anticipated panel moderated by ESX chair George De Marco. The panel was intended to showcase how some of the new security entrants envision the direction of the industry.

The lineup included Adam Mayer, VP strategy and new business development, Time Warner Cable; Gene LaNois, GM, Nest Labs, Pro Channel; and Mike Hackett, VP sales and marketing, Qolsys.

De Marco did not refrain from asking the tough questions, or in other words, the questions the audience wanted to hear. In view of Google-owned Nest recently acquiring Dropcam, he asked LaNois if he thought third-party monitoring centers and installers would remain crucial components of security, or if DIY systems would factor them out of the equation. The response from LaNois, and from the other panelists who chimed in, were not exactly discouraging for installers or monitoring personnel. Yes, both LaNois and Mayer agreed the DIY market was poised to take off. But they also agreed that for more complex integration projects, installers will still be in high demand, and will continue to play a major role in shaping the industry moving forward. The key takeaways of the panel were that lifestyle services and monitored security can and will share a symbiotic relationship, and that DIY systems, while a threat to central station RMR, are not necessarily going to destroy the entire central station model. If anything, they might just modify it.

After the seminar I caught up with Telguard’s Shawn Welsh, VP marketing and business development, and Pamela Benke, director of marketing, to discuss the company’s new cellular alarm communicator for CDMA networks, the TG-1 Express CDMA. Welsh said the product goes along way toward expanding the company’s residential reach, turning rural or hilly regions, where cellular coverage can be spotty, into more viable zones for Telguard’s services. Compatible with Verizon’s 3G/4G wireless networks, the CDMA alternative is being marketed as a replacement to soon-to-be obsolete GSM products. Telguard is making the product eligible for the company’s Upgrade Incentive Program, which allows dealers to receive $25 for replacing GSM units.

On my final day at ESX, I got wind that the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response met its ESX deadline for developing video verification best practices. Mark McCall, IT director at Security Central, Keith Jentoft, president at Videofied-RSI Technologies, and Peter Tallman, program manager at Underwriters Laboratories shed some light on their roles in the process, and on the numeric threat evaluation criteria outlined in the new recommendations.

Petrow stands out

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pam Petrow stands out in the industry as one of just a handful of female CEO’s of a leading security company.

Now, four years into her leadership as CEO and president of Vector Security, Petrow is being distinguished again, this time for winning the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for her region, the Pittsburgh-based company announced this week.

As the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia award winner, Ms. Petrow will be automatically eligible for consideration for the Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 national program, the winners of which will be announced in November, according to a Vector news release.

The EY award “honors distinguished entrepreneurs who demonstrate widespread success, a commitment to innovation and forward thinking and unwavering passion for business,” the release said. Former recipients have included CEOs, private capital investors and regional leaders of a wide range of businesses.

Petrow succeeded Vector’s longtime president, John Murphy, after his death in October 2010. She formerly was Vector’s EVP and COO.

In a prepared statement about her EY award, Petrow credited company employees and the community with the win. “Being recognized for this prestigious award is not only a testament to the dedication of our employees, many of whom have made serving our customers their careers, but also to the stability and pioneering spirit of the people and businesses in our communities,” she said.

Vector serves nearly 300,000 residential and business customers. The release said Petrow “challenges managers to learn what their direct reports do on a day-to-day basis and to adapt their management style to extract the best performance from their employees.”

It also noted that she “held leadership positions in a number of security industry associations and received a number of awards including the Public-Safety Communications Officials International President’s Award and Central Station Alarm Association recognition for her outstanding contributions to the electronic transmission of signals between central stations and 911 dispatch centers. In 2012, Ms. Petrow was inducted into the Security Sales & Integration Hall of Fame.”

Pretty impressive!

Remembering Tim Feury, Altec Systems

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Like many in the security industry, I was saddened to learn about the death June 12 of Tim Feury, president of systems integration firm Altec Systems. Feury was 56 and died of complications of heart failure, according to an obituary in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

I've interviewed Tim and his wife and business partner, Mary Feury, several times and enjoyed getting to know them at various events, especially PSA Security events. I have been in touch with Mary this week and plan to publish a more detailed remembrance of Tim once she and I have a chance to talk in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here are a couple of links to stories I've written about Tim and Mary and Altec Systems. In this story from March, they were getting ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Altec systems (and their 10-year wedding anniversary as well.) And here's one from 2011 that talks about how Mary brought IT services to Altec Systems.

Tim Feury graduated from James Caldwell High School in New Jersey and moved to Atlanta in the early 1980s. In addition to his wife, Tim Feury is survived by sons, Andrew Feury of Atlanta, Matthew Feury of Atlanta, and Ryan Feury of Marietta; sisters, Patricia Borys of Marietta , MaryAnn Baker of Flanders, N.J. and Elizabeth Feury of Mount Olive Township, N.J.; brothers, John Feury of Verona, N.J. and Robert Feury of Lincoln Park, N.J.; and one grandchild.

 

Feenics: Led by industry vet, attracting integrators' attention

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Have you heard of Feenics? It’s a new cloud-based access control platform that’s being run by an industry vet and that attracted the attention of some integrators who are demoing, or getting ready to install “Keep” which is Feenics’ first product.

Paul DiPeso, who was most recently with Lenel, is running the show for Feenics as VP and GM, and this week he’s at the Feenics’ office in Ottawa conducting a “voice of the customer” meeting with some integrators, including Alpha Corp, GS Security, Contava, TRL Systems, Open Systems and Koorsen Security.  

I had a chance to speak to Di Peso as well as Skip Sampson and Shannon Martindale from Koorsen, and I’ll have a regular story on the whole Feenics offering next week.

Suffice it to say, Sampson and Martindale are excited about the offering. Sampson believes Keep will be an RMR generator for his company and a product that his customers will like.

Sampson installed Keep at the Koorsen office and tested it for six months. “We gave [developers] feedback and they were quick to acknowledge and implement [some changes],” he said.

He’s sold two systems and “has quite a few in the pipeline,” he said. Asked about hosted and managed services, Sampson said he’s dabbled in hosted video, but he believes that managed access control is "the most viable managed service. You don’t need a huge pipe, huge SAN or attached storage, a DSL works just great,” he said.

And with Keep, which works with standard Mercury panels “there’s comfort that if the customer for some reason doesn't like it, you can put in something else without replacing the infrastructure. I think Sam was wise in doing that. We play on that point.”

Sam is Sam Shalaby, former owner of FSC, who developed the product. Shalaby is still 100 percent owner of Feenics and sits on the board of advisors, but he is not involved in the day-to-day business.

Sampson acknowledged that there are “multiple other products that do similar things, but what’s different with Sam’s is that he didn’t take a product that’s been out there for 10 to 15 years and take the same GUI, and same layout and try to make it work as a hosted product. He started to build it with an integrator’s mindset. It’s not an access control panel-centric product.”

Sampson called it “fresh and new and relevant,” and said it has “kind of a Google look to it.”  

Working with DiPeso are Dave Charles who does business development, Ralph Shillington who is CTO and who developed the original software, and Anthony Shalaby who is running logistics.

Check back next week, for more details on Feenics’ and DiPeso’s go-to-market strategy.

Privacy and the connected home

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

One of the most visible illustrations of the Internet of Things movement, the connected home continues to open up an expanding world of RMR possibilities for the security industry. But according to a recent CNN Money report, it’s also opening up some new and murky legal terrain that, like many Internet-related matters, raises fundamental questions about privacy and information rights.

The headline is as blunt as it is Orwellian: “Cops can access your connected home.” While the article references smart home technology writ large, the piece mostly focuses on the video aspect of the connected home and the potential for cameras to generate footage that could someday be used in legal proceedings.

In the article, Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst from the American Civil Liberties Union, is quoted as saying, “We’re seeing law enforcement across a variety of areas arguing that they should be able to access information with lower standards than before the electronic age.”

The source also notes that information from the home can provide a “window into the things you’re doing in your private space.”

Still, authorities cannot get their hands on such footage without a warrant or subpoena, as the article notes. A judge authorizes a warrant when the prosecutors show “probable cause” that evidence exists that could be linked to criminal activity. Subpoenas, however, have a somewhat looser standard, requiring only that the data being sought is relevant to a given investigation.

Security companies offering interactive services are typically very sensitive to the notion that customers have lingering concerns about privacy. Andy Stadler, division manager, advanced services, at Security Partners, illustrated that awareness in our conversation a few weeks ago about the company’s recent adoption of Alarm.com’s new video verified alarm service. During the development phase, he said, Security Partners and Alarm.com took pains to erect privacy measures that would perform the dual task of giving central stations the information they need without infringing on the customer's privacy.

This left me wondering: With home automation offerings so widespread, could the implementation of more robust and consumer-friendly privacy measures emerge as a real differentiator? Are the more tech-savvy, privacy-conscious consumers going to start asking companies how long they store footage on their servers? Are they going to ask how and why authorities might access data generated in their homes? Are they going to ask about what cyber security measures are being put in place to thwart hacks?

This will be a fascinating industry topic to watch on several levels. At the business level, it could just be that the companies most attentive to privacy protections will view public skepticism as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

Leading ADT dealer has new president

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Monday, June 16, 2014

In 2013, there was a restructuring at the top of DEFENDER Direct, with CEO and president Marcia Barnes exiting and company founder David Lindsey stepping in to take her place. Now, the company announced today, it has a new president, and it’s a promotion from within.

Lindsey is passing the mantle of president to Jim Boyce, the company’s chief operating officer for almost three years. Boyce will also retain his COO title. His leadership has helped the Indianapolis-based company to grow dramatically, according to a June 16 news release.

DEFENDER bills itself as ADT’s only authorized Premier Provider. In business since 1998, the company employs more than 2,000 individuals in 48 states with over 143 branch offices nationwide.

Boyce actually joined DEFENDER’s Board of Advisors in 2009 and became the company’s COO in October 2011. Prior to joining DEFENDER, Boyce served on the executive teams at two large, global businesses, Convergys and Procter & Gamble, the news release said.

As president, Boyce will lead all day-to-day company operations, including overseeing DEFENDER’s Business Improvement Team, which includes key leaders from around the business who collaborate to achieve organizational alignment and continued success, the release said.

“In his time at DEFENDER, Jim has done an amazing job leading our security business. Key components of our business have dramatically grown and improved under Jim’s leadership,” Lindsey said, in a prepared statement.

In his own statement, Boyce said, “I am pleased with the success we are having and am incredibly optimistic about the future for this healthy, growing and inspired company. We have lightning in a bottle!”

Boyce is active in charitable work, according to the news release. He currently serves on the United Way of Central Indiana Board of Advisors and supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He is also involved with organizations such as the YWAM Homes of Hope Program, Junior Achievement and Habitat for Humanity.

I hope to learn more about DEFENDER's growth and future plans. Stay posted.

Alarm Grid's mission: ‘perfect panel’ for DIY

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Honeywell has released its new LYNX 5200 wireless security system and Alarm Grid DIY Security Solutions, a new Florida company that focuses on helping customers install their own security systems to keep costs affordable, says it is “on a mission to make the L5200 the perfect panel for security system Do-It-Yourselfers.”

It will be interesting to see how much traction Alarm Grid—founded in 2012 and based in Lighthouse Point, Fla., and which offers its customers no-contract central station monitoring—is able to achieve with its DIY approach.

It’s clear the company really likes the new Honeywell panel.

“The L5200 is the sister panel to this year's ISC [West] ‘Best in Intrusion’ winner, the Honeywell L7000, which is expected to be released in the latter half of 2014,” Alarm Grid said in a June 11 news release. “Like the predecessors of these two panels, Honeywell has designed the L5200 to be an integrated system that combines state-of-the art wireless security features such as Advanced Protection Logic (APL) and interactive services that allow an user to control the system from any smart device, with the incredible convenience afforded by modern home automation products.”

Alarm Grid said that with the new panel, “Honeywell has gone far to address many of their consumers' demands, and it's clear that with this panel the company is furthering its commitment to improved user experience. … The Honeywell L5200 comes with more zones of protection, the ability to display a camera on screen, and one of the most exciting developments in Honeywell's technology comes with the announcement that the L5200 is flash upgradeable … which allows the panel to download the latest software updates that have been released for the unit.”

Alarm Grid believes that DIY is the wave of the future and that Honeywell’s new panel is perfect for DIYers. The company says it is making it available to end users through its website.

"Do-It-Yourselfers have really taken up the reins in this industry. These panels are easy to understand, they are simple to program, and they are simple to install," said Joshua Unseth, Alarm Grid's director of marketing, in a prepared statement.

The news release continues: “While the release of a security system like the L5200 would generally mean big money for installers who bank on consumers knowing very little about how these systems work, Alarm Grid has already released the L5200 manuals, they have begun writing L5200 frequently asked questions, and they have even released a L5200 DIY installation video, which they say shows just how simple installing this system yourself can be.”

"We don't think you have to be an experienced DIYer to install a security system," Sterling Donnelly, Alarm Grid president, said in a statement. “… Our goal is to make it easy. For those who want to give it a try, our tech team patiently guides them through every step of the way."

ESX seminar explores new models for customer engagement

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It’s that time of year: ESX is closing in on us, and my schedule for the show is beginning to take form. I’m envisioning a high-energy, well-paced show, with an array of educational sessions geared to new and important topics, and a show floor conducive to getting the skinny on the trends shaping the industry.

I wanted to use this space to draw attention to a seminar I’ll be moderating Tuesday, June 24 at 3:15 titled “Monitoring: A Quality Customer Touch Point.”

I’ll be talking to Mike Bodnar, president of Security Partners, Tom Szell, SVP at ADS, and Brandon Savage, SVP of customer experience and operations at Alarm Capital Alliance / My Alarm Center about the new means of customer engagement brought on by the rise of mobile apps and interactive services, and how those in the industry can leverage these advances to minimize attrition.  

With Nashville roughly ten days away, I encourage folks (particularly those on the monitoring side) to contact me in the days ahead to arrange a meeting on the show floor. Given the structure of the show, and its emphasis on education, I don’t anticipate fodder for conversation being in any short supply. Industry shows like ESX offer a valuable stage not only for discussing initiatives specific to a single business, but also broader trends affecting the industry writ large. I look forward to chatting.

Honeywell’s Harkins transitions to new role

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Honeywell’s Scott Harkins is transitioning to a new role.

Honeywell spokeman David Gottlieb today confirmed that “Scott Harkins has accepted a new role within Honeywell to help develop global growth opportunities within the Connected Home space. He will leave his current post as president of Honeywell Security Products Americas by the end of June.”  

Honeywell Security Group has not yet announced a successor to Harkins. “Honeywell Security Group has a strong leadership team in place committed to delivering for our customers and ensuring a smooth transition while we execute our succession plan. We will share news regarding our new leadership as soon as we finalize this process,” Gottlieb said in a prepared statement.

Harkins joined Honeywell in 1995. Before he was named president of HSPA in December 2011, he oversaw Honeywell’s video surveillance and access control divisions.

I don't know if Harkins' new role will include working with Honeywell's Lyric thermostat, which it launched yesterday. There's been much in the mainstream news today about Honeywell partnering with Apple to "take on" Google's NEST. (Some of these guys do seem to forget that Honeywell HAS been in the thermostat business for a few years.)

Here's a report from Apple Insider And here's a report from Bloomberg, which goes on to talk about the connected home. 

 

 

 

Vivint to shut down new sales center in Washington state

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It was big news last summer when Provo, Utah-based Vivint opened a new 400-employee sales center in Liberty Lake, Wash., suburb of Spokane. But now, barely a year later, Vivint is closing that center, the company says.

Starr Fowler, Vivint's VP of human resources, provided this statement: "It has been a pleasure to be part of the Liberty Lake community, which has hosted one of Vivint’s sales centers for the past year. Due to a reallocation of resources, the Vivint Liberty Lake office will close on June 27, 2014. At that time, all employees are eligible to receive severance, and some employees will be offered the opportunity to relocate to Provo, UT. If of interest, employees are encouraged to apply for other positions with Vivint, and their application will be considered. Vivint remains committed to providing world-class customer service to its more than 800,000 customers across North America.”

It’s not clear exactly why Vivint is reallocating resources away from the center. According to reports from Washington state media, it's also unclear whether Vivint ever reached its planned goal of hiring 400 employees.

The new center was billed as part of the home automation/ home security company’s plan to diversify its sales channel by increasing inside sales. Vivint has been known primarily as a door-knocking company. Vivint has said the Liberty Lake center was its second inside sales center and its first outside of Utah.

Vivint received a $150,000 incentive to open the Liberty Lake center from an economic development fund managed by the Washington governor’s office, according to The Spokesman-Review.

Why the change in plans? I'm going to try to learn more from Vivint execs.

 

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