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IQ Certification and public perceptions about the industry

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Over the course of June and July, fourteen companies renewed their eligibility with IQ Certification, an installation quality certification program for alarm companies. The group of re-certifiers includes COPS Monitoring, based in Williamstown, N.J., Monitoring America Alarm Co-op of Tulsa, Okla., and General Monitoring Services, based in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Founded in 1997, the IQ Certification Program, headquartered in Erie, Pa., is based on one fundamental principle: security systems that are properly designed, professionally installed, feature the best equipment, and are monitored correctly tend to function free of failure or false alarms. A fifth component of a sound security system, according to the website, is providing users with education and training as well. 

To earn IQ Certification, alarm companies must undergo a rigorous evaluation by the IQ Certification Board, which is comprised of law enforcement, fire, state regulatory and insurance industry representatives, the program’s website notes. The certification standards are extensive and specific. The website features a code of ethics and PDFs on program bylaws and polices and guidelines. To become re-certified, companies must demonstrate to the board on an annual basis that they meet the required standards.

The expansion of a program like IQ Certified, first and foremost, reflects the industry’s dual commitment to mitigating flaws, such as false alarms, and making users better attuned to managing their systems. The guidelines expounded on the website also demonstrate a concerted push for cohesiveness and standardization in the interest of quality and functionality.

Interestingly enough, I began learning about the IQ Certification Program mere minutes after reading an opinion piece, published on MSN Money, titled “14 reasons monitored home security isn’t worth it.” The article, while somewhat disconcerting, is nevertheless worth a read, if only because it offers a window into certain non-industry attitudes about home security.

Yes, the opinion piece is critical of monitored systems, often unduly so. The tone is one of exasperation and hyperbole. But few things can better counteract the negative perceptions detailed in this piece than a rigorous, quality-focused program like IQ Certification, an organization aimed at rectifying problems rather than dwelling on them. 

AT&T nears goal of 50 markets for Digital Life

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Monday, August 19, 2013

AT&T just launched Digital Life, its home automation/home security product, this April. But it’s already approaching its goal of expanding into 50 markets by the end of 2013.

The Dallas-based telecom announced today that as of Friday, Aug. 23, it will introduce Digital Life in six more markets: Orlando, Fla.; Providence, R.I.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and the cities of Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse in New York.

That will bring the number of markets for Digital Life to 39, just 11 shy of the company’s year-end goal of 50 new markets.

After successful trials of Digital Life last year in Dallas and Atlanta, AT&T in April launched the service in 15 additional major markets nationwide, ranging from San Francisco to Miami, and has rapidly been adding on other markets.

In July, for example, AT&T introduced the service in Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; San Diego; San Jose, Calif.; and Tampa, Fla.

Digital Life is professionally installed and also professionally monitored by At&T's two monitoring centers, one here and one in Atlanta. In June, the company announced that had received Five Diamond certification from the Central Station Alarm Association for its monitoring capabilities.

Customers can use their existing home broadband provider and any wireless phone service to use Digital Life, the company said.

What's with activist Ackman, ADT, Air Products—and J.C. Penney?

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

OK, there were enough rumors in early July about activist hedge-fund manager William Ackman planning to take a stake in The ADT Corp. that they caused ADT stock to temporarily skyrocket. But it turned out that Ackman instead had his sights set on industrial gas maker Air Products & Chemicals, of which he now is that company’s biggest shareholder, owning 9.8 percent.

But perhaps that’s good a thing for ADT, given the news yesterday that Ackman’s failed two-year effort to remake traditional department store J.C. Penney ended in his exit from Penney’s board. His decision to step down was voluntary but there is speculation his leaving was “under duress,” according to Reuters.

Ackman’s activism and ADT—who knows where that might have led?

Here’s more from Reuters report yesterday on the J.C. Penney dust up:
 

Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman's two-year campaign to transform department store J.C. Penney came to an abrupt end on Tuesday with his decision to step down from the board, after a weeklong public spat with fellow board members.

Ackman's decision to leave comes after a failed two-year attempt by his $11.2 billion hedge fund to remake Penney into an upscale retail chain and a week of public fighting with other board members, including interim CEO Officer Myron (Mike) Ullman.

People close to Ackman and the retailer said his decision to leave the board was necessary for Penney to focus on its operations and continue the search for a new chief executive.

Ackman agreed to step down on Monday night, and the move removes a major distraction as Penney prepares for the holiday season. Some retail analysts said the public feuding threatened to unnerve vendors and lenders.

Penney's shares closed down 3.7 percent at $12.68 on the New York Stock Exchange.

... Ackman's Pershing Square Management Capital Management started buying Penney shares nearly three years ago to the day, paying an average of $22 for 39 million shares. The hedge fund now holds nearly 18 percent of Penney's stock.

If Ackman were to sell them at current prices, he'd lose $356 million, or a 40 percent loss.

 

COPS Monitoring strengthens Southwestern presence

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

More than a year after opening its fifth central station in Dallas, COPS Monitoring continues to enhance its presence in the region. The Williamstown, N.J.-based wholesale monitoring is expanding support of the 8,000-square-foot facility by adding two new account executives, Julie Jordan and T.J. Cornwall. Jordan will manage East Texas and Louisiana, while Cornwall will cover West Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska.

While the account regions are obviously large, covering large swathes of urban and rural areas, the most important dealer markets are likely to be in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, along with some of the other major urban areas of Texas, including Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

David Smith, director of marketing and communication for COPS, said the new additions represent part of the company’s broader “hometown” strategy of providing a personable level of professional service.

“While we can’t be local to every alarm dealer, we do try to select strategic geographic regions to better serve our dealers and to strengthen the reliability of our network of central stations,” Smith said. “By operating regional central stations, we also have the ability to become more involved in local associations and with local dealers so we can better understand how we can help them overcome regional challenges and capitalize on opportunities.”

Because of the sheer sprawl of the Dallas-Fort Worth area (it’s the fourth most populous urban area in the U.S.), Cornwall will manage the Fort Worth dealers, while Jordan will work with Dallas-based accounts. 

Pushing the IP tipping point with sales training

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An announcement from Axis Communications that landed in my inbox this week caught my eye. It's a new “sales essentials" training program, a one-day training program that starts Aug. 27 and will be offered in 40 cities in the U.S. and Canada. It is the first all-sales focused training session the network video provider has offered.

James Marcella, Axis director of technical services, said the session offers attendees the best answer to “Why network video?”

That very basic question is one that a large segment of installers need and want training on, according to installers that Security Systems News spoke to this month for a market trends report on the status of hosted video today.  Look for that report online later this month and in the September printed publication.

I spoke to Marcella and he said: "One thing we’re seeing is that the technology has matured to the point where IP surveillance is now cost effective for small systems and the installer base that serves those small systems is the last to take up IP surveillance,” he said.

For those installers who are just making the leap from analog to IP cameras, “there’s a real learning curve on the technical and the sales side.” The cameras may be “easy to install and configure, but we still need to educate on the sales side.”

The course will address the “video surveillance sales cycle, selling against objection and developing communications strategies that focus on the value of network video to meet the customer’s needs," according to the announcement. The best way to demonstrate network cameras and the benefits of the Axis Channel Partners, “including pre- and post-sales support, vertical market solutions and the complete ecosystem of the Axis partner network.”

The first course will take place in Detroit on Aug. 27. U.S. cities on the tour include: Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle and at Axis headquarters in Chelmsford, Mass. In Canada, training will begin in Toronto on Oct. 2. Other locations in Canada area; Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver.

Marcella said the Axis’ training sessions have evolved over the past decade in response to channel partner requests. Sales training was always part of the training until a couple years ago when integrators really wanted “a deeper dive on the technology side” but then Marcella said, Axis “started to hear that they were missing the sales aspect, that [installers] had new sales people who’ve come on board [who needed training].”

Observations on a surveillance camera discussion forum

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Friday, August 9, 2013

A topic surfaced today on the Security Industry Group’s LinkedIn forum that piqued my interest at first on a particular level, but then on a broader, more general one.

The topic was initiated by a link to an instructional sequence relating how some ne’er-do-well can erect homemade spray paint contraptions to blot out hard-to-reach surveillance cameras, rendering them ineffective. The device appears laughably crude, but that’s not to say it couldn’t achieve its ends. Assembling it requires a hodgepodge of junk, including but not limited to a tree pruner, a bicycle brake bar and a wine bottle opener.

The link was clearly offered as a launching pad for discussion about a potential industry-related problem. It proved instead to be the source of some acrimony. The respondent who posted the link was charged by critics with being irresponsible for disseminating the information and, by extension, aiding the hooligans who might be inclined to undertake in the destruction of surveillance property.

While I might not agree with the criticism, I can see the rationale. The harm in taking part in the transfer of this kind information, so the reasoning goes, ultimately outweighs the good that might result from an open discussion about it. But here’s the thing about the Internet: The information’s already out there. It’s already totally accessible to whomever cares to find it. Another respondent, defending the original poster, correctly pointed this out.

The web is an ambiguous medium. It has the capacity to facilitate the transfer of information both good and bad. But there’s also some danger in merely dismissing a problem on the grounds that doing the opposite—confronting it head-on—could somehow help siphon the information to the wrong people. Speaking only in whispers about a problem could prove even more counterproductive.

At its core the web is a medium that wants to be open, not closed. It wants to include, share, inform, engage, improve, discuss, inquire. From a professional standpoint, industry-based forums like the many on LinkedIn can be a valuable stage for these kinds of discussions. If someone in the industry identifies a problem or vulnerability, what simpler or faster way to get a broad industry perspective on that topic than by crowdsourcing other professionals online? 

‘Arrogant’ McGinn gets 15-year sentence

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It wasn’t the life term prosecutors sought, but 65-year-old security industry investor Timothy McGinn today was sentenced to be in federal prison until he’s 80. McGinn had asked for a more lenient sentence after being convicted earlier this year of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion in a Ponzi-like scheme that caused investors to lose millions. A judge spurned that request, calling McGinn  “arrogant,” news reports say.

David L. Smith, 68, McGinn's former partner in the Albany, N.Y.-based brokerage firm of McGinn, Smith & Co., which conducted dealings in the alarm industry, received a sentence of 10 years. Smith was convicted of the same charges on Feb. 6, but of fewer counts than McGinn. The judge criticized Smith for "going along" with McGinn with no regard for the law, according to an Albany Times Union story on the sentencing.

Here’s more from the Times Union on what happened in court today:
 

"I came up with one word that describes your downfall -- and that word is arrogant," U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd told McGinn.

"You ran your business and you didn't really care about the rules as long as you made money for you and your favorite clients," the judge continued.

… The crimes for which [McGinn and Smith] were convicted carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison. However, the Justice Department said federal sentencing guidelines call for life sentences because of aggravating factors that include the high amount of losses, number of victims and the sophisticated nature of the scheme.

Prosecutors said McGinn and Smith not only defrauded investors but diverted approximately $4.1 million from investment trusts for their own benefit. They said the two created false loan documents, misled investors and lied to federal regulators.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe reject McGinn and Smith's assertions that the collapse of their business was caused by a downturn in the economy not criminal conduct.

… The former brokers' attorneys asked Hurd to sentence their clients to no more than "single-digit" prison sentences for their crimes, according to court documents unsealed last week at the request by the Times Union.

… [McGinn and Smith were indicted by a grand jury in early 2012.] ... [This February] McGinn was convicted on 27 of the 29 counts he faced; Smith on 15 of 28 counts. Both were convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud and failure to file a tax return.

 

Home automation company goes public

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Home automation provider Control4 had a successful IPO on Friday Aug. 2. The company offered 4,000,000 shares of its common stock for $16 per share. The shares began trading on the NASDAQ market.

The share price quickly climbed to $20.70 in what Business Insider called a “stellar IPO. … That gives the 10-year-old, Salt Lake City, Utah, company a valuation of about $446 million. Not bad considering it had 2012 revenues of $109.5 million and posted a loss from operations every year since 2008.”

The stock closed at $21.06 on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

One winner in the deal, Business Insider pointed out, is Cisco, which made an undisclosed $20 million investment in the company in 2011.

Business insider says that Cisco “also signed on to sell a Cisco-branded version of its products and to help Control4 develop new products. … Control4 is part of Cisco's big vision of a brand new tech market called the Internet of Things (although Cisco prefers the term the Internet of Everything). IoT refers to putting all the inanimate objects in your home, office and city on the Internet and making them interactive."

And speaking of the Internet of Things, we had a great panel discussion at TechSec last year about that touched on that topic, and we’ll be doing more on it this year. We’re putting the program together right now. Look for details around ASIS time.

 

New Matrix CEO expanding company presence

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Access control provider Matrix Systems, which in May appointed Holly Tsourides as its new CEO, opened a new sales and marketing office north of Boston in the city of Lowell, Mass. It will serve at the company base for marketing and other strategic initiatives to drive sales, new technology partnerships and customized service options. Matrix has hired two employees to staff the Lowell office, and plans to hire more.

Matrix Systems is headquartered in Miamisburg, Ohio.

In a prepared statement, Tsourides said the new location has "strategic advantages" as the company seeks technology partnerships and recruits talent.  “Suppliers located in the Boston area include some of the industry's best, and we look forward to working alongside them – and with them – to further boost our immediate and long-term business strategies," she said in a statement.
 
In the past several months the company has been focused on "continuing to innovate its products and services."  In June, it "deployed Lean education and methodologies as part of an overall goal to foster a culture of continuous improvement."  It is also adding new "features and functionalities to its Frontier access control software platform and seeking new partnerships to boost the value of its open-standards approach to security. "
 

The value of an IP address

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Monday, August 5, 2013

As promised in my last blog, I’m going to touch on another service discussed in Ken Kirschenbaum’s new technology seminar, held last Friday, that could offer some significant benefits to monitoring companies.

The company, called Keep Your IP, is an IP forwarding service that allows dealers to retain their IP addresses, giving companies the ability to move from one central station to another without sacrificing the value they’ve built within their organization. Davin Roos, president of Keep Your IP, discussed several benefits of maintaining IP continuity. The crucial word? Control.

If, for instance, a dealer wants to partition some accounts, or even sell the entire organization, the fact of selling to a company that uses a different central station can devalue the sale, Roos explained. Having your own IP address (and, by extension, your own server) can help companies avoid incurring costs that result from the man hours required to make necessary changes. Roos added that the company is working with some of the major central stations to bundle packages that feature the service to dealers.

Some additional benefits for dealers include having the luxury to move central stations if a current one is under-performing, greater RMR consistency (especially during times of economic crisis), and the freedom to make changes after a central station switches their Internet service provider. 

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