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Positive summer-sales model story

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I'm telling you every single day I read stories from all over the country detailing complaints about summer-sales-model companies and their sales people run-amok. Some of this is to be expected, given the hundreds of college kids that are dispatched around the country to sell these systems. Though, I can tell you that there are way more stories this summer than last summer. So here's some bonifide news on that front. No, it's not another chipper local television new reporter investigating complaints of a door-to-door alarm scam, nothing like that. Sam actually found a positive story about one of the summer-model companies, the big grand-daddy of them all, Apx Alarm. Apx is the biggest and most well established of the summer-model companies, and they've made big strides in getting good press over the past couple of years. Don't know if one of their guys pitched this story to the local Moorhead, Minnesota TV station or not. Might be something they and other companies might want to do in communities where they feel they're having a positive impact on families. Here' the story.

Say you wanted to build...

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I've discovered this new site, www.embedded.com, which is for hard-core dork engineers who are tasked with building things for OEMs. Some of it's way over my head, but it offers interesting insight into how products come to market. Anyway, I came across today an interesting piece on building a cheap, wide-dynamic-range camera. It might be worth a read as it takes the curtain away from some of the product that's out there on the market. I won't go through the whole thing, but what's interesting to me is that some things taken for granted as difficult in the security industry sure seem easy for this guy. Like megapixel, for example:
These attributes dictate the use of a low-cost image sensor. While the latest consumer cameras boast image sensors with more than 10Mpixels, this design can use a device with as few as 1Mpixels. Such devices are available at very low cost, thanks to the proliferation of image sensors in mobile phones and vehicles.
As few as 1 megapixel?!?! That's practically high-def, man! How are you gonna deal with all that bandwidth?!?!? The article then proceeds to make all kinds of image-capture problems seem ho-hum. I'm sure it's all more difficult than this, and there are very important security considerations he's missing (and I'm missing), but it's interesting to see someone from outside the industry consider questions the people inside it struggle with from time to time.

What does 'stable' mean?

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I'm working hard right now on a software special report - I've got some 8,000+ words of notes already - and it's shaping up to be a look at what it means for software companies to really be "stable" and "reliable." Of course, these are terms thrown around all the time by software manufacturers. Who's going to say they're NOT stable or reliable? But they appeared on face value to be pretty empty terms. How do you measure stability? I hear people throw around the term "five-nines," but how many of them actually have some sort of documentation that shows five-nines reliability? But I'm starting to uncover some metrics that companies use internally that make some sense and you should be asking about as a reseller: What percentage of customers make use of customer support in a given month? This doesn't necessarily speak to reliability and stability, as many customer support calls are because of user error or a reseller who's still unfamiliar with the product, but if a high percentage of customers are calling customer support on a regular basis, that's not good. You can also ask what the ratio of customer support staff to customers is - a high ratio can be a good thing, showing they're committed to customer support, but if all those people are busy all the time, it might make you wonder. Following on that, too, is: What percentage of customer support calls get elevated to the engineering team? Basically, how many of those calls are actually due to a user-discovered error in the software? If this percentage is high, that definitely speaks to unreliability. There simply shouldn't be that many problems that engineering needs to fix or issue an emergency patch for. If there are lots of patches being issue on an unscheduled basis, that's a problem. Because you know the first call is likely to be to you and you'll be rolling a truck way more often than you'd like. How many square feet is your test lab/What's your testing lab look like? Sure, beta tests in the field are great, but there should be rigorous testing done in the lab before it even gets to beta. You should see a big area and lots of actual product that the software is actually running alongside: cameras, readers, etc. If all of the testing is done through simulation, that's a problem - real world testing is vital. Really, if they're working often with video or panels that drive outdoor gates and the like, the company should have an outdoor test bed as well so that environmental factors can be considered. Further, you could ask: What's the ratio of money spent on development to the money spent on testing? Essentially, if all of the money is being spent on development, that's not a sign of a mature product, and you should wonder how reliable the end product is going to be. I had some manufacturers say to me that testing spend should be at least double development spend. But I think that's only fair for more established companies. If it's a young company still building out its feature set, it seems unreasonable to expect them to double that on testing. But maybe not, if you want the software to actually work. And, finally, though this isn't a metric: Who are some customers who can speak to the stability of your software? Perhaps this is a no-brainer, and maybe it should go without saying that if a company doesn't have a customer who's raving about their software then you should run away, but it's something to make sure you don't forget. Go and talk to integrators who've installed the software and go and talk to the end users who are using it. If neither is happy, neither will you be. Anyway, that's a start - I'll have a more robust report on this in about a week. Feel free to make notes in the comments about other questions that should be asked of software manufacturers as you're consider partnering with them or becoming a reseller.

RIF at ADT helped balance sheet

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Monday, August 3, 2009
ADT's parent company, Tyco International, reported its Q3 earnings last week. Click here for a look at the press release. According to Bloomberg, cost and workforce reductions, which took place at ADT and elsewhere are having the intended effect. Here's their story From the story:
The company, [Tyco] which is run from New Jersey, pledged to reduce costs by $200 million during the 2009 fiscal year as the global recession hurts demand for its products. The company has cut its workforce by 5,000 this year, Chief Executive Officer Ed Breen said in May. Most of the cost reductions were at ADT, which pulled out of some less profitable regions. “We are actively addressing our cost structure through both restructuring activities and tighter cost management, and these efforts were reflected in our margins,” Breen told investors on a conference call today. Tyco International rose 84 cents or 2.9 percent, to $29.64 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares increased 37 percent this year.
Here's a story I wrote about cost reductions at ADT in April.

Protection Bureau announces 2009 scholarship award winners

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Monday, August 3, 2009
I just got a press release from The Protection Bureau. They've announced the recipients of the company's scholarships for the children of current Protection Bureau employees. This years recipients included: Michael Lynch, Heather High, Brandon Canty, Brendan Lynch, Faith Handley, Lindsay Urban, and Charles Lynch. The Protection Bureau's Keith M. Ladd passed away earlier this year. The Education Fund was established by Keith and his wife, Protection Bureau co-owner and CEO Mary Ladd, in 2005. Here's the release:
Exton, Pa.—The Protection Bureau Awarded scholarships for 2009 to the children of its employees. This was a bittersweet event since Mary Ladd, CEO made the presentation without co-owner Keith Ladd who passed away earlier this year. In light of the tenuous economic condition of the world today, the company is very proud to be able to provide this program to help this generation further their education. This is the fifth year that these awards have been distributed. The Education Fund was established by Keith and Mary Ladd, owners of The Protection Bureau in 2005 for the benefit of children of current employees who enroll in formal programs for post-high school education. “This project was one that was close to Keith’s heart. I know this is what he would have wanted and I’m very happy to be able to continue it,” stated Mary Ladd. Initially, an anticipated distribution of four awards per year (up to $1,000 each) were planned. Recipients are selected each June for the ensuing school year and these awards help to defray the costs of tuition and/or books. This year seven scholarships were distributed to families in the office for students attending local colleges and universities. A panel of three independent judges received the unopened applications and made the decision with no input from the company other than to verify eligibility of the applicant. These awards are entirely outside the control or influence of company management.
Congrats to all recipients.

Johns Brothers: On the ball

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Monday, August 3, 2009
I had never heard of Johns Brothers Security until they contacted me last week about sponsoring a youth baseball tournament, but, then, I guess that's the point. Sure, you sponsor these things because you like baseball and kids and whatnot, but really the point is to raise your profile a bit. I'm surprised more companies don't do things like this, and I don't mean the Brink's, er, Broadviews, and the ADTs of the world. I fairly rarely see security companies sponsoring these kinds of feel-good community efforts, even though they're pretty much no brainers: security companies keep people safe, and what's more important to community building than everyone feeling safe? Good for Johns Brothers, but it seems like we should have been paying way more attention to them anyway. They've got a really nice web site, for one thing, so they're on board with marketing in the Web era, but they've also been around since 1892, apparently, so it's not like they're a start-up. If you're doing things like this, send me the information. Maybe not a story for the paper, but good information to have on hand nonetheless.

CSAA Fall Ops Seminar offering CEUs... Also, I've finally posted those vids from last year!

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Friday, July 31, 2009
I got my latest edition of CSAA's Signals a couple days ago. It looks CSAA is now offering CEUs to attendees of its Fall Operations Management Seminar this year. That's exciting news for anyone wanting or needing to get credentialed. SIA's also bolstering their summer course offerings. I cover the two associations' education efforts in an SSN Newswire story here. I had a chance to visit last year's Fall Operations Management Seminar in Peabody, Mass. and was impressed with the participation of attendees. Actually, I took some video footage there that fell through the cracks as ssnTVnews was getting off the ground. I've decided to post those brief interviews in this blog. Enjoy! (Ps. I apologize for the shoddy quality of these vids, which were shot before SSN got it's slick in-office studio complete with (somewhat) high-end recording equipment and crack production team... The following vids are the product of me standing there with a cheap camcorder.) Greg Berry Seacoast Security Loretta DiVincenzo (Check out the August issue of SSN for Five Questions with Loretta). Gillmore Security Systems Steve Dumont Graham Alarm Monitoring Morgan Hertel (then at The Command Center) Mace CSSS Karl Ide Diebold Pam Petrow Vector Security

Mace to buy into access control in 60 days?

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Thursday, July 30, 2009
That's what Mace president of security products John O'Leary says in an interview here. Anybody you know that's for sale?

Siemens bidding for Nortel's enterprise biz

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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

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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?

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