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How to ride out a (maybe) recession

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008
I thought this blog entry on Paxton Access's site was interesting for a few reasons. First, it's written from a UK perspective, yet just about exactly reflects the situation we're experiencing here in the U.S. Second, it's got all kinds of great British slang (I'm a sucker for UK slang). Third, I think there's actually some decent advice to be had here (I stripped out a lot of the self-serving stuff, which you can imagine for yourself): There are however some ways in which a downturn could be played to the advantage of both security installers and some security manufacturers. These include: Diversify – When business is booming installers are often reluctant to invest in anything other than their core business. The core business for a security installer is not usually access control but more often CCTV or intruder alarm systems. If an installer’s core business slows in a recession then this brings an opportunity to diversify and ‘sell up’. The same customers that require CCTV and intruder alarm systems may also require an access control system. By offering a broader range of products and services to each customer the maximum is made from the relationship. Even once things get back to normal diversification is something that will strengthen an installer’s business. I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think people tend to bunker down in tough times, but that's just counterproductive. Bad times are when you've got to be creative and increase your possible revenue streams. I'm not endorsing Paxton's product line (though I think they make nice stuff and they have a great GUI). I'm just saying they're right about diversification and the rest of their advice isn't bad either. For more on their activities in the U.S., go here. Also, if you can use the term "queuing" in everyday parlance, do so. The world needs more quadphthongs (four vowels in a row).

Ready for the double black diamond?

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Have you security industry travelers tried out the new Black Diamond Self Select lines at airports that allow seasoned travelers (black diamond) to take the fast lane and people who need more time to self-select the slower (green circle) lane? If you’re not an expert traveler, but don’t need extra time, there’s even a special line (blue square) for you. This story from today’s (Kentucky) Courtier-Journal raves about the new line program implemented at Louisville International Airport. My experience with this system is limited. I went through the expert line in Oakland, Calif. in May with my colleague and fellow expert traveler Rhianna Daniels. We sailed through, but it wasn’t much of a test drive since all of the lines were remarkably short. Click here for a map of the 32 airports that currently have black diamond self select program. The map says these lines are at JFK and LaGuardia. Somehow I’ve missed them, or managed to get in the wrong line anyway. What’s your experience in these lines? They appear to be emulating ski areas with the green circle, blue square, black diamond rating system. Do you think they'll eventually have Double Black Diamond lines, where you not only have to be an expert traveler, but fast with your belts and shoes as well?

Credit where it's due

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I often rip on the mainstream media for shanking security industry stories, but this little paper in Canada, the Beacon, did a nice job framing the false-alarm issue, at least on the fire alarm side of things. Not only do they give the issue its due - a solid 1,000 words - but they interview all the major players and never turn it into a hatchet job on the security companies. Sure, false alarms suck for the firemen (especially volunteers) who have to respond to them, but it's hard to pinpoint fault and the article makes that clear. It doesn't start out particularly strongly, though, so bear with it for a while. The first paragraph is brutally cliche, and then we get this winner a couple paragraphs down: The false alarm problem is not limited to the Gander area. At a recent Firefighting convention in Nova Scotia Chief Brett heard similar complaints from departments across the country. Nice transition there! You mean there are false alarm problems outside of the Gander area?!? I totally thought the Gander area was plagued with particularly crappy alarm companies, wonky alarm systems, and dumb alarm system owners! And this paragraph that starts section two isn't all that great either (why was I praising this article again?): Both Chief Brett and Mr. Murphy pointed to monitored security systems as being particularly troublesome. These systems call the local fire department automatically when an alarm goes off. The problem is that the alarms can be triggered by more than just fire. Weak batteries can also set them off. How could false alarms be generated by security/fire systems that aren't monitored? Could the ones we mount at the top of our stairwells just be so loud they can hear them down at the fire station? Also, at this point I'm really hoping they called a security company to ask them a couple questions. Luckily, they did (okay so it was three or four paragraphs later, but they still did it): Kendall Isnor is president of the Atlantic chapter of the Canadian Security Association, an organization which represents security companies. According to Mr. Isnor, batteries shouldn't be the source of false alarms. "If you take the batteries out, it sends a different reporting code than it would if it was a fire," he said. "It would send a trouble signal without dispatch to the fire department, and it would say 'smoke detector, upstairs hallway, not communicating.'" Hah! Take that Brett and Murphy. Ooooh, but Murphy comes back swinging: When monitored alarm systems are used correctly, false alarms can often be avoided. But Mr. Murphy said the alarm companies are more concerned with making money than educating customers. "It's almost like they're going around selling vacumn cleaners ," he said. "At the end of the day they're making a pile of money and it's left to the poor volunteer fire departments then to look after it, and that's wrong." Nice. Always a good idea to play the victim card. I'm actually shedding a tear right now for those volunteer fire guys. Or maybe that's the Golden Rod - the dang flowers get my allergies going every year. I'm thinking it's time for a rejoinder from Ann Lindstrom, ADT PR gal: ADT Systems Inc is one of the largest residential alarm companies in Canada. Ann Lindstrom, director of corporate communications with ADT, said her company educates its customers on the proper use of their alarms systems in several ways. They include pamphlets and an introductory "grace period" that allows users to try out the system without risk of accidentally calling for emergency assistance. Hmmm. Pamphlets. A grace period. I'm not feeling the power of the comeback here. She was probably misquoted. Murphy isn't buying it: People can only be educated when they are willing to learn, and Mr. Murphy said people aren't paying enough attention. Then there's a bunch of stuff about whether we should fine those not-paying-attention people, etc. Like I said, not bad for a mainstream article - the industry gets to make points and the vitriol from the fire department isn't given too much extra play. Also, here's a bonus sidebar of great tips for preventing false alarms: Three ways to prevent false alarms Don't place smoke detectors near the kitchen, bathroom, or anywhere else where steam or dust is likely to accumulate in the detector's chamber. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years of use or earlier. Clean smoke detectors with a vacuum cleaner periodically to get rid of built up dust. So, don't put the smoke detector near the kitchen, where like half of all fire start? Hmm, that seems counterproductive to me. Also, does steam set of smoke detectors? Really? I'm kind of doubting that. Number 2 seems logical. I might even spring for a new detector more often than that. My toaster breaks more often than that. Isn't the third one really the same as number one - i.e. don't let the detector get dusty? How about tips like: Call your alarm company if you set off the smoke detector inadvertently. Have your monitored detector inspected annually. Ask your alarm company if they communicate over IP or radio so that your phone line doesn't get tied up. Those seem like better tips to me. Okay, I take it back. This article basically whiffs. Nice try, though.

Gotta know local laws

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Monday, August 4, 2008
Here's another article highlighting the dangers of non-response policies. In this case, police did not respond to an alarm because the user had not registered the system or paid the $10 fee. The owner ended up responding himself, discovering the thief still inside the building and foolishly locking himself and the thief inside the building until police arrived after he managed to call 911. The owner was a little banged up, but lucky for him, the intruder didn't have a weapon and he was able to out-muscle him. The whole situation is just ridiculous, but brings up an important point for security owners. It's vital that security companies know about local registration policies and inform their customers about them (or heck, even provide the forms to avoid liability). If I was this guy, I would be pretty annoyed at my security company (which the article doesn't mention by name, by the way, which seems like an important fact for the article, but mainstream media prefers the generic term "security company"). After all, the registration policy directly effects the systems that security companies are selling and, frankly, with my end-user hat on, I expect them to know about it. I realize it's probably a huge task to be up-to-date on all these policies, especially for a truly national company, but, honestly, I don't have a lot sympathy, it's just part of doing business in this industry. In today's competitive market there are plenty of other security companies that would gladly take on your disgruntled customers.

Wireless flavors

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Monday, August 4, 2008
So, in my recently posted article about Smartvue, an interesting wireless camera manufacturer that's doing very cool things with peer-to-peer networking, I sort of glossed over exactly what kind of wireless standard Smartvue uses. Martin Renkis, head cheese at Smartvue, sent me the following note: Calling Smartvue wireless is like calling a Porsche GT a car or the Hubble a telescope (maybe not that far) - but 802.11N wireless makes the replacement of wires (both analog AND Ethernet) a reality. The rest of the note was very nice. He wasn't being as much of a dink as that sounds, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, I'll admit that I've never really thought much about the difference between, say, 802.11b and 802.11n. To me, wireless means you don't need wires. I know that there are different throughput rates for different standards, but no integrator has ever expressed to me that one mode of wireless communication was far superior to another when it came to video. So, the article that Martin sent along was pretty interesting. Prepared by Paul DeBeasi at the Burton Group (you can email him yourself at pdebeasi@burtongroup.com), a research firm in Utah, it came to this conclusion: The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11n draft standard, although unfinished, is the beginning of the end for wired Ethernet as the dominant local area network (LAN) access technology in the enterprise. Over the next few years, refinements in system silicon, radio design, network control, wireless security, and power management will significantly improve 802.11n and its successor products to the point where they will begin to erode the switched Ethernet market. That sounds pretty definitive. Somewhere, someone is drawing a cartoon with all of us depicted as Pinocchio-style puppets having our strings/wires cut by the great technology gods in the sky.

More executive moves

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Friday, August 1, 2008
Yesterday, we had news of a Mace CEO coming. Today it's news of a Dedicated Micros CEO going. That's right, Alan Calegari is moving from president and CEO to "non-executive chairman." I don't have a link, but here's the succinct release: DEDICATED MICROS INC. ANNOUNCES CHANGE OF ROLE FOR PRESIDENT AND CEO What's with all the headline yelling lately? Simply capitalizing the first letter of each words isn't enough for people anymore? Chantilly, Va., August 1, 2008 - Dedicated Micros Inc. - part of AD Group - announces that, as of July 1, 2008, its President and CEO, Dr. Alan E. Calegari, has transitioned to a new role as Non-Executive Chairman, providing strategic support to the Executive Team. They really rushed that news out, huh? “We are very grateful to Dr. Calegari for his significant contribution to Dedicated Micros,” said Nigel Petrie, AD Group Chairman. “In this new role he will continue to provide strategic support to the Dedicated Micros Executive Team in the Americas.” I guess they did get two years out of the guy. That's more than Siemens got. Mark Provinsal assumes the role of Executive VP and leader of the DM Inc.’s Executive Team in addition to his role as VP Strategic Marketing and Product Strategy. Provinsal provides the leadership and point of contact for all executive matters until such time as a new President and CEO is appointed. That seems like a lot of jobs for Mark. I guessing he won't be spending much time with the family in the near term. It will be interesting to see who ends up with the top job. I'm thinking they just promote Mark in the end, but maybe not. Hard to say.

Mace hires new CEO (and you probably know him)

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Thursday, July 31, 2008
Big news coming out of the Mace camp today: They've hired Dennis Raefield, who lately came out of retirement to run things for Reach Systems and who's got a resume in the industry as long as my arm (and I've got long arms), to be the new CEO. Their last CEO was not an industry guy (and you may remember what happened to him), so this is a real signal that Mace is serious about their security operations, especially in combination with their hire of Devin Benjamin. No link, but here's the press release: MACE APPOINTS VETERAN SECURITY INDUSTRY EXECUTIVE, DENNIS RAEFIELD, AS ITS NEW PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER I think all-caps is yelling, but I was too lazy to retype that and blogger doesn't have that cool "change case" function that Word and InDesign have. So there. HORSHAM, Pennsylvania – July 31, 2008 - Mace Security International, Inc. today announced the appointment of Dennis Raefield, a veteran security industry executive, as Chief Executive Officer and President of the Company, commencing August 18, 2008. Gerald LaFlamme will continue to serve as the Company’s Interim Chief Executive Officer and President, until Mr. Raefield assumes the offices. Pennsylvania has the coolest town names. AlliedBarton is in King of Prussia. A member of the Board of Directors of Mace since October of 2007, Mr. Raefield is currently President of Reach Systems, Inc., a privately owned manufacturer of security access control systems. He previously served as President of Ademco and Honeywell Access Systems, a division of Honeywell, Inc. and as President of Pinkerton Systems Integration, Inc., a division of Pinkerton. Mr. Raefield will be resigning his position as President of Reach Systems, Inc. on August 15, 2008; effective with his resignation Mr. Raefield will become a director of Reach Systems, Inc. Bummer for Reach, really. They're a young company just starting to gain some momentum and they were psyched to have Dennis on board. Here's the article about his hire there. At the time, the company was called Edge Integration. But, you know, there's some other folks in access control that like the name Edge for some of their stuff, so... “I am honored and excited to join Mace and help lead this fine company in a return to profitability, stable growth, and increased shareholder value,” said Mr. Raefield. “Our goal is to have the Mace name become synonymous with personal and business security, as well as becoming a strong player in digital media marketing. “My first goal will be to raise the top line revenue with quality and profitable products, which has always been the basis for the Mace reputation. I look forward to working with a strong team to achieve these objectives,” he continued. Good to see someone in the press release writing biz actually knows how to use quotation marks correctly when a quote bridges paragraphs. Well done, Mace. In announcing the selection, Company Chairman Jack Mallon said: “Dennis has served on Mace’s Board since October 2007, and he understands the fundamentals and vision of the Company. With his proven experience in leading and growing companies coupled with his knowledge of the Company, the Board of Directors believed he is well qualified to become Mace’s Chief Executive Officer. We look forward to his restoring the Company to profitability and enhancing shareholder value.” Public companies are cool because you can look at all their financials and they can't hide anything, but they're sort of lame because they have to talk like that all the time.

A costly lesson in double checking

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Here's an article that emphasizes how important it is for security and monitoring companies to have good data entry people as well as systems designed to double check information. A woman who had been a loyal ADT customer for four years received a message on her answering machine that her alarm had been activated and police had been dispatched. The only problem? Police never showed up. ADT had the wrong physical address for this woman. But, as the article points out: The company may not have known where to send first responders, but it did know where to send the bills. "I received all my bills here. I had all my contracts that stated 307 [her correct address]. As far as I'm concerned, they had the right contract," she said. I can see her point. If she was receiving bills at the correct address why would she even question that the company had the wrong address listed in their system? I wouldn't. I know managing all this customer information is a major undertaking and ADT is obviously a huge company with hundreds of thousands of customers, but doesn't that mean they would have software or something in place to double check information in their system? Don't most central stations have some sort of means of verifying information like periodic calls, form letters or something? Perhaps I'm being too lofty with my assumptions. I think this article points out how important it is for monitoring companies, big or small, not to lose sight of the business they're in. Because ADT wasn't really protecting this woman's home, they refunded her four years worth of monitoring costs. That's $1,400 of lost revenue and may be pennies for ADT, but could be big bucks for you.

Worst ever reference to the DHS

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Okay, maybe I'm feeling a little salty today, but for some reason I just couldn't let this article pass without comment. Does it have anything to do with security? Um, not really. Actually, it's about protecting your lawn from pests. However, bear with me as far as reading the opening paragraph: Most of us have heard of the Homeland Security Act. This legislation protects us from undercover plots to undermine security at home and abroad. Homeland Security agents watch for subversive influences and seek to stop them in their tracks. Actually, no, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was largely a bureaucratic maneuvering to bring together a number of smaller agencies into one super agency, the newly created Department of Homeland Security. But, whatever. This is a bad lead for an article about protecting your lawn. It just is. I guess I more dislike these next paragraphs: Though not nearly as vital to public security, perhaps it would be nice to have a HomeYard Security Act. These agents would look for threats to the security and health of home yards. If there was a HomeYard Security Act, this might be one of their recent reports: What on earth are "home yards?" In order for this excruciating metaphor to work, there has to be someone in the world who talks about things called home yards. Otherwise the simile Homeland Security is like HomeYard security doesn't really work, does it? I'm not sure why this bothers me so much, but it does. Now let's read the report: Recently, HomeYard Security Agents have uncovered an underground plot to destroy central Georgia lawns! This is a covert action, going on immediately under our feet, though few know about this planned invasion. As you read this communique, two major lawn enemies may be making plans now to destroy area turf in fall 2008 and spring 2009. Investigators have identified two major threats: mole crickets and white grubs. These are recurring security threats. They typically begin their life cycle quietly in May through July with the major lawn damage occurring in the fall and spring. Once they are in major attack mode, they are hard to combat. Ha, ha! That is so incredibly funny! I love it when people take a very serious situation, like people dying in horrible bombing attacks, and use it to waste space in an article about something utterly mundane, like your lawn, that they don't really have anything to say about. Because, of course, these mole crickets and white grubs are totally new things that have never existed before and this article is of vital importance to people everywhere who care about their lawns. You know what would be an appropriate lede (that's journalism spelling) for this story? Having trouble with patchy areas in your lawn? Maybe you've got mole crickets and white grubs. But don't worry, they're pretty easy to get rid of. Here's how. But instead we get 200 words of garbage about HomeYard security. Why? I weep for the state of modern newspapers. You may now return to whatever important thing you were doing.

George Jetson redux

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The inventor of this contraption said he's not sure how it might be used in the future. Couldn't it have some security/fire applications? It's jetpack, like George Jetson's, and it's going to be unveiled today at an airshow in OshKosh, Wisconsin. It's the brainchild of inventor Glenn Martin, who hopes to be selling these this fall for around $100,000 apeice. Here's a NYT piece about the jetpack. The reporter got a chance to try out the rig and here, in part, is how he described the experience: "the jetpack jumped off the ground as if impatient to get moving, scattering a cloud of dirt and grass clippings. With the startling power of its twin rotors and its 200-horsepower engine behind my shoulder blades screaming like an army of leaf blowers, it felt almost as if I were doing the lifting myself, with muscles I did not know I had. It felt like living in the future..." Here's a UTube video of the Martin jetpack. How fun is that? Sign me up for the home security jetpack beta test.

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