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.