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PlateSmart to take LPR to the cloud

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I spoke with John Chigos, CEO of license plate recognition provider PlateSmart, which bills itself as the only “software only LPR solution.”

It’s a newer company that got its start at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. “That was our beta,” Chigos said.

Chigos officially introduced the product to the market in 2013 and it’s now deployed in locations such as the Port of Tamp, Florida hospitals, a large fashion house (for use at its distribution points, in traffic safety monitoring applications, and college campuses.

The 20-employee firm, based in Oldmar, Fla., is privately held. It has “growth equity from [undisclosed] VCs, and will continue to do that until we reach sufficient size to continue growth internally,” Chigos explained.  
 
The company is in growth mode right now, Chigos said, “bringing on additional sales and marketing people as well as increasing our development staff.”

Unlike the LPR “hardware/software solutions,” Chigos said he envisioned an open platform that would work with all kinds of hardware and software. PlateSmart is ONVIF compliant, works with Exacq, OnSSI and other VMS providers and it has relationships with a number of analog and IP camera providers including Pelco, Panasonic, Samsung and Axis.

Chigos says PlateSmart can “use existing equipment and [end users] get more robust analytics.”

Because no hardware is involved, customization is quick, he said.

PlateSmart offers a mobile application, designed for law enforcement, and a fixed-location platform called ARES. The next step will be to offer Platesmart in a cloud-based SaaS form, making it affordable smaller organizations, and also giving installers a new revenue stream.  

In addition, PlateSmart can read “jurisdictional data … it can recognize the state, province or country and provide that data with the plate-read,” which provides more data and accuracy for the end user, he said.

It can also read the color of the vehicle, which can help determine if a car has the correct license plate.

PlateSmart’s basic package is two cameras but it can easily scale to a couple hundred cameras, he said.

What about privacy concerns? Chigos said that “LPR does not provided the information many people believe it provides. Our technology carries out the process of [identifying vehicles of interest] for law enforcement …it’s not for enforcement on the other side of the equation [ie.] who’s running a red light.”

He describes PlateSmart technology as “speeding up the process [of identifying vehicles] that law enforcement and security have done visually for decades.”

Furthermore, he says “we never touch, see, or handle the [license plate] data. Only the end user of the technology can see or act on the data.”

Companies that get involved with LP data, particularly selling that data, are the ones that cause legitimate privacy concerns, he said.

Chigos quoted research group IHS, saying the worldwide market for LPR is estimated to be $600 million today and is projected to grow to $1 billion by 2018.

“Applications for LPR are growing everyday,” Chigos said. “It’s going to be a mainstay of security in this country because it delivers information in real time.”
 

Private equity firm invests in mPERS company

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The PERS market has become somewhat notorious for its lack of acquisition activity, a surprising reality given the demographic trends in America that appear to favor such a market.

Many industry watchers on the private equity side attribute the lack of acquisitions to valuations that have yet to ripen. Some hold that as churn decreases, generating longer average account lives, outside investment is bound to pick up. With greater scale and higher multiples, the acquisitions will follow.

Enter Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners, a Tampa-based private equity firm that recently invested an undisclosed amount in MobileHelp, a mobile PERS provider based in Boca Raton, Fla.,—this according to multiple reports, including an article form the Tampa Business Journal.

Stonehenge summarizes its investment strategy on its website, noting that it typically invests in growth stage businesses and “aims to catalyze rapid growth of companies in up-and-coming markets.” The firm also says its typical investment size is between $1 and $5 million, and that it typically targets companies that have at least $3 million in revenue and are profitable.

Like many investment firms, Stonehenge likes the recurring revenue business model.

No question, then, that MobileHelp fits many of the firm’s ideal investment characteristics. Henry Edmonds, president of The Edmonds Group, an investment bank in St. Louis, said it’s very good news that private equity investors are supporting PERS businesses. He added that it’s unsurprising Stonehenge chose to invest in MobileHelp, which Edmonds characterized as a “leading provider of mobile PERS solutions,” that has distinguished itself in an increasingly competitive market.

“I think we’ll see a lot more of this as people get beyond the early stage and nascent products and once they’ve established a niche in the industry as MobileHelp has done,” Edmonds said. “I think it will be likely that these kinds of companies will attract new capital, because it’s an exciting space.”

He described the PERS and mobile PERS market as “the wild wild west,” in a certain sense, because there are a lot of products currently vying for attention.

“But if you can rise above the fray as MobileHelp has done, it’s a great opportunity because of all the current and expected growth in mobile PERS and mobile security,” Edmonds said.

I’ll be following up on this story in the coming days. I plan to piece together an article about the implications of this investment, bringing together the perspectives of MobileHelp, Stonehenge, and others on the private equity side who’ve been monitoring the PERS valuation market for some time now.

Good news for security companies: Cable Guy’s customer service ratings fall to new lows

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Professional security companies proudly point to the good service they give consumers as an important differentiator between them and their giant cableco and telecom competitors. And a new consumer satisfaction survey suggests they don’t have to worry about losing that edge to the Cable Guy anytime soon—because it shows new dips for Time Warner Cable and Comcast, and AT&T and DIRECTV don’t fare too well, either.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its annual measure of the communications industries this week. The ACSI report measures consumer satisfaction in such categories as Internet service providers (ISPs), subscription TV service, fixed-line and wireless telephone service, computer software and cellphones, according to a news release. Ratings are done on a 100-point scale.

“Customer satisfaction is deteriorating for all of the largest pay TV providers. Viewers are much more dissatisfied with cable TV service than fiber optic and satellite service (60 vs. 68). Though both companies drop in customer satisfaction, DIRECTV (-4 percent) and AT&T (-3 percent) are tied for the lead with ACSI scores of 69. Verizon Communications FiOS (68) and DISH Network (67) follow.”

AT&T’s and DIRECTV’s dips in customer satisfaction are of particular note because I just wrote about how AT&T’s $48.5 billion plan to buy DIRECTV could impact Digital Life—AT&T home security/home automation offering—and the security industry.

Hmmm…a dip in customer satisfaction regarding any part of those companies’ businesses doesn’t seem like a positive—especially if they want to bundle services!

There’s also a $45 billion pending deal for Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable. Both of those companies have home security/home automation offerings but they’re not making customers very happy, at least when it comes to TV and Internet service, according to ACSI.

“Cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable have the most dissatisfied customers. Comcast falls 5 percent to 60, while Time Warner registers the biggest loss and plunges 7 percent to 56, its lowest score to date,” the news release said.

The release also has a prepared statement from David VanAmburg, ACSI director: “Comcast and Time Warner assert their proposed merger will not reduce competition because there is little overlap in their service territories. Still, it's a concern whenever two poor-performing service providers combine operations. ACSI data consistently show that mergers in service industries usually result in lower customer satisfaction, at least in the short term. It's hard to see how combining two negatives will be a positive for consumers.”

Customers also aren’t happy with their Internet service from such providers, according to ACSI.

“High prices, slow data transmission and unreliable service drag satisfaction to record lows, as customers have few alternatives beyond the largest Internet service providers. Customer satisfaction with ISPs drops 3.1 percent to 63, the lowest score in the Index, the release said.

“At an ACSI score of 71,Verizon's FiOS Internet service continues to lead the category, surpassing AT&T, CenturyLink and the aggregate of other smaller broadband providers, all at 65,” according to the release. “Cable-company-controlled ISPs languish at the bottom of the rankings again. Cox Communications is the best of these and stays above the industry average despite a 6 percent fall to 64. Customers rate Comcast (-8 percent to 57) and Time Warner Cable (-14 percent to 54) even lower for Internet service than for their TV service. In both industries, the two providers have the weakest customer satisfaction.”

However, customers are happy with their cellphones. That rating is “up for a second straight year, rising 2.6 percent to a new all-time high ACSI score of 78.”

The release said, “Steady growth in the use of smartphones, which have much higher levels of customer satisfaction, helps drive the overall industry gain. However, as data usage increases, costs to access overloaded networks are high, leaving customer satisfaction with wireless service providers stagnant at an ACSI score of 72.”

ACSI found that, “among wireless phone providers, Verizon Wireless separates from the pack after climbing 3 percent to 75. T-Mobile (69), Sprint (68) and AT&T Mobility (68) are tightly grouped behind. As smartphone adoption continues to grow, network demands increase along with costs to the consumer, each contributing to stagnant customer satisfaction.”

Also interesting were the ACSI POTS ratings. “Customer satisfaction with fixed-line telephone service dips 1.4 percent to an ACSI score of 73, but remains the most satisfying of all types of telecommunications. However, the score is due to shrinking landline usage. As more households abandon fixed-line service for cell phones, the customers that remain tend to be the most satisfied,” the release said.

ADT’s new $25m mPERS partnership to also enhance lead generation

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ADT has invested $25 million in a new partnership with Life360, a provider of location-based services and family networking technology that has more than 33 million customers, ADT announced this week. The partnership is expected to lead to cobranded mPERS solutions and also “provide a valuable lead generation source for ADT,” the company said.

During a discussion of ADT’s disappointing Q1 results earlier this year, CEO Naren Gursahaney cited some “lead generation challenges,” the company had been having and said ADT planned to expand its lead generation activities in response.

On May 13, ADT announced the Life360 partnership, which it said will “enable the development of innovative, cobranded mobile security applications to provide greater safety and security services to families.” According to a news release, ADT is taking a minority ownership stake in the company, “through a $25 million investment, leading a $50 million Series C financing for Life360. The investment forges a mutually beneficial bond for the two companies to work together to advance personal security solutions available to the more than 33 million families who use Life360.”

Arthur Orduña, senior vice president and chief innovation officer for ADT, said the partnership allows ADT to expand security outside the home. “Today, ADT provides security and monitoring solutions for families wherever they are. This partnership with Life360 fits within our innovation strategy to reinvent the idea of ‘security’ for our increasingly mobile lifestyles. It’s a perfect pairing as ADT and Life360 are both leaders in their categories that share a very similar vision and mission – to provide peace of mind to families,” Orduña said in a prepared statement.

The release said the two companies plan to release a new codeveloped mobile application in late 2014. The new mobile app “will integrate features from ADT Chaperone, an existing ‘on-the-go’ personal security offering from ADT. The upcoming mobile application from ADT and Life360 will provide direct access to ADT’s 24/7 monitoring centers that can connect users to police, fire and emergency medical responders,” the release said.

According to Orduña’s statement, “Soon every family will be able to use the app to meet their unique needs, whether it’s providing a chaperone for a child walking home from school and verifying they reached their destination, or knowing to arm the home’s security system when the house is vacant.”

The app will be free. Also, the release said, “and upgraded security features from ADT will be available at a nominal monthly subscription fee.”

Chris Hulls, Life360 founder and chief executive officer, issued a statement saying: “Mobile is at the center of the connected home, and given security is a critical element for today’s families, our integration with ADT offers customers the value of one of the world’s largest security and home automation providers, plus the connectivity of the largest family network.”

 

Kessler examines future of Monitronics

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Good news for Ascent Capital, the parent holding company of Monitronics, according to a recent research report conducted by Imperial Capital’s Jeff Kessler. The takeaway is that the monitoring company’s Q1 2014 earnings—$484 million in revenue, EBITDA of $321 million—were consistent with estimates and the company is “not experiencing impact from the entrance of cable/telcos."

As a result, Imperial Capital is maintaining the outperform rating and one-year price target of $94, about 43 percent above the company’s recent share prices, recorded in the report at $65.80.

The share price is being impacted currently by skittishness surrounding the big new market entrants, referred to as a “false negative perception about the competition from cable/telcos.”

“We believe that Ascent remains fundamentally strong and is not seeing any slowdown as a result of cable/telcos entering the security space,"  the report says.

As far as the new competitive landscape, Kessler believes traditional security companies remain Monitronics’ primary competitors. He also envisions something of a schism taking place between traditional large security companies and the newcomers who established themselves first in other industries.

The former, according to the report, will continue to command their share of business in the market for critical life safety systems, while the latter will bring to market more of a “home services,” lifestyle-focused package. The report said that existing skepticism about the “commitment to service” of the cable/telcos could hinder their ability to gain share from the largest security providers.

Kessler’s report was extremely thorough, full of many fascinating prognostications about not just Monitronics but the industry at large. Needless to say, a lone blog post can hardly do it justice. Here’s a sample sentence from the report that certainly piqued my interest:

“We believe smaller, undercapitalized security companies who do not have the capital to install Alarm.com or iControl wireless interactive systems may face real competitive threats.”

The report also touched on the implications of the enormous advertising budgets of the new market entrants, as well as the positive effects of Monitronics’ acquisition last August of Security Networks.

Avigilon has video analytics news

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

There was lots of video analytics news today.

Avigilon, which acquired VideoIQ at the end of 2013, today came out with the first combined offering of VideoIQ and Avigilon products. Avigilon added Rialto to its portfolio. Rialto has three appliances (for IP, analog and thermal cameras) that will enable end users to add VideoIQ analytics to existing Avigilon or other manufacturers’ cameras. I have a call into Avigilon for more details.

Avigilon's analytics play is a good move according research firm TechNavio which announced today a new report that predicts global intelligent video analytics market will have a compound annual growth rate of 34.12 percent over the period 2013-2018.  

What will drive that growth? TechNavio said it’s the need for sophisticated tools to analyze the “unstructured data" generated by video surveillance systems, as well as increased security concerns.

The other, important driver is the “increasing demand for intelligent video analytics with business intelligence tools,” the report said.

“When operational data is integrated with BI features, companies can generate profits by identifying and implementing profitable projects, increase sales by applying fact-based selling tools, enhance customer loyalty, and retain customers by optimizing customer experience management,” said Faisal Ghaus, VP of TechNavio, in a prepared statement. “Organizations can use IVA solutions combined with BI tools to predict the future behavior of potential and existing customers, which is a major driver for the growth of the market over the forecast period.”

This all made me think about the very excellent educational session at TechSec 2014  “The IP camera of the future,” where there was lots of talk about the crucial nature of video analytics that work.

“The full potential of the business value of security cameras has yet to be realized,” said Ray Coulombe, an entrepreneur and CEO of SecuritySpecifiers.com, who moderated the panel.  “Analytics, big data implementation, and the proper mindset of security practitioners will develop to the point where security cameras, and other devices, will be viewed as a more integral part of the business fabric.”

The vendors involved with the TechNavio report were listed as: Agent Video Intelligence, Axis Communications, Honeywell, Bosch, Cisco. IBM, Infinova, Intellivision, Nice Systems, ObjectVideo, Verint, VideoIQ.

 

Honeywell ads 'Mad Men' worthy

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Honeywell’s recent advertising success is on a scale that would make Mad Men’s superstar adman, Don Draper, envious.

First, the company recently won a coveted Telly Award for a Tuxedo Touch music video that it introduced this past December during the holiday season. Also, it got actor John Slattery—who plays the suave but mercurial Roger Sterling on AMC’s Mad Men television series—to star in a new TV commercial where he demonstrates the voice control capabilities of Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostat.

The Telly Awards were founded in 1978 and honor the best and most innovative in film and video productions, web commercials, videos and films, and local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs. Now, Honeywell recently announced, it has won a Silver Telly Award for the music video featuring Tuxedo Touch.

I blogged about that video, for which Honeywell actually commissioned a Nashville band, Telecommunicators, to create an original song, “You’re My Heart.”

In a recent post on Honeywell's The Security Channel blog, David Gottlieb, Honeywell Security’s global marketing communications leader, gave special thanks to the Telecommunicators “for the great song” that helped to win the award.

And check out the new TV spot featuring Slattery and the Wi-Fi thermostat. The theme of the spot is that the future is already here—with Honeywell.

The actor, sitting on a couch in a living room, talks about how voice control is the future. He says the word “beer,” and a pint glass appears on his coffee table. He says “dog,” and an instant pet appears on the couch next to him.

Then Slattery says, “Impossible? Maybe, but Honeywell’s latest innovation gives me hope.” Then he tells his thermostat he’s too hot, so it lowers the temperature in the room.

The ad has already aired on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and, what with Slattery’s Mad Men fame and the intriguing content, is sure to catch the eyes of viewers. And who knows … is another Telly Award in Honeywell’s future?

Video verification: a residential service?

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Video verification in the residential market—it was a topic that surfaced in some of the PPVAR panels I attended at TechSec, though the discussion had been picking up momentum well before that.

It really seemed to pick up last August, when Honeywell Security announced it was joining the membership ranks of PPVAR, a move that some saw as a sign of the “mainstreaming” of video verification.

That seemed to be the gist of Scott Harkins (president of Honeywell Security Products Americas) words in the prepared statement released at the time, in which he said Honeywell recognized that “video verification is an important product category as we look to the future of security.”

Harkins, who was a panelist at one of the PPVAR sessions at ISC West, for the most part reiterated that sense of optimism, saying there was indeed potential for video verification in the residential space. He did however add the caveat that, from Honeywell’s perspective, bringing the technology into the mainstream had to be done in a way that keeps such systems affordable to a mass residential market.

Keith Jentoft, president at Videofied - RSI Video Technologies and an industry liaison for PPVAR, has given me some leads in recent weeks about a few monitoring companies that are striving to fulfill the vision put forth by Harkins (EMERgency24, based in Des Plaines, Ill., is one of a few he’s mentioned).

In the days and weeks ahead, I plan to explore how some of these companies are taking video verification to a broader residential market, zeroing in on the strategies that have worked as well as the challenges. 

Women and security technology

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I’m here at PSA-TEC in Westminster, Colo., where today I had a chance to catch up with Christine Lanning, president of systems integration firm IST.

Christine and her husband Andrew (CEO) founded IST, a PSA Security owner, in 1998. Here’s a story I wrote about the company a couple years ago.  This year, Christine was honored as one of this year’s Women’s Security Council 2014 Women of the Year.

IST just finished moving its headquarters to a new facility that they own, (and saving 30 percent owning rather than leasing, thanks mostly to favorable conditions for an SBA loan.)

It was a year-long transition for IST to deal with permits and build out the new headquarters. “That meant we were without a demo or training space [in house] for a year,” she said.

Christine said they didn’t realize how much they missed having those capabilities in house, for business and training, of course, but also because she’s a techy.

I asked Christine why she got interested in technology.

Her interest started early. Technology was something that was promoted and valued in her home as a child, she said. “Our weekend jaunts were to Radio Shack where we’d get circuit boards to solder LED lights to.”

In high school Christine was the only girl in an elective electronics class.

Christine has an undergraduate degree in business and a Master’s degree in IT. At grad school in Hawaii, she was one of three women out of 50 students in the class.

Christine met Andrew when they were both working at an alarm company in Hawaii. They left that alarm company to start IST. Christine ran the business side, until as the company grew, it became clear that the company techs didn’t understand IT—a necessity for IST, which always did systems integration. “In 2004, I took over operations. I still ran administration and accounting, but I was really pushing that IT knowledge to the staff."

She’d sit the staff down for “lunch and learns" regularly. “I’d have discussions with the staff about IT: What does ARP mean? Trace RT? How do you ping a device? We had conversations about how to do things.”

And she’d go out in the field and teach techs to mount cameras, program devices in the field, patch systems, configure servers.

Is her teaching style different from a guy tech? Perhaps. She describes her approach as collaborative. She may be the boss, but “what I’ve found is that people really respond when you talk to them as a peer.”

As I’ve written many times in this space, there’s a dearth of women in the security industry, but only a small percentage of the women in security have either a technical role or work closely with technicians and engineers. That may be starting to change however. Women are beginning to be welcomed—even recruited—into those roles, at least among the smartest integrators.

While Christine and I were talking in the lobby of the Westin Westminster, we saw Bethany Taylor, who I learned from Christine, is the director of operations for Dakota Security. She oversees the engineering group at Dakota. And, after the interview I ran into Kirsten Klokis, who works for Northland Control Systems. Kirsten came to Northland out of college and is learning all aspects of the business, including spending time in the field with the technicians.

SIA is actively working to get young people interested in technical entry level jobs in the security industry. It's launching a security degree program at a community college in New Jersey next year. And, SIA, ISC West and the Women's Security Council are creating a scholarship for a woman to attend the college program. Here's that story. Asked where else the industry should look for women who may be interested in security, Christine Lanning suggested women with a military background.

"They have great training, understand structure, and are used to working in a male-dominated environment," she said.

ESA takes to the Hill

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ESA just wrapped up its annual Day on Capitol Hill, bringing to the attention of lawmakers several topics of consequence for the security industry, including school security.

The ESA has positioned itself as a partner with Security Industry Association in developing a comprehensive guide to help end users and legislators better understand what electronic security technologies they have at their disposal to bolster school security.

“Most school districts don’t know what type of security to install, and many legislators don’t understand all the technology that’s out there and what exists,” said Daniel Gelinas, who attended the event in his capacity as government liaison for Rapid Response Monitoring. ESA’s Electronic Security Guidelines for Schools, he said, were designed as an authoritative resource to address that knowledge gap.  

The timing of the school security guide is especially good, in light of the latest appropriations act cleared by Congress in January, which contains $75 million in funding for assessing methods to improve school security.

But ESA’s activities on the Hill weren’t limited just to school security matters. The association and industry members are also pushing for expanding the industry’s access to the FBI’s background check database, allowing security companies to better vet their employees for prior criminal activity.

Gelinas said the pair of bills addressing this (one in the House, another in the Senate) would not be a mandate. Rather, if enacted, they would allow security companies in the 26 states without the licensing requirement for the database to access it.

The organization was also in the Capitol promoting funding measures that would protect against elderly abuse through expanded use of video surveillance in nursing homes. Gelinas noted that this would not be a mandate for health care facilities, but would instead give concerned families the option to use electronic security systems to ensure that elderly relatives are getting proper medication and care.

The final area of focus for ESA was getting Congress to back a balanced approach for smoke alarms and other early fire detection systems, putting them on “the same footing as sprinklers” when it comes to receiving tax incentives and government grants, Gelinas said. That would involve amending the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act to include life safety, fire and smoke alarms.

I plan to give more space to this final issue, and some of the aforementioned ones, in an upcoming legislative roundup.

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