Subscribe to

Blogs

Privacy and the connected home

 - 
Wednesday, June 18, 2014

One of the most visible illustrations of the Internet of Things movement, the connected home continues to open up an expanding world of RMR possibilities for the security industry. But according to a recent CNN Money report, it’s also opening up some new and murky legal terrain that, like many Internet-related matters, raises fundamental questions about privacy and information rights.

The headline is as blunt as it is Orwellian: “Cops can access your connected home.” While the article references smart home technology writ large, the piece mostly focuses on the video aspect of the connected home and the potential for cameras to generate footage that could someday be used in legal proceedings.

In the article, Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst from the American Civil Liberties Union, is quoted as saying, “We’re seeing law enforcement across a variety of areas arguing that they should be able to access information with lower standards than before the electronic age.”

The source also notes that information from the home can provide a “window into the things you’re doing in your private space.”

Still, authorities cannot get their hands on such footage without a warrant or subpoena, as the article notes. A judge authorizes a warrant when the prosecutors show “probable cause” that evidence exists that could be linked to criminal activity. Subpoenas, however, have a somewhat looser standard, requiring only that the data being sought is relevant to a given investigation.

Security companies offering interactive services are typically very sensitive to the notion that customers have lingering concerns about privacy. Andy Stadler, division manager, advanced services, at Security Partners, illustrated that awareness in our conversation a few weeks ago about the company’s recent adoption of Alarm.com’s new video verified alarm service. During the development phase, he said, Security Partners and Alarm.com took pains to erect privacy measures that would perform the dual task of giving central stations the information they need without infringing on the customer's privacy.

This left me wondering: With home automation offerings so widespread, could the implementation of more robust and consumer-friendly privacy measures emerge as a real differentiator? Are the more tech-savvy, privacy-conscious consumers going to start asking companies how long they store footage on their servers? Are they going to ask how and why authorities might access data generated in their homes? Are they going to ask about what cyber security measures are being put in place to thwart hacks?

This will be a fascinating industry topic to watch on several levels. At the business level, it could just be that the companies most attentive to privacy protections will view public skepticism as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

Leading ADT dealer has new president

 - 
Monday, June 16, 2014

In 2013, there was a restructuring at the top of DEFENDER Direct, with CEO and president Marcia Barnes exiting and company founder David Lindsey stepping in to take her place. Now, the company announced today, it has a new president, and it’s a promotion from within.

Lindsey is passing the mantle of president to Jim Boyce, the company’s chief operating officer for almost three years. Boyce will also retain his COO title. His leadership has helped the Indianapolis-based company to grow dramatically, according to a June 16 news release.

DEFENDER bills itself as ADT’s only authorized Premier Provider. In business since 1998, the company employs more than 2,000 individuals in 48 states with over 143 branch offices nationwide.

Boyce actually joined DEFENDER’s Board of Advisors in 2009 and became the company’s COO in October 2011. Prior to joining DEFENDER, Boyce served on the executive teams at two large, global businesses, Convergys and Procter & Gamble, the news release said.

As president, Boyce will lead all day-to-day company operations, including overseeing DEFENDER’s Business Improvement Team, which includes key leaders from around the business who collaborate to achieve organizational alignment and continued success, the release said.

“In his time at DEFENDER, Jim has done an amazing job leading our security business. Key components of our business have dramatically grown and improved under Jim’s leadership,” Lindsey said, in a prepared statement.

In his own statement, Boyce said, “I am pleased with the success we are having and am incredibly optimistic about the future for this healthy, growing and inspired company. We have lightning in a bottle!”

Boyce is active in charitable work, according to the news release. He currently serves on the United Way of Central Indiana Board of Advisors and supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He is also involved with organizations such as the YWAM Homes of Hope Program, Junior Achievement and Habitat for Humanity.

I hope to learn more about DEFENDER's growth and future plans. Stay posted.

Alarm Grid's mission: ‘perfect panel’ for DIY

 - 
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Honeywell has released its new LYNX 5200 wireless security system and Alarm Grid DIY Security Solutions, a new Florida company that focuses on helping customers install their own security systems to keep costs affordable, says it is “on a mission to make the L5200 the perfect panel for security system Do-It-Yourselfers.”

It will be interesting to see how much traction Alarm Grid—founded in 2012 and based in Lighthouse Point, Fla., and which offers its customers no-contract central station monitoring—is able to achieve with its DIY approach.

It’s clear the company really likes the new Honeywell panel.

“The L5200 is the sister panel to this year's ISC [West] ‘Best in Intrusion’ winner, the Honeywell L7000, which is expected to be released in the latter half of 2014,” Alarm Grid said in a June 11 news release. “Like the predecessors of these two panels, Honeywell has designed the L5200 to be an integrated system that combines state-of-the art wireless security features such as Advanced Protection Logic (APL) and interactive services that allow an user to control the system from any smart device, with the incredible convenience afforded by modern home automation products.”

Alarm Grid said that with the new panel, “Honeywell has gone far to address many of their consumers' demands, and it's clear that with this panel the company is furthering its commitment to improved user experience. … The Honeywell L5200 comes with more zones of protection, the ability to display a camera on screen, and one of the most exciting developments in Honeywell's technology comes with the announcement that the L5200 is flash upgradeable … which allows the panel to download the latest software updates that have been released for the unit.”

Alarm Grid believes that DIY is the wave of the future and that Honeywell’s new panel is perfect for DIYers. The company says it is making it available to end users through its website.

"Do-It-Yourselfers have really taken up the reins in this industry. These panels are easy to understand, they are simple to program, and they are simple to install," said Joshua Unseth, Alarm Grid's director of marketing, in a prepared statement.

The news release continues: “While the release of a security system like the L5200 would generally mean big money for installers who bank on consumers knowing very little about how these systems work, Alarm Grid has already released the L5200 manuals, they have begun writing L5200 frequently asked questions, and they have even released a L5200 DIY installation video, which they say shows just how simple installing this system yourself can be.”

"We don't think you have to be an experienced DIYer to install a security system," Sterling Donnelly, Alarm Grid president, said in a statement. “… Our goal is to make it easy. For those who want to give it a try, our tech team patiently guides them through every step of the way."

ESX seminar explores new models for customer engagement

 - 
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It’s that time of year: ESX is closing in on us, and my schedule for the show is beginning to take form. I’m envisioning a high-energy, well-paced show, with an array of educational sessions geared to new and important topics, and a show floor conducive to getting the skinny on the trends shaping the industry.

I wanted to use this space to draw attention to a seminar I’ll be moderating Tuesday, June 24 at 3:15 titled “Monitoring: A Quality Customer Touch Point.”

I’ll be talking to Mike Bodnar, president of Security Partners, Tom Szell, SVP at ADS, and Brandon Savage, SVP of customer experience and operations at Alarm Capital Alliance / My Alarm Center about the new means of customer engagement brought on by the rise of mobile apps and interactive services, and how those in the industry can leverage these advances to minimize attrition.  

With Nashville roughly ten days away, I encourage folks (particularly those on the monitoring side) to contact me in the days ahead to arrange a meeting on the show floor. Given the structure of the show, and its emphasis on education, I don’t anticipate fodder for conversation being in any short supply. Industry shows like ESX offer a valuable stage not only for discussing initiatives specific to a single business, but also broader trends affecting the industry writ large. I look forward to chatting.

Honeywell’s Harkins transitions to new role

 - 
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Honeywell’s Scott Harkins is transitioning to a new role.

Honeywell spokeman David Gottlieb today confirmed that “Scott Harkins has accepted a new role within Honeywell to help develop global growth opportunities within the Connected Home space. He will leave his current post as president of Honeywell Security Products Americas by the end of June.”  

Honeywell Security Group has not yet announced a successor to Harkins. “Honeywell Security Group has a strong leadership team in place committed to delivering for our customers and ensuring a smooth transition while we execute our succession plan. We will share news regarding our new leadership as soon as we finalize this process,” Gottlieb said in a prepared statement.

Harkins joined Honeywell in 1995. Before he was named president of HSPA in December 2011, he oversaw Honeywell’s video surveillance and access control divisions.

I don't know if Harkins' new role will include working with Honeywell's Lyric thermostat, which it launched yesterday. There's been much in the mainstream news today about Honeywell partnering with Apple to "take on" Google's NEST. (Some of these guys do seem to forget that Honeywell HAS been in the thermostat business for a few years.)

Here's a report from Apple Insider And here's a report from Bloomberg, which goes on to talk about the connected home. 

 

 

 

Vivint to shut down new sales center in Washington state

 - 
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It was big news last summer when Provo, Utah-based Vivint opened a new 400-employee sales center in Liberty Lake, Wash., suburb of Spokane. But now, barely a year later, Vivint is closing that center, the company says.

Starr Fowler, Vivint's VP of human resources, provided this statement: "It has been a pleasure to be part of the Liberty Lake community, which has hosted one of Vivint’s sales centers for the past year. Due to a reallocation of resources, the Vivint Liberty Lake office will close on June 27, 2014. At that time, all employees are eligible to receive severance, and some employees will be offered the opportunity to relocate to Provo, UT. If of interest, employees are encouraged to apply for other positions with Vivint, and their application will be considered. Vivint remains committed to providing world-class customer service to its more than 800,000 customers across North America.”

It’s not clear exactly why Vivint is reallocating resources away from the center. According to reports from Washington state media, it's also unclear whether Vivint ever reached its planned goal of hiring 400 employees.

The new center was billed as part of the home automation/ home security company’s plan to diversify its sales channel by increasing inside sales. Vivint has been known primarily as a door-knocking company. Vivint has said the Liberty Lake center was its second inside sales center and its first outside of Utah.

Vivint received a $150,000 incentive to open the Liberty Lake center from an economic development fund managed by the Washington governor’s office, according to The Spokesman-Review.

Why the change in plans? I'm going to try to learn more from Vivint execs.

 

Securitas gets into electronic security; Iverify doubles in size

 - 
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In two separate, but related transactions, Securitas is getting into electronic security and Iverify is nearly doubling in size and adding new capabilities.

Guarding giant Securitas is making a concerted move into electronic security and “integrated guarding” with the purchase, announced June 2, of a 24 percent stake in remote monitoring firm Iverify. In a related move also announced Monday, Iverify bought 100 percent of the shares of commercial security and fire company TransAlarm.
 
Iverify is the Charlotte, N.C.-based full-service security company noted for its “high-touch remote security monitoring” offering. Sean Forrest recently joined the company as its CEO.

Securitas has offered  Iverify services to some of its customers for the past couple of years, Jim McNulty, EVP of Securitas USA told me. “We liked what we saw,” he said.

“We had our toe in the pool, now we’re jumping into the pool,” he said. Using Iverify, Securitas plans to roll out “integrated guarding services” across the country.  Integrated guarding is a mix of traditional guarding, mobile and remote monitoring services.  Securitas has 100,000 employees, 400 offices and does $3 billion in revenue annually.

This will update Securitas' offering, McNulty said, so it can "leverage traditional onsite guarding with mobile and remote services—to give customers a more efficient and higher value security offering."

In the second transaction, Iverify bought TransAlarm, which is based in Burnsville, Minn., just outside the Twin Cities. Now, with the goal of really boosting their national accounts business, the two companies are merging. Sean Forrest will be CEO of the combined company and current Trans Alarm CEO, Steve Champeau will become president.

Trans Alarm has 120 employees, combined with Iverify, there will be more than 300 employees. 

Like Iverify, Trans Alarm has a UL-listed 5 diamond certified central station. It has branch offices in Nebraska, Northern Wisconsin and Wyoming. It also has deeper capabilities in traditional security offerings such as intrusion, access control, CCTV than Iverify. On top of that, it has a network of installers located across the U.S. What it does not have, Forrest told me, “is the high touch remote video security monitoring that Iverify has. Conversely, Iverify didn’t offer the other services in a big way and didn’t offer fire at all.”

“This gives us a full spectrum to offer customers and significantly improves what we have to offer. The commonality between the two companies is that we’re both very customer-service focused,” Forrest said.

While Iverify bought 100 percent share of Trans Alarm, this is a merger of the two companies both Forrest and Champeau told me.

“We’re going to become one company. That’s a key step for us,” Forrest said. Sales and service will be cross-trained and “both companies will focus on a single point of contact, rather than branch delivery [approach taken by other companies],” Forrest said. This is not a fold-in purchase, he said. All offices and operations will be retained.

Forrest declined to give revenue or RMR figures. He did say: “Both companies have been growing at a rapid rate and we expect, on a combined basis, that that growth will be accelerated.”

Both Iverify and Trans Alarm have customers in the national retail, property management and transportation verticals.

Champeau said said that Trans Alarm has sold and installed Iverify technology even before the deal was announced. He looks forward to “getting into additional markets that we haven’t pursued previously [with the Iverify technology].”

McNulty is equally excited about the capabilities of the combined companies, noting that “they complement each other. Their combined offering will be a “good vehicle [for Securitas] to further the whole idea of integrated guarding.” He likes the fact that the combined company will have redundant monitoring capabilities. He is also excited about the “vetted, capable, trained and qualified installers that Trans Alarm brings.”

The offering of integrated guard services will be a “company-wide effort. … We’re going to roll it out all over the place.”

Securitas put this together this venture with Driehaus Private Equity, the majority owner of IVerify since 2006. Driehaus is a co-investor with Securitas in the deal. The PrivateBank provided Iverify with debt financing. Raymond James & Associate advised Trans Alarm.

Toronto police considering non-response

 - 
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Toronto, the largest city in Canada, is mulling the possibility of not responding to private alarms, citing a false alarm rate that looks bad even within that context.

According to a report from the Toronto Star, just 300 of the 20,000 private alarm calls Toronto police responded to in 2012 turned out to be legitimate. As a result, an internal police steering committee is reviewing the cost-savings that could be reaped by scaling back on alarm response (among other services), the report said.  

By doing so, the committee estimates the police force could realize $613,222 in savings, according to the report. That amounts to 10,960 officer hours.

Additionally, the committee recommended police stop taking reports on lost or stolen property whose value does not exceed $500.

From a law enforcement perspective, it’s sensible to do away with writing redundant reports for lost property, particularly when other institutions are better suited to deal with such events. But what could a non-response policy portend for alarm companies who would then have to provide private response services themselves? Not only do companies stand to incur the costs associated with this; they also stand to lose what many in the industry view as the most vital element of the value proposition of an alarm system—the guarantee of police response in the event of a legitimate alarm.  

False alarms (and what to do about them) remain among the most polarizing issues in the alarm industry today. It continues to define, and sometimes roil, the relationship between private alarm companies and law enforcement.

So what’s can be done? The theories about how to mitigate false alarms tend to diverge and dovetail, making the issue especially complex and difficult to navigate, much less reach a conclusion on. Some believe a clear and properly enforced ordinance, bolstered by measures such as cross-zoning and enhanced call verification, will do the trick, with fines for offending alarms helping to offset the losses. Others say private response is the inevitable long-term solution.

Others still, such as PPVAR, believe the relationship between law enforcement and the industry can and should remain intact so long as the alarm installed base evolves technologically and municipalities move toward a verified response approach (that's not to say the industry is in full agreement over what constitutes a verified alarm). The organization also espouses new video verification standards.

The issue continues to be a fraught one, with no definite solution in sight. To be sure, many cities have made great strides with false alarm reduction. But cases such as Toronto are a resounding reminder that there’s room for improvement.

Sequoia pumps $57m into SimpliSafe

 - 
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In the modern security environment, there’s no shortage of relatively new, tech-savvy companies intent on revising the traditional alarm monitoring business model. That some of these upstart companies, such as Cambridge, Mass.-based SimpliSafe, are now attracting serious outside investment interest is a development that bears watching.

SimpliSafe, which provides wireless security systems and professional monitoring services without long-term contracts, recently partnered with Sequoia, a prominent venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, to raise $57 million. On its website, the company claims to have 100,000 customers.

SimpliSafe describes itself as a “disruptive tech company working to help people live safely,” while touting its in-house maxim that “being safe should be simple.”

Interestingly enough, SimpliSafe doesn’t fit perfectly into the DIY/MIY mold; it’s really more of a hybrid between those types of systems and more traditional security units. A Wall Street Journal blog noted that a SimpliSafe system with sensors and other burglary protection components, along with a hardware package, typically costs about $260. The company also offers monitoring services for $14.99 per month, but doesn’t require customers to purchase them.

In a company blog, Chad Laurans, CEO of SimpliSafe, said the following: “We’ve eliminated unnecessary middlemen, so we can pass the savings onto our customers and pour our resources into product innovation and customer service.”

Down the road, one of the biggest threats to central station RMR could be the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated DIY/MIY systems that unite ease of use and installation with competitive pricing models. As of yet, there’s no clear writing on the wall that says central station RMR will suffer the effects of “disintermediation” at the hands of innovative MIY products. But a $57 million infusion is no small sum for the security industry. It goes without saying that an investment of this scale can be transformative from a product development standpoint.

It will be interesting to see if this pared down version of security and alarm monitoring indeed proves to be disruptive, and if so, how the monitoring industry responds to the challenge. 

Google’s Dropcam security push and Apple’s smart home “big play”—should security companies be worried?

 - 
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Recent news reports say that Google may buy startup Dropcam, which makes video cameras that stream video to a user’s computer or cellphone, as a way to get into home security. And The Financial Times has reported that Apple is soon expected to make a “big play” into the smart home, launching a new software platform that will allow users to control security systems and home features such as lights directly from their iPhones.

Should security companies be worried? Not really, according to a report today from Imperial Capital, a New York-based full-service investment bank.

If the Dropcam report turns out to be true, it would mean Google is adding a security component on the heels of its entrance into home automation with its recent $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs, maker of smart thermostats and smoke alarms.

But the report, authored by Jeff Kessler, Imperial Capital’s managing director of institutional research, said it doesn’t believe the Dropcam purchase would have a negative impact on security companies or other pure play home automation companies, like Control4.

The reason, it says, is that “security companies generally are not participants in the do-it-yourself (DIY) market and do not target particular groups that may be interested in such products (e.g., college students, young professionals living in high rises).” Also, the report said, although “Dropcam could be a good entry product for those that do not understand or are not familiar with security products, it does not replace the security, home automation, and customer service capabilities which the likes of ADT or Control4 provide, and nor do we believe that it wants to.”

What about the potential Apple smart home/security play?

The report says: “We wonder if Apple will open up its “big play” to allow a broad base of installers, service, and responders to interact with it, or will it be another closed end system, in which the homeowner, or more likely the apartment owner, can check on what is going on at home on an Apple iPhone, and then have the responsibility of “making the call” to police or health responders based on what they have just seen on the iPhone. Another uncertainty is if the police would trust this system, or would law enforcement be more likely to respond to a more familiar source that has verified the same incident.”

The report summarized by saying that while the new developments are exciting and will be particularly attractive to those who don’t own homes, the lack of professional monitoring is a drawback.

“Remember, these monitoring stations (to be accredited) have to show that their average time to make a decision to dispatch or not to dispatch is less that 30-35 seconds, have tremendous redundancy, and can typically be trusted. We simply do not believe that Apple users will get that service.”

In fact, the report says that these DIY products could indirectly help professional security companies by introducing a younger generation to the idea of home security/home automation, which could lead those customers to “potentially switch to a larger, more powerful, and more comprehensive platform in the out years.”

Alarm.com, a leading provider of interactive security services, also weighed in to me on the new developments involving Google and Apple.

That Vienna, Va.-based company stressed that security is the backbone of the smart home and noted that professional monitoring is a key differentiator, but said security companies need to make sure homeowners know that.

"The key purchase driver for home automation is security.  We see this in both consumer surveys and purchasing trends," Alarm.com said, in a statement.

Also, Alarm.com said, the announcements "validate the popularity of a growing range of connected devices and services. Security dealers should tap into this underlying consumer demand by aggressively marketing and selling a complete range of connected home technologies with professionally monitored security at its core."

 

Pages