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ESX seminar explores new models for customer engagement

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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

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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. 

 

 

 

Toronto police considering non-response

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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.

Vivint to shut down new sales center in Washington state

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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

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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.

Sequoia pumps $57m into SimpliSafe

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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?

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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."

 

Samsung leader departs

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Samsung Techwin America’s EVP Frank De Fina announced May 28 that he is leaving Samsung for personal reasons.

"As of June 2, I will no longer be there. I made the decision on my own, the departure is amicable," he said. A replacement has yet to be named, though De Fina said there are "a couple of obvious potential choices. There is a very capable management team there."

De Fina joined Samsung in February 2010, and said he is proud of how far Samsung has come in the security industry since then. "Five years ago we didn't even appear on the IMS [Research, now part of IHS]  list [of top IP camera providers]," he said. "This year our business grew over 75 percent." And he expects to "move up a couple of notches on the IHS list."

De Fina, who has "retired" twice before, said he is not even going to say he's retiring now. He is simply "taking a breather" and will likely return to the industry, perhaps in a consulting role.

Asked about the biggest challenges getting Samsung up to speed, he said "building the brand and credibility in the security space."

"I will take credit for organizing a great team," De Fina said. "But the credit for building the business goes to [that team]," he added.

"I'm leaving Samsung in much better shape [than when I arrived] and the team is spectacular," he said.

Before Samsung, De Fina was the long time president of Panasonic Systems. He retired from Panasonic Systems in 2008 to run Paul Reed Smith Guitars for two years before joining Samsung.

De Fina can play guitar in case you didn’t know. Here’s a video that my former colleague Sam took at the PSA-TEC jam a few years ago. Scroll down to the video; it features Paul Michael Nathan on harmonica, Frank De Fina on guitar, Daved Levine on bass, and Jerry Cordasco on drums.

The biggest opportunities in the security industry? De Fina said he did lots of research during a recent month-long tour of the Silicon Valley. "I spoke to big name companies [Google, Yahoo, others] and asked them what their [security] concerns are. "They look at us [the security industry] as a bit naive" in terms of cyber security. They also are concerned about the physical security of some critical infrastructure in this country such as data centers and cell towers, De Fina said.

De Fina identified the biggest challenge for integrators as shrinking margins. He recommends that integrators "pay attention to solving the problems that are not so easy to solve ... to reinvent themselves to mimic the growth opportunities I mentioned earlier."

De Fina is vice chairman of the Security Industry Association Board of Directors Executive Committee.

He was instrumental in the establishment of a security degree program that will be launched in 2015 at Mercer Country Community College.

He also holds positions in the International Biometrics Industry Association (IBIA) and is a board member of the Paley Center for Media (formerly Museum of Television and Radio) as well as a member of the board of the New York Friar’s Club Foundation.

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.

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