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Appealing to a wider demographic through multilingual products

Monday, March 21, 2011

I got a release this morning letting me know that Honeywell had announced the release of its new Spanish language version of the LYNX Plus keypad.

I’ve written before about security industry entities broadening their demographic reach through expanding into languages other than English.

Good for Honeywell. Not everyone speaks English. As one who speaks English, has studied French, Russian and Spanish and knows a few words in Greek, I have to say I applaud any company that embraces a multilingual outlook to widen the accomodated demographic.

I’ve also written about the LYNX Plus before. It won a Maximum Impact Award from ESX last year. The new Spanish version is a combination control panel, keypad, siren, dialer, two-way voice system and speakerphone that has an internal GSM radio that lets dealers offer RMR-generating services like Total Connect.

Total Connect, of course, is the mobile aspect so many end users today are looking for, according to many with whom I’ve recently spoken.

The LYNX Plus can communicate using standard phone lines, IP transmission and GSM. Such versatility is something I’ve written about before, as well. With POTS lines disappearing and the Federal Government mandating a sunset of the PSTN, wireless solutions are a big thing these days.

Of course, I still think the security industry should design, implement and completely control its own communications path in order to truly overcome the uncertainty that comes with having to rely on another, non-security company’s technology to function.


Vivint vibrant

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Utah-based summer-model giant that recently changed its name stands out in its home state for generating revenue and growing at a rapid pace, according to the Utah Valley Business Quarterly.

Vivint, formerly APX Alarm, which rebranded Feb. 1 as a way to highlight its big push beyond home security into home automation, announced this week that it had garnered top spots in the magazine’s “third annual UV50 rankings of Utah Valley’s leading companies. The company ranked No. 2 among Utah County companies for revenue performance and No. 11 for its rate of growth.”

According to a Vivint press release, the magazine’s 2011 30 fastest-growing companies ranking was compiled by the magazine’s editorial team based on companies’ percentage revenue growth over a three-year period from fiscal year 2008 through 2010. The magazine’s top 10 revenue companies ranking was based on 2010 revenues.

“The UV50 honors the economic engines of Utah Valley — and Vivint is no exception,” Briana Stewart, the magazine’s managing editor stated in the release. “In addition to ranking high on our top revenue list, the stalwart Provo company graces our fastest-growing category, which is no easy feat considering their impressive revenue. BusinessQ offers a big congratulations to Vivint. We look forward to seeing them on the UV50 for years to come.”

“In the midst of a sustained economic downturn, we are pleased to achieve the dual honors of being among Utah County’s leading revenue companies and the fastest-growing companies,” said Todd Pedersen, Vivint CEO.

Vivint operates throughout the United States and Canada and has more than 5,000 employees and services about 500,000 customers.


Mace getting closer to pure play

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mace Security International took another step toward becoming a pure-play security company when it announced this week the sale of its Lubbock, Texas carwash.

The car wash sold for $1.7 million and the company netted $300,000 in cash after “paying off a mortgage for $670,000,  a 50 percent payment of $675,000 towards the $1.35 million promissory note with Merlin Partners LP and closing costs,” according to a press release.

This leaves two car washes of the 51 car that Mace originally owned.

Of the two that are left, one is “under an agreement of sale and an additional car wash under lease,” according to a press release.

I spoke to Mace CEO Dennis Raefield this fall, and he said that the company would be shedding all of its security assets early in 2011.

In a prepared statement, Raefied said: “This sale reduces our already low debt levels even more and continues our strategic focus towards the security industry."

Industry makes united stand in Illinois

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Recent steps in Illinois to combat a legislative proposal to give public fire districts a monopoly over fire alarm monitoring are a good example of what the industry can do when it unites around an issue.

Opponents of the legislation, led by the Illinois Electronic Security Association, over the past week said they dissuaded one legislator to drop her co-sponsorship of the bill and also held a rally yesterday in the state capital that drew close to 100 participants, who then lobbied legislators personally against the bill.

“Today was a very good step forward for the industry,” Kevin Lehan, executive director of IESA, told me yesterday after IESA’s Legislative Day rally and lobbying effort in Springfield.

IESA wasted no time mobilizing after HB 1301, entitled the “Fire District Antitrust Exemption,” was formally introduced in the General Assembly on Feb. 8.

Lehan has described the bill as “an overstepping of government. This is a cash grab and nothing more.” It would allow public fire districts to mandate that all customers in the district use the district’s monitoring business, and the customers would pay their monitoring fees to the district.

Actions IESA took included urging members to call their legislators, and it also lined up other business groups, such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, to come out in opposition to the measure.

That helped when the IESA learned last week that the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Donald Moffitt, had just gained a Democratic chief co-sponsor, Rep. Lisa Dugan.

“We were feeling pretty good about ourselves,” Lehan told me about IESA’s initial efforts to get the bill killed.

But then, he told me, “Last week on the 10th of March, another representative, Lisa Dugan, put her name on as a co-sponsor so we found out very shortly after … and Rep. Dugan is a IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] member and she also is also a [former] Chamber of Commerce president in her area … The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is opposed to 1301 and she had a lot of IBEW members contact her as well.”

As a consequence, Lehan told me, on this past Monday, March 14, “the earliest possible time that she could distance herself, she removed her name as a sponsor.”

I couldn’t reach Dugan for comment this morning, but a spokeswoman for her said the legislator’s name appearing on the bill was a clerical error because Dugan had not intended to support it.

So, is the legislation dead? “We do believe it will just languish in the form of 1301, and die in committee,” Lehan told me.

However, he cautioned, this legislative session doesn’t end until May 31 and there are other bills dealing with fire protection districts to which some legislator might attach the same language as found in HB 1301.

“Until they hit the gavel and close this session anything can happen in Springfield,” Lehan said. “So we’ll remain every vigilant to a handful of bills that do impact the fire protection district.”


UTC inspires with relief effort

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One can feel helpless watching the horrific events in Japan unfold: earthquake, tsunami, and now the threat of nuclear meltdown. But I also feel inspired seeing the world community taking action and reaching out to help. Now count United Technologies Corp., parent company of UTC Fire & Security, among that group.

UTC this week contributed $1 million to support humanitarian relief efforts in Japan, according to a business newswire.

UTC, based in Hartford, Conn., also will match 100 percent of employee contributions to Red Cross relief efforts, to a maximum of $500,000, PR Newswire said.

 “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this terrible disaster,” UTC chairman & chief executive officer Louis Chenevert said in a statement. “United Technologies has been in Japan for more than 100 years, and we are deeply committed to our employees and partnerships there.  We are thankful that all UTC employees are safe and want to offer this support to those affected by this tragedy.”

United Technologies is a diversified company providing high technology products and services to the global aerospace and building industries. Among UTC’s products are UTC Fire & Security detection and response systems.


One central station's dealer incentives include a chance to win a new Camaro!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I was contacted recently by Armstrong's GM Dan Small about some new initiatives they're taking up in the Great White North to help out their dealers and treat them right.

"Armstrong’s Communication Ltd. is adding some new services for our dealers, as well as having a major yearlong contest," Dan told me in an email. I called  him up and we talked for a bit.

Armstrong's is a Canadian central staiton with offices in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and Moncton and Coal Creek, New Brunswick. They monitor accounts in every province of Canada. I wrote about them a few years back when they started their FAST dealer financing program.

So what's new with Dan Small et al?

"It has been a wild couple of years.  Growth has been great and we have been working very hard," Dan told me. "We're promoting products and services to all our dealers." Small told me they were promoting discounted products and services from provider partners to their dealers--everything from software and hardware to insurance. "We're not doing any buying or anything, but we're telling product and service providers, 'If you'll give us a bulk discount, we'll promote your product to our dealers as a promotion. It'll get on our website, it'll get out to our dealers, we'll do a mailer.' We're just trying to say, 'Here's another reason, another advantage to using Armstrong's.'"

Dan also said Armstrong's is coming up with some other creative dealer incentives, as well.

"Technologically, we're all about the same. And that really has leveled the playing field. So you need to be a little more creative these days in saying, 'This is why you should use me," Dan said. "So we're doing a contest as well. We did one 10 years ago that was really succseful in which we gave away a van. This isn't really designed to help switch new dealers over to us--if it does, that's great--but what's it's designed to do is to get our dealers who maybe have a few drifter accounts left spread out at other centrals. And the dealer just never gets around to reprogramming those accounts. This contest has been motivating them to transfer all their accounts over. For every account they bring over, they get one ballot toward the car."

The car Dan's talking about is brand new Chevy Camaro. They've been running the contest since November 1. Avid readers of this blog will recall the security industry hijinks that ensued when SSN associate publisher Gregg Shapiro and I traveled down to Dallas last summer for a security roadtrip during which we found ourselves in a bitchin' Camaro, pictured below.


I wrote about some other creative dealer incentives a while ago as well when I covered AlarmWATCH's NFL-themed dealer contest.

Dan also talked a little bit about how the industry had been changing.

"Our industry has had to change our mind set," Dan said. "Years ago, it was: 'Let’s keep all the information to ourselves.' Now it’s: 'How fast can we get the info out?'"

True enought, Dan. I've been talking with a lot of security industry folks lately who are beginning to realize that they had better adapt to changing technology and changing end users quickly or find themselves scrathing their heads, wondering where their businesses have gone.

Pivot3 gets kudos in WSJ ranking

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Serverless storage company Pivot3 has been selected by the Wall Street as a “top venture backed company” in the newpaper’s “Next Big Thing” ranking.

Pivot ranked 37th out of 5,740 companies that were considered.

To be eligible for the ranking, a company must have raised an equity round in the past three years and have a valuation of $1 billion or less. 

The company’s ranking “is determined through analysis of the track record of the company’s founders and management, and investors on its board. It also evaluates the amount of capital raised in the last three years and the percentage change in a company's valuation in the last year. Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureWire reporters and editors also provide perspective and expertise,” according to the WSJ press release.

According to a release, Pivot3 raised more than $78 million in venture capital since its founding in 2003.

Last month, Lee Caswell, Pivot3 co-founder and chief marketing officer, told me that the company (which doesn’t publicly release its financials) doubled its revenue for the fourth year in a row. “IMS [Research] says we’re now number one of the IP SAN products for the surveillance industry ... And IMS predicts IP SANs will be the fastest growing segment of the storage market for video security, growing at 97 percent year over year,” he said.

I spoke to Lee Caswell yesterday and will have more in a story later, but he told me that Pivot3 completed the process with the WSJ about a month ago, and that Pivot3 is the only video surveillance company on the list. The recognition obviously “gives the company a big boost in the visibility,” he said.

“It has a real impact for us,” he said. “The readers of the Wall Street Journal have not been our customers to date, and yet, the technology has applications to those customers who are looking at next-generation [uses of the technology] like virtual desktops ... which apply across all verticals like financial services and K-12.”

The barrier to entry for having something that’s “unique and disruptive in the storage area is very, very high,” he said. And if you can do something different, “it’s extremely valuable.”

For the most part, the investors have been “siloed, in that some understand storage and some understand servers.”

Storage, he said is a $20 billion business and the server market is a $25 billion business. “If you put then together and [can pull value from both sides, that’s something that interests investors.]”

Last month I reported on a new deal Pivot3 has with Dell where Dell hardware will be combined with Pivot3’s software and branded under Pivot3.

From the release: “Venture capitalists are always looking for companies with a new idea that will prove powerful enough to explode into the marketplace,” said Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. “The Next Big Thing highlights companies that we believe are worth watching and have a chance to make waves in their industry.”

And in a prepared statement, Bob Fernander, Pivot3 CEO said the “recognition demonstrates the market potential of Pivot3’s scale-out application platform innovation, which is poised to reverse the 20-year trend of separating servers and storage,” said “Virtualization creates the unique opportunity to re-join server and storage resources in a single scale-out platform to simplify virtual deployments while saving power, cost and rack space.”

Here's the release.


Out of the flames of a century-old tragedy

Monday, March 14, 2011

We’re approaching a tragic and historic anniversary on March 25, 2011—marking the day 100 years ago when a fire at a New York City garment factory killed 146 workers, mostly women and young girls, and gave birth to today’s national fire safety code. If you want to understand the significance of that fire, then and now, read the NFPA Journal’s cover story for March/April 2011.

“What’s changed — and what hasn’t — in the 100 years since the Triangle Waist Co. fire,” is the name of that comprehensive in-depth article  by executive editor Scott Sutherland.

I’ll quote some key passages here to give you an idea of the magnitude of the tragedy and its significance today.

The story describes how on March 25, 1911, “the Triangle Waist Co., a maker of women’s blouses, caught fire and burned in New York City, killing 146 and injuring scores. More than 60 died when they jumped from the building’s upper floors, their final moments witnessed by thousands of horrified onlookers. Triangle remains the deadliest accidental industrial building fire in the nation’s history. It also helped spark profound change in American society, including sweeping reforms that included the adoption and enforcement of a host of workplace safety measures. The development and creation of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, can be traced directly to the Triangle fire.”

“Of the dead, 129 were women and girls. More than 60 of the victims where teenagers; the youngest were 14.”

“In 1911, technology and practices that could have protected workers — enclosed stairways, fire walls, fire doors, automatic sprinkler systems, fire drills — existed, and in some cases were required, but few building owners bothered to implement them. Design shortcuts were common; the law called for a structure the size of the  [10-story] Asch Building [where the Triangle company was located on the top three floors] to have three stairways accessing each floor, but the architect had received an exemption from the Building Department and provided just two, along with an exterior fire escape at the rear of the building that descended only as far as the second floor. The regulatory emphasis was on constructing buildings that could withstand fire, not protecting their inhabitants. “My building is fireproof,” insisted Joseph P. Asch of his namesake building, which he’d constructed in 1901, to newspaper reporters the day after the fire. He also insisted that the building complied with all New York City codes — though as reformers, journalists, and a growing chorus of politicians were already pointing out, Asch’s claims of compliance were far from a guarantee of a fire-safe building.”

“In 1911, there were no laws requiring fire sprinklers or fire drills in New York City factory buildings, many of them as tall or taller than the Asch Building.” The story says that “by September, 1909, the city numbered 612,000 workers in 30,000 factories, and that by early 1911 about half that total number was employed above the seventh floor. The fire department’s ladders and hoses were generally only effective up to the sixth floor.”

"Eight months after the fire, Triangle’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, were acquitted by a jury on charges of manslaughter. The Triangle Waist Co. moved to another building, and in 1913 an inspector in New York City’s newly formed Bureau of Fire Prevention found a door to the factory locked with a chain, during working hours and with 150 workers inside. Blanck was arrested and fined $20. That same year, a garment factory fire in Binghamton, New York, killed 35 workers, drawing immediate comparisons to Triangle.”

“By then, though, the spectacle of Triangle had touched off an intense period of reform. By 1914, the state of New York had enacted dozens of laws that reshaped factory safety, including fire safety, and became a national model. At the urging of a young reformer named Frances Perkins, who would go on to become Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt, NFPA expanded its mission from protecting buildings to protecting the people who worked in them, and undertook efforts that would eventually result in the creation of the Building Exits Code, the precursor to the Life Safety Code.”

Today, Sutherland writes, “the [Greenwich Village] building is still there, or at least most of it. The Asch Building has since been incorporated into a larger building housing classrooms and offices for New York University, but the facades along Washington Place and Greene Street look much as they did a century ago. On March 25, thousands will gather at the building to commemorate the fire. They’ll imagine the corner as it might have looked in 1911, and they’ll imagine people poised high in the windows, flames billowing behind them.”



How'd The Carlyle Group find DIGIOP?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Carlyle Group, which announced this week it bought DIGIOP, a video and data management software provider,  got to know the company through another company it owns, Supercircuits.

The Carlyle Group bought Supercircuits in 2006, and then invested another $10 m in the company in 2009. Here’s a story from 2009 about that investment and about how Supercircuits is able to sell direct to the end user and to the channel.

Rich Mellott, president of DIGIOP, told me that The Carlyle Group got to know the DIGIOP product line because Supercircuits OEMed a product for SCBlack portfolio “and its was the highest volume product on the systems side of the house,” he said. “That’s how we got involved and introduced to The Carlyle Group.”

And Supercircuits was at ISC West last year with the product. Here’s a press release about that.

Mellott said although Supercircuits will sell to anyone, its primary focus is on the end user.

The Carlyle Group wanted to invest in a technology company that had a “channel focus,” he said, and it looked to DIGIOP for that.

Is there a potential conflict here? Mellott said no.

While Carlyle now owns both Supercircuits and DIGIOP, they’re “separately owned businesses with separate business strategies.”

Mellot says that the solution it OEMs to Supercircuits is “very similarly configured to what we sell into the channel, but [the version for the channel] has additional features and options.”

“From our standpoint, our focus will be to cater to the dealer and integrator,” Mellot said. “We don’t have the support structure to cater to the end user, they [Supercircuits] do.”

In addition, DIGIOP has higher level “Tier II and III solutions” it’s developed  and the ability to work with integrated solutions. Plus, “a lot of dealers and integrators want to have a direct relationship with the manufacturer,” he said.

DIGIOP as founded in early 2000 and was owned by its original investors, who are based in Houston, until the Carlyle acquisition. “We now have more capital and capability to be able to invest and grow the business to a level that we’ve not had before,” Mellott said.

There will be a big marketing push, better logistics to make the products more readily available, a new sales force, and “resources to move the technology along in a quicker fashion.”

DIGIOP is also re-launching its Certified Integrator Partner program this spring.

The company will be at ISC West this year, in a suite in the Venetian. The deal was not finalized soon enough to get a prime spot on the show floor for 2011, Mellott said, but they’ll be on the show floor proper in 2012.


American Alarm bolts on

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Acquisition has been the name of the game for American Alarm security systems for some time now—and the Arlington, Mass.-based company announced its latest buy this week: Alert Security Systems of Leicester, Mass., a bolt-on in its Worcester branch's backyard.

Company president Wells Sampson told me that in the past 18 years, American Alarm has made 17 acquisitions. He said many of them have been in the past decade and “especially in the last five years, we’ve put a big push on to accelerate that effort.”

The acquisition of Alert Security, located in a suburb of Worcester, Mass., expands American Alarm’s presence in the middle of the state, Sampson said.

“We built our Worcester office originally through a couple of acquisitions and so now we’re trying to strengthen that Worcester, central Massachusetts operation,” Sampson said in an interview March 9, when the company announced the acquisition.

Alert Security, founded in 1984 by Edward Nelson, was small compared to American Alarm. It provided security systems installation, service and monitoring for more than 100 homes and businesses in Worcester County.

By contrast, American Alarm, which turns 40 this year, is a large independent security systems integration firm, with 140 employees serving about 15,000 residential, commercial and public sector customers in New England. About 60 percent of its business is resi, and it has four branches—three in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire—and its own UL-listed certified central station in Arlington, Mass.

But Sampson said the purchase was a “win-win-win” for American Alarm, Alert Security and its customers.

He said that for American Alarm, it “increases our customer base in the Worcester market. The more customers we have in a geographic area the more efficient we can be serving customers. We’re already staffed there so we can provide a pretty high service level to those customers and it helps us with our growth plan, growing customers and growing service capabilities.”

Sampson said Nelson was the sole employee of Alert Security, and he benefited too. “He needs to redirect some of this attention to family matters and other professional endeavors and so it sort of frees him up to do that,” Sampson said. Nelson will assist American Alarm as needed, Sampson said.

And the buy is a win for Alert Security’s customers, virtually all of them residential, Sampson said. “We can provide more depth in terms of the numbers of technicians, service and support than a smaller company can provide,” he said. American Alarm can also offer the customers new technologies, different payment options, redundant communications options and video, Sampson said. “It’s more choice, more options, more capabilities,” he said.

Also, he said, American Alarm can offer in-house monitoring to customers—Alert Security had sourced out its monitoring.

“A key point now is that the installation and service and monitoring can be all under one roof, which can give better, seamless customer service,’ Sampson said.

He said that the customers acquired are valuable ones because Nelson, the former owner, ran such a good company. “They’re happy, long-term satisfied customers,” Sampson said.

He declined to be specific about terms of the acquisition but said, “Obviously, that kind of customer base commands a premium set of terms.”

Are there more acquisitions planned for 2011? Stay tuned.

“We’ve always got more in the pipeline,” Sampson said. “We’re a New England-based regional company and we’re looking to expand both in our core branch office territories—that’s the top priority to fold in high quality, good-customer-service type of companies in our existing footprint—and then the next priority is to expand the footprint to additional new England metropolitan city areas.”