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Hooked on a feeling

Friday, October 16, 2009
Dr. Bob Banerjee, over at Bosch, just put up a post about his experiences at the ONVIF plugfest at ASIS, which struck me as very closely mirroring my own impressions at the PSIA plugfest. Have a look: Dr. Bob: Arch competitors were shaking hands and discussing experiences as if they finally had a common goal that was bigger than the individual companies and their personalities. Me: Truly, there was the feel that someone had just landed people on the moon or something. People were lining up for awkward photographs. Engineers with iffy social skills were drinking wine and wearing ill-fitting ties. People were clapping each other on the back. Dr. Bob: The epiphany though, was realizing that ONVIF is not only real, nor that it is achieving milestones in record time, but that it is utterly unstoppable. Me: IBM’s Frank Yeh, the sort of guy who puts his Second Life persona on his business card, was pronouncing: “We’re witnessing history in the making here.” Basically, people are eager to compare and contrast the two organizations, and I've been guilty of it from time to time, certainly, but as more than one person has said, it's probably good that there's a little competition involved. It makes things move faster, people work harder, and there's a bit of sex appeal there to make people pay attention. Still, the reason both of these organizations are making progress is mostly because it feels right and it feels good. Engineering and code writing for profit is a profession, certainly, and a lucrative one for some, but engineering and code writing for the perceived common good is intellectually and personally fulfilling in a different way and it's great to see that being so obviously expressed in both of these organizations.

Apx Call Center is JD Powers-approved

Friday, October 16, 2009
Congratulations to Apx Alarm, which this week got the goods from JD Powers for the second year in a row. Apx's Call Center in Provo received JD Powers & Associates' Certified Call Center Program distinction for "a strong commitment by the APX Alarm call center operations to provide 'An Outstanding Customer Service Experience.'" It's an award that Apx is understandably very proud of. It involves a fair amount of legwork by the company, as well as a random survey by JD Powers of Apx customers who recently contacted the call center. From the release:
APX Alarm's call center, located in Provo, Utah, handles more than 3.5 million telephone calls and e-mails from customers annually. To become certified, the call center operation successfully passed a detailed audit of its recruiting, training, employee incentives, quality assurance capabilities, and management roles and responsibilities. As part of its evaluation, J.D. Power and Associates conducted a random survey of APX Alarm Security Solutions customers who recently contacted its call center. "In achieving certification for a second consecutive year, APX Alarm has demonstrated its commitment to deliver high-quality service to customers contacting its call center," said Mark Miller, senior director of certifications and solutions at J.D. Power and Associates. "Call center customers are particularly pleased with the customer service representatives, notably for their courtesy and knowledge."
Here's the entire release

Playing around with HD surveillance

Thursday, October 15, 2009
I wrote in December of 2007 about IQinVision's online camera/lens calculator and the concept of pixels per foot. At the time, I was fairly enamored of the idea, since it seemed like an easy way to describe the benefits of increased resolution and information gathering and I like doing simple math and feeling like I've accomplished something. In the meantime, however, I've had a hard time wrapping my head around part of the concept: How far away to you measure the foot? And if you need a different lens, an optical zoom, to make a certain pixels per foot happen, why not just go with lower megapixels and a better lens - wouldn't that be cheaper? But the online calculators are helping better understand this idea of pixels per foot, and there's talk that the UK's Home Office has established 40 pixels per foot as the benchmark for facial identification in an image, even though in their latest treatise on setting up video surveillance there's no mention of that standard and they continue to spend a great deal of time on "analogue" and TV lines when they talk about resolution at all. So, as I've come to understand it, it's all about "pixels on target" and wherever that target is in the scene how many pixels cover it. If car is 10 feet long, and it's so far away in the image that even though you've got 16 megapixels only 500 pixels actually cover the car, you've got 500 divided by 10 = 50 pixels per foot and that's good enough resolution to figure out the make and model, maybe. There's talk, however, that 80 pixels per foot allows you to reliably read the license plate, and in that case, you're screwed in this particular scenario. Anyway, I had a long conversation yesterday with Avigilon's Dave Tynan and he helped me get a better understanding of designing HD video surveillance systems, and he pointed me to their own calculator tool (and this one is a particularly smart use of the Internets, since they ask you for some demographic information before you use it, and it's therefore also a lead generator). So, I entered some phony information and it didn't allow me in, then entered my real information and it did. I saw flash up for a second, so maybe you have to already be verified in some way? It's hard to say. Anyway, I played around with it a bit after getting in and here's what I got: If my camera is 30 feet up in the air on the top of a light pole in a parking lot, and I want to read the license plate of a car 50 feet away, and my camera is pointing down at a 45 degree angle, my field of view width will be 48.3 feet, apparently. In order to have 40 pixels per foot on my thing I'm looking at 50 feet away, I would need a 2 megapixel camera fitted with a 17 mm lens. However, if I go over to the IQinVision calculator, which doesn't have a camera height option, and I plug in 48.3 feet for the width I want to cover at 40 pixels per foot, it tells me I need two 2 megapixel cameras. It says I could only get away with 1 camera if I only wanted to see 40 feet away. But I want 50 feet. How come the Avigilon and IQ calculators don't seem to match up? Let's try another example. According to Avigilon, if my camera is 40 feet high, and the thing is 100 feet away, and I want to cover 100 feet of width, my camera needs to be at a 50-degree angle. And, to get 40 pixels per foot, I need just one 11 megapixel camera with a 39 mm lens (this is impressive to me, if true, that I could get away with just one camera in this instance). For IQinVision, it says I need two 5 megapixels (which makes sense), but it seems to indicate I could only go out to about 64 feet and still get 40 pixels per foot for each of those 5 megapixel deals. That may jibe, actually. Anyway, the question in this scenario is: Is 1 11 megapixel camera cheaper than two 5 megapixel cameras, especially considering the extra cabling and time needed to hang the cameras. I don't actually know because of the prices of these cameras isn't exactly readily available to me, but you can start to do some back of the envelope stuff that I could see would be helpful. I encourage you to play around with the tools, especially if you're skeptical of megapixel and the pixels per foot standard. It's kind of fun.

Are you an alarm dealer in Illinois?

Thursday, October 15, 2009
Interested in licensing and record-keeping requirements you're supposed to be adhering to? Our friends at the Illinois Electronic Security Association asked me if I could publicize this seminar. Details below:
SUMMARY: Attorney Edward Williams Offers Nov. 11th Seminar on Compliance with Illinois PERC Law in Conjunction with the Illinois Electronic Security Association CHICAGO – On November 11, 2009, from 3:00-5:00 p.m., Illinois alarm dealers have a one-time only opportunity to attend attorney Edward Williams’ “PERC Nuts & Bolts” seminar for a small fraction of the normal cost. The Permanent Employee Registration Card (PERC) compliance seminar, sponsored by the Illinois Electronic Security Association, will take place at the Holiday Inn Elk Grove Village, 1000 Busse Rd, Elk Grove Village, IL, before the IESA Annual meeting The seminar will cover Illinois licensing requirements and necessary aspects of recordkeeping that the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation requires of all license holders plus how to survive an IDFPR audit. This seminar is specifically geared toward existing agencies that are in need of a refresher course on Illinois PERC registration and recordkeeping. Other topics to be covered include: • What steps have to be completed before an employee is put to work. • A discussion of whether your agency has any exempt employees who do not need to have a PERC. • What paperwork has to be sent to the Department before and after an employee is put to work. • What documents are required in an employee PERC file. • A detailed discussion of the current employee training requirements. • What topics must be covered in training for alarm runners. • How to provide classroom training to both installers and administrative employees. A private presentation of Mr. Williams’ “PERC Nuts & Bolts” seminar normally runs $900, but to encourage attendance to the important November IESA meeting, the Early Bird fee for a single company representative to attend is just $95, plus $25 for each additional person from the same firm. The Early Bird registration ends on November 6, after which registration increases to $105 for a single company representative, plus $30 for each additional employee. For more information on the seminar, call (630)305-8800 or fax your reservation to (877)230-5110. Due to the expected state-wide demand to attend this event, registration by November 10 is required and no walk-ins will be admitted. (Registration form attached: IL-PERC-Seminar-Registration.pdf.) Travelling attendees will receive a special rate of $89 at the Holiday Inn Elk Grove Village for an overnight stay. Call (847) 437-6010 to make a reservation.

Need $2 mill?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I wrote a story way back in the warm month of July about opportunities that were emerging for security installers, integrators and monitoring centers in municipalities' increasing demand for surveillance. Cities and towns and the citizens thereof increasingly want their public spaces monitored for safety, and they're looking to you guys--the security industry--to get the jobs done. According to an Oct. 12 release from Schneider Electric, there's definitely money there for companies with the ability to step up to the plate and deliver the systems and the monitoring for municipal-wide solutions. Here's some of the release:
DALLAS—The city of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has awarded Schneider Electric … a $2 million contract for a wireless video surveillance system. Schneider Electric will design, install and maintain a network of more than 200 digital surveillance cameras located throughout the city’s downtown area, commercial areas, school zones, parks and parking garages. The city of Wilkes-Barre and Hawkeye Security Solutions, a nonprofit corporation established by the city specifically for the deployment and implementation of a citywide video security system, selected Schneider Electric based on the company’s experience and technical knowledge.
It seems to me there are probably quite a few security companies out there with the experience and technical knowledge of Schneider Electric (though, admittedly Schneider Electric's pretty dang big). Federal government programs also exist. I guess if there's any lesson here, it's that fortune favors the bold... and those who pick up the phone and do a little searching for the money that's there.

Cisco: Spending like a drunken sailor

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
For those of you keeping track, Cisco has now committed $5.9 billion (yes, that's a "b") in making two acquisitions this month. Get the recap here from peHUB. Both deals are ancillary at most to the company's security work, but it shows you the strength this company is playing from: They've got plenty of resources to invest and they're not shying away from investing heavily in markets they see ripe for growth. Anybody else think we'll see another buy in the physical security sphere? Maybe this guy:
“Cisco is likely to remain aggressive in M&A and would not rule out another acquisition by year end in addition to STAR and Tandberg, in our view,” said UBS analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos.

A killer, ADT, and lots of lawyers

Tuesday, October 13, 2009
What a way to start a week. Yesterday was a glorious fall day in Maine, and a holiday for us here at SSN. But look what my editor sends to me this morning! It's story from Minnesota and it is downright chilling. Click here if you dare. First there's the scary killer. There's a picture of him. He murdered two people back in 2007. It's scary story for ADT, because it appears that a federal judge has said ADT may be partly liable for this guy's murders because their security system was faulty. It's also scary for readers who like to understand what they're reading. I do believe it contains the most turgid, tortured, legalese that I've read in a long time, maybe ever. It is from some lawyerly journal, but still... A Judge Turnhiem is saying things like:
Judge John Tunheim disagreed, finding that ADT’s interpretation of the law would likely eviscerate the negligent security claim.
And someone else says:
"He doesn’t believe the Legislature intended to lump intentional torts into the comparative-fault calculus.
Stop. please stop! I'll be looking into this story further, but not before I get a lot more coffee.

Need a spokesmodel?

Friday, October 9, 2009
I'm not sure if this means times are particularly tough, or if it means that just about every profession is professionalizing, but we got an email here in the SSN offices today from a very enterprising woman offering her services as a spokesmodel (she writes it as "spokes model," and though that just doesn't seem right to me, maybe I should go with her way - she's in the business, after all). Anyway, though her English is a little fractured, I have to say she makes a compelling case as to why I should hire her for the upcoming ISC East show.
As you may or may not know having a Spokes Model creates a tremendous traffic boost to your booth, increased sales and makes for a successful show. Many clients I have worked with have commented that they have had their best show due to an increased traffic flow to their booth. Hiring a Spokes Model will actually "COST LESS" as compared to sending a staff member due to the high costs of air travel, hotel and meals.
This makes a lot of sense, really. I think I should just not go to New York, and leave the coverage of the show to Lada Praskova, who definitely would look better on camera for ssnTVnews than me: lada-business3 Have you ever, Lada asks:
Missed deadlines because your sales team was too busy catching up from attending a trade show?
I'm sort of missing a deadline right now, actually. I'm way behind on the November paper, and it's all because of the time I wasted reporting and talking to people at ASIS. Oh, Lada, where were you two months ago when I was prepping for Anaheim?
Spent too much money on hotels, food, travel and entertainment while your employees are attending trade shows?
Um, this happens every single time I go to Vegas. Lada, I'm booking for you for ISC West, too! (This will also keep me from spending dozens of hours at the blackjack tables.)
Become too busy on the next event to make the last one profitable?
Exactly! I'm trying to book people to be on ssnTVnews at ISC East and I'm not even caught up on all the ASIS stories yet!
Felt overwhelmed with unqualified leads, that then lead to wasted time with follow up calls?
Yes, yes, yes. I hate getting all these business cards. It's like I should call and follow up with people, but I really don't want to. I really just want to check my fantasy football team and play with my iPhone. If Lada would just go to my shows for me, I'd never get another business card!
Let me help you increase your sales and save your company revenue!
Lada, I'm pretty much sold. Just have to run this by Tim, the publisher. I'm sure he'll be into it. He doesn't really like having me around much...

Thoughts on Cisco's to-market strategy

Thursday, October 8, 2009
John Honovich has a post up linking to Sharon Watson's interview with Steve Collen, head of business development for Cisco's physical security unit. John's takeaway is this:
Kudos to Cisco for finally coming out and being honest about their video surveillance strategy. It's basically about extracting as much money from loyal customers as possible.
It's becoming a pretty consistent message for Cisco, I think. From the channel perspective, it's the same basic message: We want to get our current channel selling more of our stuff. This is from my interview with Steve Collen, for the Pelco-Cisco piece that's not quite done yet: Me: Do you think you've been accepted by the traditional security integrator? Collen: Our focus has specifically been on the IT-flavored integrators, and those customers where IT is leading the decision-making process. That’s where our experience is on the Cisco side. We’re trying to choose IT integrators that have the security practice in place or are looking to build one up. We haven’t really gone after those traditional integrators. With our IT-focused strategy, the demand is sort of enormous just from the IT integrators; our issues are how do we handle that demand in a way that preserves product quality. Me: I don't want to put words in your mouth. Are you saying you don't need the traditional security integrator? Collen: We need the traditional security integrator in a different way. Our IT partners will quite often pair up with the more traditional integrator, who has skills that they may not have. The overall trend is toward the IT-capable security integrator, but that hasn't gotten to the point where we can disregard the traditional players. -- It all seems somewhat reasonable to me. John thinks it's somewhat disingenuous, as they may be pushing inferior product down the pipeline. That's not really for me to say. I wonder, though, if Cisco's experience in what are relatively commoditized products leads it to have a different philosophy in the security marketplace. By their possible way of thinking: Are there really major differences between Camera A and Camera B in lots of situations? Isn't it mostly about brand and the channel in deciding who's successful and who's not in terms of selling IP cameras? You already have a relationship with us and like our stuff, so why not buy our cameras and access control, too? I don't think that's outrageous thinking, but there's certainly an argument to be made that security is more of a life and death application than running a network. But they could counter that, now that security is up on the network, their routers and switches are just as mission critical as the cameras, so they understand well the gravity of the applications.

Summer-model housing secrets

Thursday, October 8, 2009
Ever wonder how those summer-model companies manage the temporary housing for the thousands of young sales people they send out each summer? Yes? Well, here's your answer, for Apx anyway. It's a press release put out this week by CORT, a company that arranged 1,800 apartments and furniture rentals for 6,300 people (Apx employees and some family members) in 100 different locations in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada.