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SSN Exclusive Interview: New TMA President Morgan Hertel

SSN Exclusive Interview: New TMA President Morgan Hertel Realignment, education, standards among key areas the association is focused on during Hertel’s two-year term

SSN Exclusive Interview: New TMA President Morgan Hertel

YARMOUTH, Maine—Morgan Hertel, Vice President of Technology and Innovation, Rapid Response Monitoring, Inc., was recently inducted as The Monitoring Association’s (TMA’s) new President, succeeding Don Young, ADT's EVP and COO.

Hertel has hit the ground running since taking over the TMA helm, with an agenda that includes realignment of the association, as well as enhancements of TMA’s education, training, and standards that have become a benchmark of the association in representing professional monitoring companies, security systems integrators, and providers of products and services to the industry.

In this exclusive interview with Security Systems News, Hertel outlines his goals and objectives during his two-year term as TMA President.

SSN: How has the transition been since taking over as TMA President earlier this month?

Hertel: Oddly enough, it’s really not a short time. One of the things that TMA has been doing for a long time now is there’s this whole succession plan. What happens in the case of the presidency role, the bench is always two deep, so you’re at least four to six years out. In my case, I had six years to get ready for this.

You’re working side by side with a couple of cycles of presidents coming through, so you really start to understand what the needs of the organization are. Without that six years, it would be like jumping into that frying pan.

The next thing that happens is we start doing long-range planning midyear. We really start thinking about it in the “April-ish” timeline, so as the cycles go through the two-year span of responsibility, it’s the incoming president’s job plan to run the long-range planning for what will end up being his/her term.

I started running long-range planning six months ago, so there’s a really defined transitional period as the existing president starts to cycle out and the new person starts to cycle in. You really are able to hit the ground running without a whole lot of missed beats, so to speak.

I don’t know anyone else who does it this way, but it works really, really well for us as an organization, and really gives a lot of continuity. That gives Don and I time to pass that baton about problems, issues, good things, where certain programs are. Don, and other presidents have done this as well, have allowed the decision-making process toward the end of their term to be deferred to whoever the incoming president is, so they have to live with those decisions for the next two years.

There’s a lot of that camaraderie where people are really cognizant about what the incoming person has to live with, so nobody gets stuck with something that they really didn’t believe in because otherwise, it will fail. That transitional process is really very, very well defined and solid.

SSN: What are some of the issues currently facing the monitoring industry as a whole? How will you address those issues in your new role?

Hertel: If you look at trade associations today, it used to be that a trade association really wanted to be everything to everybody, so they really tried to take a very wide stance. With markets changing, needs changing, technology becoming very defined for trade organizations, we made a decision over the last couple of years to narrow our scope and go deep, instead of wide.

When we look at challenges as an organization, when we look at what this trade organization needs to be and how do we get it from wide to narrow and deep, that’s what we’ve started in sort of a realignment process to do in the next two years – take the organization and really, really narrow our focus into five really key areas in how we’re going to serve our constituency. 

Part of that requires a changing in how staff interacts with volunteers. We promoted Celia Besore from an executive director role into a CEO role so she can take more responsibility and be able to do a lot of things on her own without a whole bunch of oversight. She needs that flexibility and freedom to be able to do her job, and she’s one of the best people on the planet when it comes to working in an organization like this, so we’re blessed to have her.

Staffing is going to take more of an active role in what we do and how we do things in order to help facilitate volunteers and things like that. It’s really just taking what we did already and focusing it.

We’re also going to create some alignments with some outside organizations in order to bring value to our constituency. There are things that, as part of our narrowing of focus, we don’t think we do a great job at, so we’re going to partner with some of these people who do really great jobs at it and really try to hone what we do into a much more defined trade organization.

SSN: Please talk about the five key areas that TMA is focused on to better serve its constituency.

Hertel: When we look what at the modern trade association is today, and what our industry is today, this industry is becoming incredibly technical and starting to really transition across from what was a prescriptive way of doing alarm monitoring, to where we have so many expectations when it comes to dealing with artificial intelligence and just security as a lifestyle, versus keypad turn-on and off. It’s a very steep mountain to climb when you look at a lot of organizations, especially some of your smaller organizations. They just don’t have the wherewithal to try and wrap their arms around “What does that look like? What does that mean?”

When I look at TMA, there are a couple of things that we need to do. We need to bridge that gap for them and help them into those new roles. The way we’re going to do that is we’re really going to focus on some specialized areas.

One is our education. We’re partnering with some other educational providers for material so our constituents will have access to a lot of training that they didn’t have access to before. We’ll start making some announcements here over the next few months about what that starts to look like.

Second, we’re also going to take our existing training programs that are here today and start to really help our constituents in understanding what that gap looks like, how you get there from here, and how you can compete with the rest of the world out there.

At the same time, we’re also, and have been very highly focused in the standards area. Alarm monitoring is fairly litigious, it’s wrought with liability all over the place. We’re dealing with people’s lives and property, so this has to be a standardized process, even though it may have some very nebulous things in it like AI, deep learning, and all kinds of other things. The only way for us to really be able to do that is by using standards that understand how to adopt those technologies.

There’s a very large standards-based review going on right now with CS-V-01, which is a scoring standard. That will be wrapped up here and ready for public comment sometime in Q1. That will give us a big step into what AI and some of these other things will bring to the industry and how we bring in those things in an organized fashion, being able to use a scoring standard to be able to normalize what AI does for us. We’re really focused on that world.

Fourth, ASAP to PSAP is going to continue to grow. That’s something that we need to have. We need to be able to give first responders more information, better information, do it faster and more efficiently. ASAP to PSAP is truly going to continue to grow and grow and grow. You’ll start to see exponential growth in that area over the next 18 months.

Lastly, the whole realignment of what TMA looks like, how it operates, is really a key initiative for our organization to be able to get through that realignment process. Those are the four things that we’re going to be fairly hyper-focused on this year.

SSN: How have systems integrators, dealers, and other monitoring industry professionals adapted their business model to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hertel: Specific to the monitoring industry, one of the things that we were faced with early on is that monitoring centers have traditionally been four brick walls, it’s in the basement, it’s secure, and nobody comes out. It’s like a dungeon, right? When COVID-19 hit, there was a huge, huge push to put people outside of that space. We worked very quickly with UL and ULC to be able to have the workforce move into a work-from-home model.

We got that done very quickly because many of the centers made that decision to move people home quickly. To take a whole industry and move them home was not an easy process.

There are many centers, including Rapid Response, that made a conscious decision not to move people home and had to make other adaptations to manage that.

Nevertheless, change happened, and it happened really quickly. Everybody had to hook and drive to get that done.

During the beginning of COVID, we were running weekly online town halls to help people work through this process, to bring resources, especially on the IT and telecom side, as to how to get people to work from home. Many organizations were completely unprepared to send people home, and rightfully so.

As a result of that, that also has changed the way that monitoring centers started to work. Many decided that they liked that model because there were a lot of advantages to it. We worked again with UL and ULC to create a permanent methodology for those people to work from home. That effort is done and completed.

The standard today allows for you to have a significant portion of your workforce working remotely. That was huge in order for us to get through this pandemic.

Having the town halls was immensely helpful for everybody because it created a safe place to talk about your problems. That was everything from “What do I buy to clean the desks with?” to “I’ve got an HR nightmare.” All those things became hyper-important, and we were able to rise to that occasion. I think we were very successful in helping our constituents through that early process.

I think now we’re in a position where people have the experience underneath their belts to be able to manage day to day on what to deal with during this pandemic and how that affects your labor force and things like that.

As far as installs, there certainly were some challenges. Dealers couldn’t get into people’s homes or businesses, or there were restrictions on how to get into people’s homes or businesses. Especially early on, nobody wanted anybody anywhere near them. The pandemic put a grinding halt to a lot of things.

But like everything else, people figured it out, figured out workarounds, figured out ways to deal with it. People got more comfortable with having people in their homes wearing protective gear and things like that.

I think there was some paralysis for a few months, but it didn’t last long. I think the same is true when we had that early lockdown period of time when the country sort of stopped and paused for about six weeks.

Once that was over, it seemed like business as usual. I can tell you right now that every one of my dealers who I talk to, they’re slammed. They’re busy beyond belief, so that’s a positive thing.

One of the more negative things that came out of COVID that we’re going to be dealing with is the labor pool. When the federal government decided to pay people to sit at home more than what they were making at work, it created a huge labor shortage for everybody, not only on the call center side, but also on the installation/service side, admin side, everybody.

Today, one of the biggest, lingering problems that we have from COVID has absolutely nothing to do with health. It’s trying to hire staff, and that is really a common thread to anybody you talk to. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a donut store on the corner or running a high-tech company like Amazon. You can’t hire people right now; it’s almost impossible to hire right now.

In the call center world that traditionally has a fairly high rate of turnover, that’s a tough place to be.

We’ve spent a ton of time with our constituents helping them with the recruiting process. Many organizations don’t have recruiting resources. They used to put an ad in the local paper or on craigslist and they got the people they needed. Now they’re competing with the big, gigantic players of the world for that same dollar.

Then you’re having to raise rates. We’ve had to raise our starting labor rates in the call center by 35 percent in order to even be remotely competitive. That’s a challenge financially as well. You go from $14 to $20 to start, that’s a big jump.  

SSN: What are your short- and long-term goals as TMA President? 

Hertel: Short-term goals are really part of a long game. It’s the realignment and reorganization of TMA. We are well on our way to doing that. We know what we want to do, everybody’s in agreement. We’ve gone through all the processes now, and now it’s time to execute. We’re in that process of an execution for all of the changes in responsibilities - who does what, how we do it, who oversees who. That is tracking right now to get done.

It will take six months for the dust to settle, I’m sure, for everybody to really start to understand what their roles and responsibilities are.

Conceptually, if we look at how volunteer organizations work, you typically have committees that are managed and run by volunteers. That works well if you have a bunch of volunteers who have a ton of time on their hands. But let’s face it – today, we don’t have that. That doesn’t exist in trade organizations nowadays. You have very smart subject experts, but they don’t have time to – even though they have the skill sets – manage and organize meetings and material and things like that.

Traditionally, it’s always been the responsibility for all these committee chairs to try and do that, and then staff tried to figure out how to support that as best they could. What you end up with is staff running around bugging everybody and trying to get a bunch of overworked people to continue to commit time. It really doesn’t work in today’s society.

The shift now is to take the staff and make them responsible for those areas. They’ll pull in their subject matter experts, and instead of having these six-month to two-year standing committees, we’re really going to make this more of a project-oriented process. If there’s something we need to work on, a standard we need to work on, we put a staff member in charge of that, we get through that project, and then we’re done. 

The idea is to keep it moving fast, make it interesting, and allowing the volunteers and the subject matter experts to really do what they do best, which is contribute the details and not make them administrators and sheepherders because it doesn’t work.

That’s a gigantic shift in how we do things and how we manage things. That will make a huge difference in how we approach things like problem solving, membership, or standards. It’s a big shift, but I think the staff is ready for it, and I know Celia is ready. It will put us in a great place to be able to do a lot more things without burning out our subject matter expert volunteers.

Our long-term goals are to focus their coverage, their areas that we really want to focus on, and not be so wide with everything. As much fun as it is to be wide, there are places we shouldn’t be messing around with. It just doesn’t make sense. We’ll continue changing that focus to more of the monitoring industry and those things that evolve and revolve around that, which in this case is going to be standards, ASAP to PSAP, and education, and stay in those swim lanes.

SSN: What is your strategy for increasing TMA membership?

Hertel: About three years ago, we changed around types of memberships. It used to be you had to be a monitoring center, and if you weren’t a monitoring center, you were a de facto vendor. You were one or the other, and there was no room for anything else. We changed that around a number of years ago to allow for other types of organizations.

It was a good decision to make because it brings in a lot of other types of businesses. For example, if you look at some of our memberships like Ring, SimpliSafe and organizations like that, those are organizations that are “providing” monitoring, but don’t have their own brick-and-mortar monitoring centers; they’re using somebody else to do that. But they’re an integral part of our business today, and having their input is crucial in how we design technology to fit into what they’re doing, so those are now allowed in the organization as different types of memberships.

I think you’re going to see some tweaking on how that works again during my role as to what other types of organizations fit in. We’ve had success in those membership areas when we look at where some of the growth is. Very rarely do you see a new monitoring center pop up today. They just don’t happen; it’s going the other way. There’s a compression in that work, not a growth in that world. It’s important that we continue to be more inclusive in some of the other areas, and I think you’ll see more of that in the next couple of years.

With membership, it’s all about driving value to our constituency and driving value in a lot of different ways. Currently, it’s up in some areas and down in others. If you look at organizations that don’t have monitoring centers, that’s up. Monitoring centers are down, but almost exclusively due to M&A.

We lost two or three monitoring centers in the last six months due to M&A, and there’s only so many of those in the country.

SSN: Please talk about any new education opportunities and standards being introduced to TMA members in the coming months.

Hertel: You’re going to see some new educational programs get released in the next few months. We’re partnering with a couple of people to be able to offer some additional education tracks. We’re trying to fit the “one-stop shop” for some of these training programs.

It would be folly for us to create our own material, in terms of training programs for a lot of the areas, but we want to be able to give our constituents some value there, so you’ll start to see some things there.

The training that we do internally is in the process of being reworked. Level 1 has been reworked. Level 2 is starting to get reworked. We’ll continue to grow those programs as well.

Our annual, tech, and mid-year meetings are very popular in the industry, and we’ll continue to grow that part of our offering.

As far as standards, we’ve got TMA-AVS-01, which is the priority standard for alarm traffic. That is going along well.

There are two more standards that we’re working on, and we’re going to partner with the Security Industry Association (SIA) on these; at least, that’s the plan today. One of those is going to be a voice standard in how we connect to things like remote elevators and area of refuge systems, things like that.

The other standard is going to be an enhanced alarm format to be able to handle significantly more data than traditional contact ID or anything else like that. The goal is just to get it out there and get manufacturer adoption so that they’ll have additional tools in the toolbox.

Those are brand-new coming out of the ground now. I think they’ll be very successful in pushing along some of the things we’ve been struggling with for the last few years in the industry.

SSN: Are there any strategic partnerships on the horizon for TMA?

Hertel: Other than some educational opportunities, we’re going to continue to work closely with SIA and the Electronic Security Association (ESA), just like we always have, but there are no formalized business agreements to talk about yet.

SSN: Your mission statement at Rapid Response is "If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward -- never give up and never stop investing." How will you carry your mission statement over to your new role at TMA?

Hertel: The investing part, to me, in the TMA role is this whole idea of reworking what

TMA is and how it functions. That is something that is a lot of work to get done; it’s an investment in how we make sure that our organization is ready for the next five to 10 years.

The moving forward part is this constant strive for more and better, and that really shows in standards and education. Both of those are very important, and those are constant things you have to keep pushing forward. If you let them sit and become stagnant, you fail. You have to be constantly updating, making better, working on it harder, finding out where the shortcomings are and where we have to change things to meet the current needs. That’s the constant moving forward part for me when I look at TMA and those mission statements.

SSN: This year’s TMA Annual Meeting was switched from in-person to a virtual format due to the ongoing pandemic. How did the transition impact registration for last week’s event? Please offer your overall impressions of the virtual meeting and any feedback you have received thus far from registrants.

Hertel: Obviously, I think everybody was pretty disappointed that we had to do it, but in the end, I believe it was the right decision. It was just timing, and timing is everything, as usual.

We started using a platform called Whova about four years ago, and one of the things we made a decision on was that we were going to use the Whova platform, whether the meeting was onsite or virtual. It allows you to manage all the programs, your calendar, your material, everything.

We already had the entire Annual program in Whova ready to go, so transitioning that into a virtual meeting really wasn’t like you had to start over. It was 70 percent there. It was just a matter of pulling everybody together and making sure they were scheduled for the right times, getting PowerPoints done, things like that. It really wasn’t that much of a lift to do that.

One of the things that happened this year was that in order to pull off these annual meetings, you need funding sources, and funding sources can come from a variety of ways. They can come from sponsors and vendors that paid to sponsor the programs. They can also come from registrations for onsite participation.

One of the things we were able to do this year was that vendors gracefully left their fees in play. What that allowed us to do was to switch the registration from a paid registration to a free registration and opened that up. Our focus was on how we can give vendors the most bang for their buck if they’re going to continue to support us in this way, and how can we get as many people as possible in front of them to talk to them, so we opened that up for free.

We ended up with more than 500 registered, which is triple what we’ve ever done before. All the meetings were very well attended. We were able to succeed with what we wanted to do, which was get the vendors in front of as many people as we possibly could, even though it was a virtualized presentation.

We did 10 different events, and I want to say the number was 4.9 out of 5, in terms of the ratings for those sessions. From a ratings perspective, we seemed to do a good job. It was really, really good attendance.

It changes how you look at the next one. We had a lot of people who only plugged into one or two sessions, so you get people who otherwise couldn’t have traveled the ability to participate. It really begs the question if you do this in a hybrid fashion going forward.

Marco Island, Fla., will be next year, and then we’ll likely try to go back to Maui in 2023. I think we’ll see what a hybrid model looks like in the years to come. Having a hybrid iteration of this would allow a lot of those people to participate, where they otherwise just couldn’t have.

SSN. What is your vision for TMA heading into 2022?

Hertel: We’re going to continue to narrow our focus, be deeper rather than wider, and continue to provide value and resources for the industry.

SSN: Is there anything else you would like to add?                                   

Hertel: This organization is pretty healthy. It’s healthy financially, which is a good thing, but it’s also healthy in terms of its leadership. A lot of organizations today are plagued with a lot of infighting and backbiting and toxic environments. TMA is not like that.

TMA is incredibly healthy in terms of how it relates internally, the collaboration and willingness to help one another is nothing like any other organization I’ve ever been a part of.

Some people almost don’t believe it. But having been in it for a long time now, I can tell you that that actually is a reality, that it is a good, healthy organization, and they’re doing good things. It’s going to be a good two years. You’re going to see a lot of very positive things come from this.


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