COPS’ Prez Talks Tech Changes, Cyber Challenges
Jim McMullen explains how COPS Monitoring is helping its security dealer partners keep abreast, and ahead, of the technology curve.
As a leading third-party central station, COPS Monitoring has invested heavily to keep pace with, and remain ahead of, a fast-changing technological landscape. The company’s president and COO, Jim McMullen, joins the conversation to discuss this and other topics.
If you had to select one aspect of the alarm business where you see security dealers struggling or challenged by, what would it be?
In a word: Change. New technology and new entrants into our space have been quickly changing the landscape from a security industry to one that also includes smart home, a wider range of video options, DIY and other integrated solutions. There’s so much change that dealers sometimes find it difficult figuring out how to integrate the new integration into their business model, but we can help.
How is COPS helping its dealer partners meet this challenge?
Internally, we are continually investing and reinvesting in our technical infrastructure and in our network of central stations to stay ahead of the technology curve, so we’re able to properly — and securely — support the growing demand for connected services. Our proprietary monitoring platform and in-house team of programmers give us the agility we need to quickly adopt new the best emerging solutions to best support our dealers.
More directly, we provide frequent information and training to our dealers at our six sites and at other locations throughout the country. Our ‘Grow Your Business [GYB]’ series of free, one-day workshops focus on helping dealers increase sales, improve retention, maximizing company performance. We also invite representatives from leading manufacturers to give dealers hands-on training on the latest smart home systems and home networks so they can be competitive in today’s marketplace.
Most recently, we’ve partnered with SS&Si on a new Equalizer Program, an innovative new equipment purchase program. Dealers are able to purchase the latest smart home and security systems with no money down and they pay for it over time in their monitoring bill from COPS. The Equalizer Program not only helps dealers compete with companies that offer no or low money systems, it also significantly improves cash flow and frees up money that they can put back into growing their business.
For those dealers interested in expanding their product line, we also make introductions to manufacturers of the leading DIY and PERS systems and also facilitate the training. This summer, COPS will be offering mPERS monitoring so dealers can provide protection to their customers outside of their homes and businesses.
To what extent is technology enabling vs. inhibiting the security industry?
Technology is definitely enabling the security industry. The explosive demand for connectivity, convenience, and control continue to fuel high demand for security and other opportunities for dealers that are able to embrace new technology and adapt to the changing landscape.
Will technology ever play a part in greatly reducing the vast majority of alarm signals that are triggered unintentionally?
I have no doubt that new technology such as better video analytics and dispatcher-verified video will help to reduce false dispatches; in fact, it already is. I’m also sure that new technology will also reduce false activations of alarms through smarter arm-disarm capabilities and as AI matures and integrates with security to learn individual end-user habits.
However, I also believe that security and convenience are positioned on opposite ends of a sliding continuum. Greater convenience runs the risk of compromising comprehensive security. For instance, while it might be convenient to automatically disarm a system using geofencing — or your phone’s WiFi or Bluetooth to prevent false alarm activations — I’m concerned that it may ultimately compromise someone’s security at the moment they need it most.
Security needs to be deliberate to provide the best protection and I think technology needs to find the right balance between convenience and security when it comes to reducing false alarms.
How would you characterize COPS’ investments in cybersecurity measures and protecting its networks?
Put it this way, the monitoring industry is evolving at a fast pace, and it certainly isn’t for the complacent or faint of heart; it requires dedication and passion. It’s not unusual for COPS to make multimillion dollar investments in our fortifying our technical infrastructure and physical building security to protect our network, facilities, our customers’ data, and to anticipate the growing demand for connectivity.
Have you partnered with outside cybersecurity vendors or handled internally?
Both internally and through leading vendors. A monitoring company in today’s world must have the resources, expertise and team of IT professionals to manage the security and reliability of its technical infrastructure. Throw in multiple active 24/7 central station locations, and now you must consider things like building security in different states, secure encrypted data propagation and replication, active load balancing and real-time failover capabilities.
Our internal team has set new standards when it comes to protecting our networks and customer data. However, to be sure we went a step further by hiring a leading firm to perform a Service Organization Control [SOC] 2 Type attestation engagement report. The extremely demanding audit process tested our systems security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy. We received our SOC 2 certification at the end of 2017, confirming that our controls and operating effectiveness all meet or exceed the highest standards.
We also work with RiskSense and other leading companies to perform random penetration tests on our firewalls, building security, data encryption, and to give us complete threat and vulnerability assessments.
Can you suggest some simple measures that security dealers should also be doing to protect themselves and end customers’ sensitive data?
Dealers should choose a monitoring partner that makes the continual investments to protect their data. Our dealers and their customers can access data in real-time using our exclusive MPower dealer and subscriber access. MPower is fully encrypted and all information resides on our internal servers, which means that their database isn’t sitting in the cloud somewhere on cached on their devices.
However, even the highest security measures can’t prevent unauthorized access on an unlocked device with a stored password. Dealers can protect their data by following a few simple rules such as having strong passwords on their computers and all their devices, assigning every employee their own login, and requiring passwords to be changed periodically.
Dealers should also insist their customers do the same and always make sure they change default passwords to customer’s security equipment, routers and connected devices.
What excites you about tomorrow’s technological landscape?
I believe big change creates even bigger opportunity. I’m confident that this holds true with the security industry, its dealers and professional monitoring. We’re just scratching the surface with technology as it relates to security, smart connectivity.
People want to be connected to what matters to them most and security and professional monitoring are an integral part. I also believe that advancements in technology and AI will yield even better solutions and provide better information to help the industry make more informed decisions about the way people interact with their security systems.
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