TMA Annual Meeting Panelists Hash Out Future of Pro Monitoring
TMA President Don Young peppered four industry executives with questions to elicit various viewpoints on AI, NG911, RMR and more.
The pandemic may have forced The Monitoring Association to move its in-person 2021 Annual Meeting to a virtual format, Oct. 12-14 — sorry, Hawaii-bound attendees — but even so it proved that highly engaging content and dialogue can still be delivered with much success in the digital ether.
A standout example was the closing panel session, “Risks and Opportunities in the Future,” moderated by outgoing TMA President Don Young, who serves as EVP and COO of ADT. Young led a foursome of industry leaders in a discussion that aimed to explain how professional monitoring will be differentiated in the future, along with discussing the potential impact of expanded service offerings, Next Generation 911 (NG911), AI and machine learning, among other factors.
The panelists included: Scott Harkins, vice president, sales and marketing, Resideo; Morgan Hertel vice president, technology and innovation, Rapid Response Monitoring Services; Daniel Kerzner, chief product officer, Alarm.com; and, Dave Pulling, general manager, Johnson Controls.
Following is an abridged account of the panel’s responses to each of the aforementioned topics.
How Monitoring Will Be Differentiated
Young first set course by asking his panelists to ponder in what significant ways will professional monitoring be differentiated in the future. The dialogue that ensued illustrates the rise in myriad sensor types and the mass of data that will one day flow into the central station. Newfound opportunities cometh; so, too, accompanying challenges.
“I see a world coming fairly quickly that says security or a homeowner’s peace of mind is more than just fire and burg or some remote control of a door lock or even looking at cameras,” Harkins said. “But being able to monitor the other things in their home — the big, expensive things that most people are afraid of, whether that’s the plumbing or their HVAC system. I look at the monitoring of a water heater or a furnace as just another sensor on a security system.”
Harkins was quick to mention he surely does not expect security companies to become HVAC contractors. Rather there are monitoring devices coming to market that are easy to install and will provide the ability to drive more and more services as the industry marches toward “whole home monitoring,” he said.
Kerzner concurred with Harkins about connected appliances, HVAC and other systems coming online, with security remaining a foundational core. “The other piece is that there is going to be process and data management challenges when you start to have these devices coming online that are more sophisticated and more expensive in nature.”
The question becomes, Kerzner said, who will want to provide these value-added insights and is the operator really in a position to process that data? Individual companies can’t be expected to have the operational knowledge of these more complicated systems.
Envision the future of monitoring with a lot more metadata analysis on top of the data that gets woven in, Kerzner said, to then allow these additional devices to be processed. He added:
“There’s a baseline question of what is different from normal? How does the system figure out the difference from normal? And how does the operator then engage with that and then make that productive for the homeowner or the business owner?”
Pulling echoed the opportunity for tapping into the available information in homes, office buildings or other commercial settings that is relevant to assess what to do with an event. “I am encouraged and applaud all the efforts going on in the TMA to bring in the days — be it metadata or just other presence-detection data — and merging in these sources together.”
He added the caveat, “I think it’s kind of cliche to say we’re going to apply machine learning or AI to this. I tell my team there’s nothing artificial about artificial intelligence. It’s just going to be a lot of hard work.”
Yet, he said, the potential rewards are evident. “In some respects, we’ve been static from a monitoring perspective for a long time and we’re really on the cusp now of bringing in these other data sources and that should be a real game-changer for us.”
From a practical application standpoint, Hertel described a straightforward scenario for leveraging a thermostat — a device ubiquitous in homes and commercial facilities — beyond indoor temperature control. Imagine there is a fire alarm event: A single smoke alarm tripped in an upstairs hallway in and of itself may not get a lot of attention from the fire department. “But if I told them the thermostat in that hallway also said it was 95 degrees that will get somebody’s attention,” he suggested.
Hertel, who will succeed Young as president of TMA, furthered the application example. Consider a traditional intrusion system used in tandem with WiFi to sense movement inside a residence. This greatly advances the ability to determine the cause of an alarm event — be it a real threat or benign — and take action, accordingly.
“So, we can take all these different kinds of things and learn a little bit on how they interact with one another,” he explained. “And without having to do an immense amount of infrastructure change, we can dramatically change what the outcome can look like. To me that is exciting.”
AI/Machine Learning Adoption
Young next asked the panelists to weigh in on whether AI and machine learning will play a “material role” in monitoring in 2022. And if not next year, then when might broad adoption be achieved? Young coaxed the group to provide a direct answer to the question, but some were more inclined to elaborate their projections in the context of what constitutes AI/ML, among other variables.
Count Pulling and Kerzner in the 2022 column.
“Most of these concepts aren’t new. I would say unquestionably there’s an opportunity now to apply the basics of machine learning and AI to improve not only just the whole monitoring, but the experience for all the stakeholders,” Pulling said. “Be it a dealer that’s monitoring the account that owns the customer or the end customer themselves.”
Kerzner expressed some caveats but said he believes central stations are ready to embrace these advanced technologies.
“There are process changes that have to happen and it has to be reconciled with the business model of what makes sense for the central to do and what the dealer is willing to invest in,” he said. “There is a pretty good chance — it is tempting to say yes — but I think there is a reasonable chance this is a learning year where folks are trying these things and then it’s a little bumpy. Like you try to rollout a new process and now you’re figuring out what that means day to day.”
Kerzner envisions this rolling out process likely to occur in 2022, “and you wake up at some point — maybe it’s late 2022, maybe it is into 2023 — and you get a real blossoming.”
Count Harkins in a different camp:
“No panel is fun without a contrarian. I would say I do not envision AI and ML having material impact on this industry next year, for a lot of reasons. It’s not that the technology doesn’t exist. You could argue some video systems already have some pretty nice things in them, but our industry doesn’t have a history of rapid adoption of new technology.”
Harkins agrees with Kerzner’s suggestion that 2022 could be a learning year, but that does not portend wide adoption. “The key word you used, Don, is ‘material.’ Material means scale. The first app rolled out for this industry in 2008 and real adoption took four or five years.”
Harkins thinks it’ll be a couple of years before scale is achieved. “I do think it brings a ton of value. It brings a ton of value to the homeowner, the security dealer, the central station and creates RMR opportunities. We just have to get there. But we are probably looking at 2023 and depending on adoption rates maybe 2024.”
Hertel, a contributor to SSI’s “Monitoring Matters” column, foreshadows significant adoption by those providers on the leading edge, with 2022 a realistic timeframe for AI/ML to play a material role. “I don’t think you’re going to see your average run of the mill dealer with 1,500 accounts really going down that road anytime in 2022,” he said. “But I strongly feel there are going to be those forward-thinking organizations out there today that are going to be there in 2022.”
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