Monitoring Roundtable: Execs Address Recruitment Challenges, DIY & More
Leaders from five companies provide insightful perspectives on hot topics disrupting the dealer, contract monitoring and distribution channels.
What do you consider the top vertical market opportunities for security dealers and integrators?
Busco: Video is driving everything. No. 1, because of the technology is changing so quickly, but also the pricing of the technology has dropped so it’s more affordable. I remember selling video analytics 15 years ago it just didn’t work. The prices were so expensive. Now prices have gone down and the analytics are working. I look at that one small technology change that’s taken 15 years to really mature. I also look at storage and retention of video for example. The price of storage has gone down so far. Before they could only afford two weeks and now they are getting six weeks because of storage costs.
If I’m looking at vertical markets it would be smart cities. It would be the education market. We have seen tremendous growth in the educational space. In the past, it was higher ed only because higher ed could spend the money and had the money. We’ve seen that it’s moved down into religious schools. They seem to do a fundraiser and then they have enough money to upgrade their security where they couldn’t afford it versus the public schools don’t have the money unless they’re a larger school that can get the funding to do the upgrades that they really need and want.
Moretti: When you walk into a customer’s home it’s normal to talk about video now. Like David conveyed, 10 years ago that conversation was not taking place. It’s expected now; that’s an offering that’s right there on the table. The apps right now are really a big deal.
Speaking to costs being a driving factor, it is harder to sell into the residential market due to all the competition out there, the DIYs and whatnot. When you’re selling to a bigger company you’re selling product they’re willing to pay for. Genetec is really big right now; it’s expensive but the customers love it. We have six or seven technicians that are trained and Genetec is our biggest seller.
What are among the monitoring industry’s top legislative and regulatory compliance issues?
Walker: It’s a big broad question. We have the ongoing concern about state regulatory requirements for how we do business in individual states or their cities. It just continues to be a big nuisance that we don’t have any sort of national standard for regulating alarm companies, and so we end up having to spend the same money for the same things, same kind of licensing in different states for the same people. From a national company perspective there is no value added to the consumer or certainly to us to have to go through all these hoops. That’d be one thing.
The biggest concern that I have right now is around the evolving regulations in the telecommunication space; the regulations that are being considered right now that try to reduce robocalls and are going to start empowering the phone companies to block calls that they think might be originating from a nuisance source.
We know that many of our calls by person or by automation show up today flagged as an unknown caller in the consumer’s home. If we reach a point where it becomes OK to start blocking our calls, it just changes the game completely in terms of how are we now going to communicate with confidence to our customer base. There’s a lot of interest in supporting the folks that are trying to influence that kind of legislation to try to make sure that we are protected in that process and that our customers are protected in that.
Page: I think it’s such a financial gain for those cities, counties and states that they’re going to fight it head-on to keep that revenue coming in. The requirements are so different across each state and jurisdiction. Some you have to have background checks and fingerprints every year, others it’s every five years. It is something that definitely needs to be addressed. For a central station that works in multiple municipalities it can be a nightmare. I, personally, hold licenses in four states to be an operator. It’s crazy.
Usie: For a company like Stanley, when that comes to fire, they have to have somebody licensed in all 50 states. I’m a local guy. I have to deal with it on a local level. They’re dealing with this type of thing on a national level. Operators need licensing; these are the rules that Amazon and Google aren’t playing by. We’re not playing by their rules and there’s no recourse. It leaves a bad taste in the integrator’s mouths when we’ve jumped through these hoops. We’ve played by these rules all this time and now the rules change.
Ring and Google are now exhibiting on the show floor. Companies like ADT and Vivint, possibly Stanley, have subcontracted installers to do installs for $150, $200 to go install a system for them. Well, now Ring and Google are soliciting those same guys that are going out and installing their systems for the same money. The industry built a platform for these guys to come into and they come in with a different set of rules.
Be certain of this: The uncertainty is greater than ever. There’s no question about that. The uncertainty of what this is going to look like tomorrow is greater than ever. The thing I would add regarding municipal laws is the smallest municipality can get together and determine that the law is going to change in that specific area. A large national company now has to understand what customers are in that municipality and how their response in doing business in that specific area changed. They may require a permit in that area to be able to call that law enforcement agency in that community.
Regarding false alarms, what more can the industry be doing to ward off ordinances like in Sandy Springs, Ga.
Walker: I think that the solution to reducing the number of unnecessary calls for service to law enforcement ultimately comes down to verification itself. It will really come down to better use of technologies that are out there. Video needs to be part of the standard solution. Technology today does a very good job of identifying if there’s a person in a protected space while the system is armed. Technology does not help us today in determining what’s the intent of the person who’s there.
That remains the problem to why do we continue to call for service from law enforcement? Because we can’t reach somebody to validate and therefore we have to, as a precaution, dispatch. When you start to bring video, you start to bring audio, you start to bring thermal, you start to bring other things into play, now at least you have additional pieces of information as far as the threat level.
You are now are able to start distinguishing, does this look like a threatening situation? Is this a probable crime in progress? Does this look like it’s probably just an employee? Then you can start to craft procedures around that to say, “I’m not going to dispatch on this one, I’m going to continue to work the call list until I find someone to notify.” And even reach an agreement with customers to say, “Look, we’re not going to dispatch on things that don’t present a probable crime in progress.”
I don’t think we’ll ever get to a place where we have 100% dispatch on crimes in progress, but we’ve made great progress over the years. That great progress has probably brought us from 99% to 98%. It’s still a very, very high percentage. Wes, I don’t know about your world. In our world, we already, we filter out about 90% of our burglar alarms, we don’t dispatch on 90% of them already. But what we do [call for police] dispatch on is still 99% false.
Where we’re beginning to use video, where we use audio, we can make a much better determination. We need to, No. 1, find ways to use that technology better. We need to have more discussion with law enforcement to reach agreement on what really constitutes something that’s worthy of a police response.
That’s why we have more conversations going on in the industry today between the industry and law enforcement to try to have those conversations and trying to talk through how does law enforcement view it? Can we work together to try to develop procedures that will effectively reduce the number of calls for police response? It’s not an easy problem, technology’s advancing, technology is helping us in ways that it couldn’t help us in the past and we have to figure out how to use that better to reduce the activations for police.
Analytics is another angle to the whole equation. Analytics is coming to a point where it’s helping to eliminate certain alarms even before it goes to the central station or even before it goes to the operator.
Usie: A large amount of false alarm dispatches are a result of an operator not being able to see or have the information, more information to make the right decision. What Steve said that was so critical is that video doesn’t give us the intentions of the person that’s on that site. I can see someone that looks like Steve walking into a business at 7:30 in the morning and determine he’s obviously not a criminal, but he may have been fired yesterday, and now he’s in there stealing information off of a computer.
Video, I think, is the biggest improvement that will be made as far as being able to meet the customers’ expectations of tomorrow. However, an operator of tomorrow will need an increased level of discretion with the information that he or she receives. We are going to have to have code and procedure that protects security companies in the event that the operator makes an inaccurate decision based on what he or she’s looking at.
We do a lot of video monitoring for a company of our size and we’ve seen alarms where we’re getting multiple alarms and you see a woman with young children running in circles around her. How many people rob a store with two-year-olds running in circles? Not to say she couldn’t be robbing the store, but it didn’t look like there is any criminal intent, and an operator’s continuing to try to verify that, but given what he or she’s looking at there’s great information.
We did a gun range and we provided video monitoring for them. Well, one day the alarm went off and the operator is looking at 20 dudes in military suits with machine guns. What was happening was the local military people were coming to the gun range to shoot when it wasn’t open. Well, through verification it’s sent to the end user and of course it’s disregarded because they had business being there.
The other thing I was going to say is the cameras with analytics and these newer technologies are designed to be placed outside. Security systems in general that we’ve been providing monitoring services for are window glass break detectors, door contacts and only when there’s a perimeter breach doesn’t alarm occur.
When we start moving that detection outside into an environment that’s uncontrolled now we have increased traffic and increased potential coming in to central stations that are going to require a response and that response is not going to be consistent like it has in decades past. That’s going to be something that the industry needs to respond to with standards so that companies understand where our liabilities are more exposed. That’s going to be a big one too. It’s coming, but there’s a lot of uncertainty and reservation about how these technologies are going to be deployed for sure, 100%.
How is your organization using technology to work more efficiently?
Moretti: One of the biggest things that we did was change our [service management] software. We are now using the Infor Service Management or ISM platform. It’s pretty groundbreaking. We are the first security company to work with them. When we changed over to ISM we also changed over to Bold for our central station automation platform. The ISM software is incredible; we’ve had it customized.
For example, we have a screen called Customer 360. You can literally go on this screen and find absolutely everything you want to find out about the customer. No longer do we have to jump around in other systems to put that big picture together, which would just take forever. It also includes scheduling software for the whole company. We have six different branches and we never had a software program that you could actually see the schedules at all the branches.
Now, you can see everything. If I’m in Arlington and I have an issue in Rhode Island, I can just pop on that schedule and I can literally book anybody I want from Rhode Island. It also allows for teams to get assistance, to be more efficient if somebody is out long-term, for example. The scheduling software has literally changed the dynamics of everything and because everybody can see that, including the owners, they can see how far out we’re booked.
There’s also a technicians’ page. We have made leaps and bounds as far as a technician putting a system on test, testing zones, but then also taking it off of test, closing the ticket and invoicing the customer. We were really good with that with our prior company, but ISM gives the technician everything. They can literally work out of one screen and do everything, whether it’s look for and order parts for their inventory, look at all the history of a customer.
Busco: There is a product called Power BI, which is data mining software that puts data into a dashboard. We can see what a customer bought over the last year, what’s trending. I can look at a particular marketplace, for example, and see who our largest customers are and how they’re trending year over year. I can see what the top vendors are they are purchasing and really see what’s happening there.
We are now transitioning to Teams [a unified communication and collaboration platform]. We used to use Skype but then you’re managing your business via email. The Team’s platform allows you to embed things that you would normally email like PowerPoint slides, and it records all of your instant messaging within the tool and allows you to collaborate as a team. The other thing is we’ve had to harden against cyberattacks. I am on a beta user test package with my cellphone. We use a product called a Zscaler, which provides a hardened VPN. I can look at our internal tools via my mobile phone whereas most people have to get their laptop out and connect to WiFi that’s probably not protected at all.
Walker: We are making a tremendous investment in tools and automation in ways that jump to a new level within our company. I’ve been in the monitoring space for over 20 years and I would say that in the past 12 months we’ve made more investment in tools and automation that will help our teams to be more effective and more efficient. We’ve made a transition in our core monitoring software to try and bring greater efficiency for our teams, and that change has allowed us to begin interacting with customers in new ways to be more efficient in the way we notify them on information that they need about alarms.
But things are changing very rapidly. It just feels like a race in terms of being able to put tools in place and be more efficient, trying to address the right demand from the marketplace for cheaper pricing, and then in order to do that we have to be more efficient in the way that we interact.
Page: Changing the monitoring platform brought us so many different features we could offer the dealers; quicker ways to look at what’s happening with their accounts along with the app so that when you’re in the field they can access those accounts, see what’s going on with those. And then to be able to offer those apps to the customers themselves to be able to see what’s going on with their system.
Then as we move forward there’s the ability for the customer to cancel that alarm right from their app straight into the central station so there’s no in-between like there is with other platforms. The automatic alarm handlers, so that they can do those notifications to let them know there is this alarm happening at this home, “You are a key holder. Can you respond?” Having the ability to take that load off our operators has just been amazing to see. Our investment in technology has been extraordinary over the last year and a half.
Usie: I’ll approach this from a personnel standpoint. We commission service tax. We found that to be a very efficient way to improve customer service. When we were incentivizing service technicians and paying a commission on their completed and build service, what we found is something as simple as replacing a battery that may commonly take five minutes cost $100. No one likes paying $100 for a guy to walk in a customer’s door and ask where the closet is to swap a battery.
We initiated things like if a fire system is in place you have to check and confirm that system is functioning and reporting into the station; check for yard sign stickers, things like this that really improve the customer experience but allow that technician providing the service to feel like he’s incentivized to do a better job.
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