How to Enjoy Greater Net Gains With Network Monitoring

Security dealers stand to score more points with homeowners by making sure their networks operate reliably and smoothly, in turn assuring their technology systems do the same.

How to Enjoy Greater Net Gains With Network Monitoring

The rise of IP-based connected technologies has created an urgent need for IT skills and savvy among home technology systems installers, and presented network infrastructure as the keystone holding today’s integrated solutions together.

If the network fails, that likely means devices controlled by and connected to home automation hubs will suffer as well including security products and entertainment systems. As if that doesn’t cause enough worry, wireless networks and connected devices raise cyber concerns as well.

Homeowners have much to lean on their trusted technology advisors these days, and more possibility for finger-pointing when something goes awry — and it’s not going to be at the manufacturer but the company that installed the products.

Residential security dealers, especially those who dabble in adjacent smart home and entertainment systems, need to shore up their network know-how.

These days the opportunity is ripe for smart home installers to not only “own the network” by delivering professional-grade solutions but to take advantage by monitoring — with real-time system checkups and remote troubleshooting abilities — everything that’s connected.

Network management is another avenue for potential RMR and white-glove customer service. Fortunately there’s more assistance being offered in this critical space all the time in terms of education as well as companies providing the means to ease home tech pros’ network growing pains.

Let’s take a look at some solutions that are enabling security dealers to profit from holistically monitoring networks, as well as how one dealer has even partnered with colleagues on a central station-like service being rolled out for everyone’s benefit.

Everything Touches the Network

“Home technology is no longer siloed. As smart homes gain popularity and become mainstream, the devices need to work together seamlessly. If the security dealer is only touching the security panel they’re ignoring the foundation on which smart panels are now being built — the home network,” says Brad Hintze, senior director of product marketing for home automation leader Control4. “While not every security dealer’s customer may seek out a smart home, every home has a wireless network, and this leaves opportunity for dealers to expand their business.”

Hintze and Control4 certainly understand how significant the opportunity is, and the company has gone all-in the past two years betting big on bundling the necessary pieces to position its dealers to provide a seamless experience.

In 2016 Control4 acquired Pakedge Device & Software, a high-performance networking provider whose offerings included products and BakPak Cloud-based network management services.

Earlier this year Control4 bought Ihiji, which offers its own device diagnostics and management platform (to be transitioned under the Control4 brand).

In doing so, Control4 effectively armed its smart home installers with the ability to — within its own product portfolio — design and install wired/wireless networking solutions that provide visibility and control at the network level for more than 2,000 of its own equipment and third-party products in a unified management plat-form.

The streamlined solution gives dealers a detailed view of every home and its connected systems to monitor, diagnose, repair and track performance concerns, according to the company.

Of course, this also means many Control4 dealers need to ramp up their networking knowledge essentially from 0 to 60 in seconds, so to speak, and the company has addressed that as well with its new and comprehensive Pakedge Certified Network Administrator (PCNA) training program.

It builds upon the momentum of networking certification coursework that’s been promulgated by home tech industry group CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) in recent years to help smart home installers get up to speed.

“Home networks are challenging — understanding the differences between routers, switches, controllers and wireless access points can be intimidating to a person who hasn’t managed home networks,” Hintze says. “The [PCNA] program is a hybrid online and hands-on learning to allow students to learn how TCP/IP networks work, how to use network switches to streamline data movement, how to define the LAN’s IP address space, and how to design networks for different kinds of spaces, and much more.”

Solutions from companies like SnapAV (left) and Domotz (right) enable dealers to see customers’ network-related info in real-time.

Remote Monitoring’s a Snap

Other companies offer security dealers and residential automation and A/V installers similar confidence in securing more home network equipment sales and monitoring RMR. Manufacturer SnapAV provides networking products via its Araknis brand, but more importantly in recent years debuted and bolstered the capabilities of its OvrC Cloud-based remote network management ecosystem.

OvrC, which offers a customer-facing mobile app so in some cases the client might even be able to solve issues or adjust network configurations on their own, has integrator-friendly features like remote reboots, single-click firmware updates, real-time alerting/troubleshooting and more.

Dealers can score points with homeowner clients thanks to the remote access and abilities, while at the same time yielding greater efficiencies with reduced truck rolls and wasted technician hours.

In terms of potential remote network management service offerings, SnapAV suggests security dealers can put together packages that include:

  • remotely monitoring network devices for any faulty behavior
  • remotely troubleshooting issues that arise to minimize downtime
  • keeping the system up to date with the latest software and security updates
  • monitoring ISP speeds for any potential outage
  • replacing hardware within the service contract if a hardware issue is determined

“Installers can ask customers if they’d rather lose water service or Internet service for two hours and the answer nine out of 10 times would be not losing Internet service,” says SnapAV’s Ayham Ereksousi, director of product management – networking. “Service plans could be described as a ‘Network Support’ plan, where you could describe how you are proactively monitoring the network, regularly maintaining the system with the latest security and performance updates, and providing noninvasive remote support to help solve problems quickly when they arise.

“We’ve seen our integrators successfully sell this for anywhere between $10-$100 a month based on what is included in the service. Some include quarterly visits to inspect and optimize the network, and some even include the equipment as a lease to reduce the up-front cost to the client.”

Steve Crabb, customer experience director for remote network management provider Domotz, says security dealers are well-suited for implementing services around the home network. Domotz’s solution is akin to the Control4 and SnapAV platforms in its capabilities aimed at the professional tech installation channel, leveraging a Cloud-based dashboard to monitor and address issues.

The company recently unveiled a partnership with residential enterprise-grade network provider Access Networks on a unified installation and monitoring solution.

“Remote network monitoring is really about visibility and being able to be proactive in ensuring a great customer experience,” says Crabb. “And where security dealers already are accustomed to offering monthly service plans, adding another tier should be simple. We have a program called Powered by Domotz that lets them private-label Domotz hardware with only minimal investment.”

Network Backup for the Dealer

One security dealer who doesn’t need to be sold on the importance of embracing home network services is Greg Simmons, vice president of Las Vegas-based Eagle Sentry, whose roots go back 30+ years as a security contractor that’s expanded to provide all low-voltage home systems.

In addition to his own company’s efforts installing and monitoring networks, Simmons has banded with two other successful systems providers in addressing another component of the expanding network — supporting the dealers that service the end users.

Similar to the third-party central station model security dealers are familiar with, Parasol is a new endeavor from Simmons, Henry Clifford of Livewire in Richmond, Va., and Ted Bremekamp of ETC in West Palm Beach, Fla., that acts as a monitoring center for networks and everything that’s plugged into them.

To do that, Parasol uses the aforementioned OvrC platform from SnapAV. Expert IT staff fields end-user calls and performs troubleshooting fixes before a last-resort truck roll.

The company, which operates out of Las Vegas and Richmond call centers, helps dealers that have signed up deliver 24/7/365 customer service without the headaches of having their own technicians answer middle-of-the-night and weekend problems, for example, or roll a truck when a simple reboot could resolve an issue.

“If you’re a security company why in the world are you not monitoring your customers’ networks?” asks Simmons. “We’re not the first network monitoring company, but we’re the first ones to think like a security monitoring company.”

Dealers can sell subscriptions on tiers of $28 and $50 per month. Parasol provides an onboarding kit to help system installers with the sales process. Meanwhile, it may be something they can retroactively offer — OvrC is already in 150,000 homes nationwide, according to SnapAV.

Simmons says Parasol is looking to add a cyber component to the monitoring in the future.

“It’s amazing we’ve gotten this far without providing 24/7 network support, but that’s because we haven’t had the tools and now we do,” Simmons says. “We’d like to make it so Parasol could solve 90% of issues remotely. Obviously if a piece of equip goes bad you’re rolling a truck, but at least you know you’re rolling a truck for a good reason and that customer’s getting good service.”

About the Author

Contact:

Arlen Schweiger is managing editor of CE Pro, Commercial Integrator and Security Sales & Integration magazines.

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