Security on the Move: Can Contractors Climb Aboard?

For the installer of electronic security equipment, there’s always another market to conquer. Take cameras, for example. There are cameras in boardrooms and cameras in malls. Cameras on poles and cameras in homes. With nearly every conceivable commercial and residential market explored, there is one place that still seems untapped for video and other forms of security: mobile environments.

As technology has gone from analog to digital and from large to small, more and more security applications once meant to stand still in a building are being applied to moving vehicles. Cameras are being installed in buses, taxicabs and boats, while Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices are being placed on truck fleets, assets and even people.

With most mobile security and video systems applications little more than a decade old, the mobile market seems to integrators like a tree packed with fruit, just waiting to be plucked.

“Building security dealers are seeing mobile monitoring as a natural extension of the services they provide,” says Cindy Smith, vice president of the Metairie, La.-based central station Alarm Monitoring Services (AMS), which provides mobile monitoring. “Since they already have the customer relationship, it makes perfect sense to offer products that also meet their customer’s previously unmet mobile security needs.” A security contractor looking to branch out into mobile security needs to not just jump in blind and assume their knowledge of fixed security means they will be able to pick up mobile security. There are several nuances — from the difference in the customer to the difference in vehicles — that the contractor needs to gain knowledge of before they can build trust with the end user.

They should also be aware that unlike commercial and residential security, most mobile security installations performed on new vehicles are being done by the manufacturer. The real mobile opportunities lie in aftermarket installations and as part of a bundled security package.

Breaking Into Mobile Installations Takes Knowledge, Trust
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a huge leap for an alarm installer to break into mobile video and security.

The cameras, domes and recorders seen in a school bus don’t seem that different from what one would find in a commercial building or even a home. It’s still about putting in wiring, making connections and mounting systems.

But for the inexperienced, a mobile video installation is much more than just “another job” and has to be handled differently than most commercial and residential installations.

According to Steve Hemenway, who manages the mobile surveillance division of Honeywell Video Systems (formerly Silent Witness), it starts with getting to know the mobile systems customer.

“If you’re used to working with a certain type of customer, you have to learn the new customer. A lot of that is time spent getting to know them and what they want. That makes you a sought-after source,” Hemenway says. “A lot of end users will get the project done by people they trust.”

But how can a contractor trying to break into the mobile market gain trust without any trust to build on? It’s like an inexperienced college grad struggling to find work because every job listing reads “experience needed.” Hemenway says an installer new to the game can gain trust before their first installation by knowing what they’re getting into.

The needs of the mobile system client can differ greatly from that of the fixed-system customer. While a commercial end user is looking to deter thieves, a school bus customer might be looking to deter bad behavior.

While a homeowner might be sold on safety, a truck fleet manager might be sold on a mobile video system’s ability to prevent litigation.

Another roadblock in the way of security dealers: Vehicle manufacturers have already established people to install the systems — namely, themselves.

Today, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) — whether they make cars, buses or boats — usually install mobile systems as they’re manufacturing the vehicles, and have their own people to do it. For the most part, that leaves the independent installer out of the picture.

“It’s still an OEM-centric market. The barriers to entry are pretty darn high,” says Ron Stearns, who analyzes the mobile electronics market for market consultant Frost & Sullivan. “It’s pretty slim right now on the consumer side and on the residential side its not much easier.”

When VerifEye Technologies — of Markham, Ontario, Canada — won a contract to provide video surveillance for the Las Vegas Monorail, monorail manufacturer Bombardier installed the system. The OEM had the in-house installers to do the job, which helped contribute to the project coming in $25 million under budget. The system is expected to have been in operation a few weeks by the time the ISC West show begins in Las Vegas on March 30 (see story).

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