Not Just Your Old Central Station Anymore

Twenty-three years ago, the central station industry was in as much change as it is today, but the drivers of today’s change are very different from those of 1982. Back then, the drivers were built-in communicators with control panels, microprocessors, individual user codes and zone reporting to the central station. The Bell system with AT&T was intact as were their high phone charges, direct connect lines and McCullough circuits.

Today, the state of the art in monitoring is computers upon computers, which are essential to meet the demands of customers and alarm company service providers starving for data and improved services. Central station operators are facing many new challenges, but one thing has stayed the same: most of these issues are outside their direct control. Let’s look at some of these issues together and, hopefully, decide what is best for our industry.

Dealing With Technology Hurdles
Video in the central station – The lack of any comprehensive standard for remote access of video is what will hold back this potential revenue monster for the foreseeable future. The central station community does not want to implement five different platforms, which will result in failure from poor service to the end user and lack of return on investment for the central station. Central stations don’t want to be in the business of specifying video products to alarm companies; however, due to the lack of remote access standards, the only winners out there will be the large video manufacturers as they will be the only ones in which anyone will invest.

IP transmission modules – What a disappointment this fire drill has become. How can any manufacturer develop a device that rolls back all the technology progress we have made in remote access the past 20 years and release it to the marketplace?

The vast majority of IP transmitters today have no remote access capability of connecting the panel to the downloader software, which has become a central operation of alarm companies for many years.

Lack of standards for new technologies – When it comes to IP transmissions, why does each manufacturer have its own protocol? Why do central stations need to purchase and maintain multiple platforms? Why are transmitters limited to one set of IP addresses? How about dual addresses for redundancy? What happens if the central station decides to change IP service providers and their addresses change? What if the central station uses Joe Bag of Doughnuts Internet service provider and loses their IP addresses because Joe died?

But even more medieval is the fact that if the central station provider needs to be changed, for any reason, a technician needs to be dispatched to the protected premises. Does anyone remember burning chips? Is this where any of us want to be as service providers? I don’t think so.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. I wonder when common sense will come into play and standards will rule the issue. IP is such a good idea for inexpensive transport of alarm traffic that it has become an out-of-control train that has left the tracks. Only standards can fix it now!

Changing Business Practices
Two-call verification – This will be judged as the best single idea after technology improvements for reducing the requests for police dispatches in the years to come. Alarm company owners need to embrace it and deploy it everywhere rather than waiting for local legislation to demand it or stop responding. The central station community is on board, what about your company?

Outdated standards – The standards writing bodies have proven time and time again during this current rush of technology that they are unable to adopt changes to the standards in a timely manner. Hence, I have seen many times now where auditors from various testing companies are making decisions in the field when amendments should be occurring to address these issues. The industry needs to embrace a standards mentality to guide it through these issues and ensure profit potential for all stakeholders.

Return on investment for technology – Central stations continue to reinvest in their infrastructure; however, wholesale service rates do not reflect this trend.

As an industry, we have relied on falling phone charges and better economies of scale from technology to maintain pricing levels at or below 1985 levels. This trend cannot continue and support a healthy business environment.

I predict new pricing models will begin to emerge to correct the inefficiencies of the current third-party method; one fee cannot cover all approaches for services.

I envision surcharges, based on activity levels calculated across the whole customer base. Therefore, if a couple of accounts are problematic but the alarm company’s activity is still within the margins, no surcharge. I also see alarm companies falling well below average activity levels will qualify for rate reductions across the whole account base. This method brings accountability and fairness to all the players rather than penalizing the many for the few.

Collaboration Is Key to Success
The collaboration of the central station, alarm service provider and end user is vital to the long-term success of any organization. Communication is a two-way medium and requires alarm company personnel to start conversations with their central station just as the central station reaches out to them. Preplanning and discussions for service offerings by alarm companies, including a review of the central station’s abilities and procedures, are essential.

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Tagged with: As I See It

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