Modern Security and Australia
Poor ethics and a lack of innovation are depriving Australians of modern security technology. The security industry needs to work harder.
If the electronic security industry were selling cars, then alarm installers in the year 2012 would be flogging Nissan Bluebirds and Ford Festivas as brand new stock. Lest readers believe I am exaggerating, those cars were for sale in 1999 (thirteen years ago) and the alarm panels I was playing with at that time are still being sold, today by Australian alarm distributors.
Can you imagine if software companies adopted the same approach to their research and development? We'd still be using Microsoft Windows 95 (mouse optional) or a copy of DOS. Actually, you will be using DOS if you want to dial-in and reprogram many of the old panel designs mentioned earlier. That is if you can still find a ten year old modem on eBay. Astonishing isn't it?
I cannot think of a single other industry which has failed over the last decade to improve technology or increase prices. Yet the alarms industry are selling the same products and services, at the same 'dollar a day' price as they were over a decade ago. Australians typically replace their cars every six years, their television every four years and their mobile phone every two. Yet the systems which protect all of these assets, as well as the lives of the owners haven't had a makeover since they were installed.
Each year as I attend the ASIAL Security Expo I see precisely the same alarm panels on the display boards as the previous year. Whenever I ask a sales manager if they're going to retire these old clunkers, the response is always similar: "We'd love to be selling the newer gear, but the demand's not there".
Yes it is.
Australians adore technology. We buy over a million LCD televisions a year. Farmers in the middle of nowhere demand faster Internet and most households have more than one computer. And that's just for the grownups. Teenagers carry more technology in their pocket than was contained in the flight computer aboard the Space Shuttle. Alarm installers need to start updating their own skills in technology - and sales techniques - to promote the benefits of modern detection systems. This is more than the bells and whistles of home automation or cutesy touchscreens and extends to detection and alerting technology which can save lives and (here's where you earn the big bucks) improve customer convenience and enjoyment.
Dialler versus IP
There is no more obvious example of the lethargy of our industry than the ongoing deployment of 'dialler' alarms which use traditional PSTN lines to connect alarm panels to monitoring. This is an inherently insecure platform as the phoneline can be cut. Whilst this threat seems at first glance like a scene out of a spy thriller, in reality it is about as technically complex as a drug- addicted burglar with a pair of scissors. Line cut, game over. Sure some panels are programmed to cause the siren to sound upon line-cut but we know the only thing sirens will do these days is annoy your neighbours. Not bring them running. The security industry's dirty, dirty secret is the revenue it derives from 'rebates', a nice euphemism for kickbacks from phone companies for each of the 40 cent phone-calls an alarm panel makes each day (in an age where most calls are 2-5c each, tops). Rumours of the death of rebates have been greatly exaggerated and whilst the National Broadband Network (NBN) is around the corner and alarm panels may one day stop working, nobody seems to be paying attention, rather like the the demise of Securitel which was ignored until weeks before Telstra said "we're really not kidding" and pulled the plug.
While clunky old providers continue doing the same thing as always, people who move premises switch to VOIP services or no home phone whatsoever and based on total ignorance of available technology, decide they can live without an alarm, just like their fax machine, as if the two are from a similar era. It never ceases to amaze me, the level of surprise in customers who had no idea their "alarm could be connected to the internet".
Lack of innovation
Alarm Monitoring platforms are merely one technology where so-called 'modern' security providers have badly fallen behind. Indeed, much of what is currently considered standard, i.e. the same practices as 10-15 years ago, is so unhelpful that in many cases the security industry is peddling a lie: 'when your alarm goes off, police will be kicking in the door moments later, guns drawn'. The truth is much more ordinary. False alarms, non-response by police, private patrolmen turning up an hour (or hours) later, alarm systems failing to detect or report at all. Customers usually only find this out after they've suffered loss. What has the industry done about this? Very little.
Technologies that represent a partial solution, such as video verification are being held back by vendors simultaneously pushing far cheaper hardware and monitoring providers running 15-20 year old automation software that simply can't perform in the era of iPhones, video and high customer expectations.
When we built the Centre for Advanced Security and Technology Leadership (CASTLE) we implemented a carrier-grade datacenter with capacity to last us many years into the future. Whereas, many startup monitoring providers' first step is to buy cheap automation systems which haven't seen an upgrade in at least 5 years. We have microwave and fibre, they have a fax machine. Where is the vision? Where is the investment in the future?
The proliferation of uncertified monitoring centres (which I call 'back-to- bodgey' monitoring) is the stuff of legend. An industry stalwart told me about a fish and chip shop which had an alarm receiver in the back room (possibly the first 'monitoring centre' with an active fire-hazard bubbling away in the premises) and apparently it was pretty good compared to some of the providers today. Yes, many will sneer that the standard (AS2201.2 Monitoring Centres) is a crock and it's all a giant ASIAL conspiracy, but who are these people really kidding with their excuses? If you're doing the job properly, certification is straightforward. Nobody says a monitoring centre needs to be A1 graded (ours certainly was) but if a provider can't even attain C3 grading, they have no more business protecting people's security than an unlicenced driver has operating a schoolbus.
Any clown can put together a website with downloaded stock photos of smiling operators sitting at a space-age console, but what's really going on behind the curtain?
The above image actually appears on the website of an Australian security company trying to pass it off as their security monitoring centre. Impressive isn't it? Note in particular the 48 channel audio mixing console on the left-hand side. The image is not actually a security or alarm monitoring centre but in fact of a recording studio overseas. The company have used Photoshop and pasted their own logo onto the uniforms of another company. Would you trust your security to a company that blatantly lies?
Ethics and standards need to improve and there is no point waiting for ASIAL, the police or the Government to magically fix it. This is an industry problem and legitimate players need to speak up and educate the market. If we don't all fix these problems we will all suffer because of them. Whether it's police moving to a non-response policy, or younger demographics kidding themselves that 'self monitoring' is reliable.
Opportunities For Innovative Young Players
The rise of the NBN, increased OHS requirements and increasingly techno-savvy customers represent a huge opportunity for security providers at the leading edge of technology. Partnerships between front-end consultants, vendors and a handful of modern niche monitoring providers can lead to far higher recurring revenue than traditional offerings ever did. The successful 21st century provider will stand apart by maintaining ongoing development and by keeping an eye on the future. A relentless commitment to ethics, transparency and quality of service is critical.
Technology to watch
IP monitoring is not 'the future'. It is the present. Anything less is unacceptable. Migration to IP is being held back by monitoring companies who don't understand it, or who implement it poorly and then can't understand why it's not as 'reliable' as their completely unreliable dialer lines.
Many consumers are now starting to question (quite rightly) the point of a monitoring provider who simply rings them when there's a problem, with no reliable response protocol beyond this. However, the alternative, so-called Self- monitoring , e.g. by SMS is a myth and a failure waiting to happen. There is plenty of room for hybrid systems where end-users can log in to their own systems and see what's going on, with the peace of mind that a monitoring provider is in the background as a failsafe when things go wrong.
The rise in IP camera technology and the substantial reduction in hardware prices promises big opportunities for technology companies to enter the security industry. Cameras are often misunderstood, not just by end-users but even 'professionals'. It is important that people study the theory of CCTV Design and implementation, rather than just selling 'sexy' cameras that don't do what they need to when it counts. Remote monitoring and verification means hitherto unwatched cameras suddenly become a useful tool in proactive security rather than a tool for working out how security failed.
Mistrust and the silo mentality of many providers has led to a lack of effective industry lobbying and widespread development. When was the last time you sat down for a coffee (or beer) with your direct competitor? If quality providers all work together, we all benefit from this cooperation. Discussion forums on LinkedIn.com are a good non-threatening way to ask questions and obtain real world guidance from people with similar interests and similar problems to yours. Professional security bodies such as ASIS International are a terrific way to meet interesting people in-person and continue your professional development.
Times and technology have changed and will continue to change. It's time for Australian security providers to make a choice between excellence or obsolescence.
First published in Security Solutions Magazine .