The Perfect Remote Monitoring Partnership

Carl Meason, Md Fenix Monitoring

The remote monitoring of video and alarms is the final piece of the professional security jigsaw. The relationship between the installer and the alarm receiving centre (ARC) is key to the success of the project, so how can you work more efficiently with your chosen monitoring partner?

A security contract is only as good as the sum of all of its parts, and the ARC is a vital component of the application that includes the installer and the end user. Readers of PSI will already be working with a company that provides alarm monitoring to improve the protection of their customers, but there are issues that are on the horizon that need to be addressed such as the IP switchover and the rapid growth of AI.

To find out more about the current state-of-play with monitoring and how installers should involve the ARC more when it comes to system design and support, Professional Security Installer Magazine spoke to Carl Meason, Managing Director at Fenix Monitoring, an ARC that has used technology to reduce false activations by 77% in a year:

How has 2023 been for you?

The year has flashed by! Overall, it's been very similar to the previous three years from lockdown, business hasn't stopped. During the pandemic, organisations were leaving buildings empty so there was a big requirement for protecting vacant properties. Through that period people started to understand the value that electronic security could bring them especially when remote security and technology is used to complement existing physical security measures. As a result, I'd say that 2023 has been fantastic for the ARC industry and for installers as well because we have seen a whole new revenue stream come through due to our technology enhancing the existing manned guarding services on site. A lot of Financial Directors have caught onto the fact that getting value from security officers isn't about cutting hours, it's about complementing them with electronic kit and monitoring services. Over the year we've seen lots of growth and plenty of new installers starting up as well.

How has the IP switchover been going?

We're in a good position with the move to digital because Fenix has been running for five years so we don't have masses of legacy equipment that some ARCs do. Of course, as we've taken on new installers, we've also brought some legacy technology onboard and where we have incentivised customers to replace it, it has work quite well because we are able to have that conversation upfront. I think the message is getting out there, but I do fear there has been apathy about the need to act before the 2025 deadline, although this seems to be dissipating and people are taking action. I actually had the conversation with installers about a digital infrastructure around15 years ago and got shot down for it so maybe I was ahead of my time! I suppose some installers might be tempted to wait until the last system service, but it could create a really challenging conversation with the end user to tell them that they needed to replace the equipment you've been servicing all this time as it was going to be defunct. We try to give as much information we can to the installer so that they can speak to the end user and I give credit to CSL and BT who have been banging the drum for a long time and some ARCs are beginning to join in with getting the message across. As I said, we are really lucky because we don't have a lot of legacy equipment, but I've got some peers in the business who have thousands and thousands of PSTN connections who may be a little worried that people may start asking about whether or not they need monitoring anyway. This is the ever-present problem with security, in that you don't need it, until you need it.

Do you think there will be plenty of people leaving it until the last minute and maybe not bother with monitoring?

To be honest, I think installers have a challenge on their hands and it's a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" with this. It's not until you bring the subject up that customers might start asking what they get for their money. I guess it's only natural for an end user to assume that as they've not had a break-in for the past 15 years they don't need to spend on the upgrade. This is a problem for installers, and I've spoken to CSL and BT about how we can make it cost neutral for the end user so that it's a no-brainer. When costs start to go up, especially nowadays when people are counting the pennies a little bit more, and you've got to tell them there will be an extra charge and they've got to sign a new three-year deal to equalise the cost, people start to take notice!

Another industry buzzword is AI. Do you have any concerns about it being used in security?

I don't know if it's just me being paranoid, but I am concerned that in terms of the ARC and combatting nuisance alarms with CCTV, there is a possibility that AI could be compensating for poor installation work. I'm not saying that this is actually happening, just that it is a potential issue to keep in mind. I wouldn't blame the installer or the ARC for this, it's just that things are different today. We used to interact more with the installer about their applications and help to fine-tune them, but that doesn't happen so much anymore as there are different priorities. AI itself is fantastic in terms of what it can do, but because it is lowering the number of activations there is less interaction between the ARC, the installer and the end user and those missing conversations can be beneficial in terms of seeing the value in the service. So, there are two sides of the coin: in terms of productivity AI is fantastic, but we lose the human interaction as a result.

Along the same lines if an installer is already working with an ARC how can that partnership be made more beneficial?

I wrote something a little a little while ago about the need for something called the "monitoring triangle". The ARC is only one part of the whole security application, and the service works best when you have an installer that works with the ARC and the end user to create the perfect environment. If one of those elements doesn't work or interact with the others, then you are in trouble, because what happens is that everything is okay until something goes wrong. Then the blame game begins! The ARC is the end point of the piece so before we get involved there needs to have been housekeeping of the design and risk analysis. In the past there has been a tendency for ARCs to encourage any business just to get the contract and you have transient customers who are never happy with the service they get and just move around. Don't get me wrong, we win and lose customers, but if you are upfront about exactly what you're all trying to achieve at the time of sale, then no-one should lose business and there won't be the finger-pointing exercise because every party is involved. We talk about the risks upfront and we’re clear, it's not just about adding the connection it is about the risks of the business, the equipment, the system design and the goals, what everyone is trying to achieve. Are you trying to stop crime or are you trying to catch criminals? That's a big question to ask because often we're trying to stop people from doing things before they do it - and that's hard to prove. In that scenario, if nothing's happened, then you must be doing a good job.

So, what are the tips for working with an ARC?

Talk to your ARC at the earliest possible opportunity because sometimes we are a bit of an afterthought, but the ARC is in a unique position to be able to give feedback to design a system to make it safer with general security principles. If an installer is trying to stop things from happening, for example, where is the best place to capture it? Sometimes there's a tendency to try and capture as much information as possible which can be tricky for the ARC as CCTV and intruder systems cover different size areas. You must try to give the ARC the best opportunity to succeed. In vast spaces it can be difficult to get results even with AI. There's that to consider but also, if a system is designed in the right way with the ARC in mind, you should be reducing the number of activations for a CCTV application. Get the ARC involved as soon as possible, especially if the job is something out of the ordinary because we will have a unique perspective that maybe nobody else has because we're the endpoint of the installation.

If you could change one thing about the security industry what would it be?

I think a lot of people don't get involved enough in the security industry and by that, I mean working with the associations and trade bodies. There are people that see the industry just as a way to make money and a lot of people complain about what's happening in the sector, but they don't get involved. I think a lot more people should get on board with the likes of the BSIA and go along to events to talk to other people who are experiencing the same issues. Sometimes as an industry we can be very insular and hide information while other sectors such as cyber or banking share information. We all have the same problems, but we don't discuss the issues and use other people's experience to bolster our own positions. We need to be more collaborative.

You can read the whole article in PSI's December issue on page 19 here

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