If I were an Intruder Alarm Panel I’d need counselling. If my “friends” were chatting on social media asking each other to describe me they’d say “boring”, “grudge purchase”, “doesn’t interact well with others”, “ugly” and maybe “obsolete”. It’s time to stand up for the Intruder Alarm Panel community, and their value is almost immeasurable.
Without wanting to get too deep into the technical, let’s just define the Intruder Alarm Market. I’m talking about the Installation, Maintenance and Monitoring of systems. The numbers in this market are huge, thousands of jobs created, millions of pounds of recurring revenue generated, billions of pounds of assets protected. The people behind Intruder Alarm Systems and the Monitoring of them have created valuable, innovative businesses combining standards, manufacturing, software and services.
This is a sophisticated market, requiring the synchronous collaboration of multiple stake holders, even in it’s steady state. But the world has been far from steady for some time and the impact on the market has been dramatic. High speed connectivity and the retirement of PSTN, Cloud computing and integration between those platforms are driving significant change, breathing new life into the market – particularly for End Users who have high risk or multiple sites to manage in the campus or retail environments.
What is the Internet?
This is not a history lesson nor is it a technical white paper, but let’s start with a quick recap on what is the internet. “The internet is the most important invention since the wheel.” Said Steve Jobbs. That’s sounds obvious now, but let’s understand things more. The internet is a global network of computers and other devices that are connected to each other, allowing people (and now devices) to share information and communicate from anywhere in the world. The internet, therefore, is the transport network for data and it is the computers, websites etc which are the powerful applications that we use today. By example one of those applications is the AI engine ChatGPT which I used to search for Steve Jobbs quote, attempt to verify when he said it and get the short definition of the internet, above. Jobbs, Gates et al were prophetic and saw that the internet would deliver transformative services – even for Intruder Alarms.
We will have to take a step back so that we can see the way forward here, as whilst the tech is good it’s the measurable impact of that tech that we want to find. I recently spoke to Adrian Sherry, Head of Security Innovation at Next Retail. Adrian shared with me that in the 90’s when he was at Argos the alarm system was connected to a telephone line, to ensure that calls could always be made Argos installed a red telephone in every branch. The instruction to staff was; “Never pick up the red telephone”, to do so would impede the alarm transmission. After burglers performed line cuts and cleared out some stores, innovation kicked in and Redcare, Dual Path Signalling and many more features and solutions were built, replacing the Red Phone.
It's not the archaic nature of the original “Red Phone” solution that I am picking up on here, it’s inefficiency. Every part of that solution screams it. The alarm panel sent only a handful of the over 1000 message types that it could have in order to keep the telephone bill down. The technology didn’t afford reliable remote servicing, the line wasn’t monitored etc. “Grudge purchase” wasn’t wrong in terms of the solution when connected to a telephone line, but it wasn’t the panel’s fault – it was the communications and the network it was attached to that was the problem – and that issue ran all the way to the Alarm Receiving Centre, the required expensive receiving architecture and many more issues beside.
Imagine it’s 2019, we’re the thick end of 30 years from the paragraph above, but still the journey to the office was the right thing to do. That routine was ingrained on (almost) all of us. Even though we (Conxtd) operated everything in the cloud – we still hadn’t quite understood that we could all, regularly work remotely. And then it was March 2020. The technology to change the world was right there at our fingertips, and in our millions we adopted overnight. The Intruder Alarm market had already been experiencing change at this point, but now the rate of change is faster and more urgent than ever before. Covid didn’t just make us work differently, it damaged our economy, and from the roots of the network up change became mandatory.
BT was already making the dial up PSTN network obsolete pre-Covid. We have all been through network changes, and BT is notorious for holding onto legacy technology for as long as possible to satisfy customer niches. But be clear here – All IP will remove the PSTN network and if you haven’t migrated to a digital solution (broadband or radio) by the time your exchange is updated, you won’t have a monitored security system anymore. Covid has allowed suppliers a new clarity, I would go as far to say a new honesty. Whatever the change, this is how it is going to be. You will need to be on the bus, and there is no other bus, you will not be accommodated another way.
So what's next?
So, what is the measurable impact that all this technology linking the alarm panel to the cloud via high speed communications can give us? One more step back and we can identify the problem. In 1967 Austin Powers was cryogenically frozen, ready to fight his nemesis Dr Evil should he return in the future. The adage in the Cloud community goes that if Austin Powers wanted a job in Operations anywhere he wouldn’t know about the latest fashions, street language and other trends – but he would be able to use a spreadsheet, so little has changed in some places. Getting information into the hands of people who need to make real time decisions using these methods is, bluntly, impossible. Why connect your alarm systems to all this technology only to be sent an email, spreadsheet or pdf of last weeks or yesterdays alarms – which you can’t interpret, and aren’t in the context of your operations? Why spend on employing a data analyst to try and build formulae etc to make it all happen?
This is the change state of the Intruder Alarm Market. By connecting systems to high speed communications and leveraging cloud platforms the entire supply chain will generate an entirely new value proposition – but we have some way to go. All of the technology is in place and End Users can, in the main, start taking advantage of these technologies right away. However, there is a fundamental, architectural change that must happed over the next 5 years to really benefit everyone. The digitisation of the Alarm Receiving Centre itself. The ARC’s do a fantastic job and will continue to do so – this is not the removal of their services from the supply chain, instead it will put great ARCs front and centre of the digital revolution and unbind them from their costly past. High speed Communications and Cloud will be the reframing of the ARC market.
If you asked ARCs right now about the state of the Intruder Alarm Market they would say that it is very difficult to make any money from it. ARCs profits lie in CCTV monitoring and the Alarm Market is a sea of cost and churn as installers seek the lowest possible price. In this horribly competitive market the margin is squeezed because there is no room for a fundamental change in the receiving architecture of the ARC. ARCs house racks of equipment that are required to provide the Monitoring service, all enclosed within a bullet proof building or two or more. Irrespective of the risk profile every monitored site is treated the same and nobody is allowed to manage an alarm unless they are inside that bunker. Until March 2020.
It's no surprise to anyone that in some circumstances some ARCs had to have operators work from outside of the bunker. The risk to staff and the overall operation itself (imagine an entire ARCs staff unable to enter the building) was at risk. A situation had arisen where it was impossible to operate in any other way than remotely. I am not saying for one second that there is no role for the secure environment of an ARC, or it’s operation, but the knock on effect of the Covid situation, I believe, will be profound over the next few years.
All aboard the Cloud - it will leave without you
Cloud technology is not just about running computers in a data centre. ARCs can benefit from removing physical equipment and certain aspects of it’s management out of their environment. More space, less power consumption, less requirement for battery backup. Less architectural costs and new margins gained from intruder alarms. Apply AI to processes and you can do more with the same amount of people, certainly in the CCTV market. Some of the people can be upskilled to move from manual processes and those spreadsheets to Customer Service and more. As the software and systems now reside natively in the Cloud, mobility becomes natural. An ARC can now empower a remote workforce, at least to deal with non emergency alarms or the lowest risk sites. Access to a broader talent pool becomes possible as not all staff have live locally to enter the high security environment. For Enterprises of a certain risk or Multi Site customers they can now participate in the management of their security using real time data and use the ARC and Installers as their Professional consultants, enabling a new level of service customisation at scale.
Covid was horrible. Humans (most of them) are brilliant. The response to this terrible decease has seen all sectors embrace a new balance, using technology to keep us close together, allowing us to work nearer our families, but still able to travel when necessary. The intruder alarm market was already in transition and the pieces of the future jigsaw are moving inexporably into place. Standards, technology, software are all coming together to reframe this huge market sector into a valuable and profitable set of data services. The intruder alarm market is metamorphosising into an exciting, beautiful, interconnected and valuable solution – one that it’s friends will be making trend on social media.
Chris was writing in the April 2023 edition of Security Matters Magazine Online.
Carter Brennan, C., The State of the Nation., Available at: https://www.flipsnack.com/E59F88BBDC9/security-matters-april-2023/full-view.html (Accessed: 02 May 2023).