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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I’ve written recently about Google’s $3.2 billion buy of smart thermostat and smoke alarm maker Nest Labs, and then Nest’s $555 million plan to buy Dropcam, which makes video cameras that stream video to a user’s computer or cellphone. Also, Apple in June introduced HomeKit, its new home automation/home security framework.

Now, Samsung also may be making a home automation push with a $200 million buy of startup SmartThings, according to news reports.

The potential deal was first reported in TechCrunch.

Forbes says that SmartThings is based in Washington, D.C. and “sells $100 hardware hubs and provides a cloud platform to make the hundreds of smart gadgets out on the market talk to each other in one unified app.”

Forbes notes that Samsung “already has many connected home appliances on the market.” However, Forbes says SmartThings could enhance those.

“What the SmartThings technology could do is better connect its appliances to other third-party devices onto one central platform. This is what Apple looks to be aiming to do with its HomeKit and what Nest may one day achieve after opening up its API program to allow other devices to talk to its growing family of smart gadgets.”

SmartThings, founded in 2012, has “tens of thousands” of SmartThings systems currently installed in U.S. households, Forbes said.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The BusinessDictionary defines “actionable intelligence” as data “that can be used to boost a company's strategic position against industry peers.” But with a new partnership announced this week, Vivint is using data collected from sensors in smart homes to “identify actionable insights to enrich their customers’ lives.”

Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company Vivint has partnered with Cloudera, which offers businesses “one place to store, process and analyze all their data,” according to a July 15 news release.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cloudera provides businesses with “fundamental new ways to derive value from their data.” In Vivint’s case that means, according to the news release, that “for the first time, Vivint is able to apply a new lens to data generated from intelligent devices and systems embedded with sensors in and around homes.” More than 100,000 data points “from smart sensors embedded in devices [are now] visible with Cloudera,” the release said.

Brandon Bunker, Vivint’s senior director of customer analytics and insights, put it this way in a prepared statement: “Vivint has been at the forefront of the connected home for decades, and now with the emergence of [the] IoT (Internet of Things), we are truly able to innovate by collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data from sensors embedded in our devices. We've taken that one step further with Cloudera and can now look across many data streams simultaneously for behaviors, geo-location, and actionable events in order to better understand and enrich our customers' lives.”

Vivint has more than 800,000 customers using various third party, smart-enabled devices, the release said. Each home has from 20 to 30 sensors, it said.

Here, according to the release, is how Cloudera’s services will make a difference with data from those sensors:

“Many of those devices come in the form of thermostats, smart appliances, video cameras, window and door sensors, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Without a central internal repository to gather and analyze the data generated from each sensor, Vivint was previously limited in its ability to innovate and to add higher intelligence to its security offerings. For example, knowing when a home is occupied or vacant is important to security -- but when tied into the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system, you can add a layer of energy cost savings by cooling or heating a home based on occupancy. Similarly, by adding geo-location into the equation, you can begin to adjust temperature changes to a home based on the proximity to an owner's arrival, for instance, when the owner has a connected vehicle.”
 

Such "actionable intelligence" would be a sellling point for Vivint because consumers can save from 20 to 30 percent in energy costs by turning off their HVAC systems when they’re away or sleeping, the release said.

Vivint said it chose Cloudera because it has a proven track record and a very broad “big data ecosystem, to ensure support as more and more devices are connected to the Internet each day.” The company also ensures the data’s security, the release said.

And that traditional definition of “actionable intelligence,” about boosting a company’s position against industry peers?

Well, that’s actually a part of the partnership too, according to Vivint. “This platform has differentiated our business and given us a tremendous competitive advantage,” Bunker said in his statement.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vivint is not a DIY company—it offers professionally installed and monitored home security. But its new online Support site—which the company announced this week—is geared toward those who like to take things into their own hands.

Vivint notes that it already offers customer support 24/7/365. But in addition to that, the Provo, Utah-based home automation/home security company has launched the new Support site. Here’s how it describes its new online service:  

“If you’re a go-getter, a do-it-yourself-er, a knowledge-seeker, or a hate-being-put-on-hold-er, then this is great news for you. On our new Support site, you’ll find video tutorials, step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting, FAQs and more for anything from changing the batteries on your electronic door lock to adding a new camera to your system.”

I checked out the site. It’s easy to read and it provides answers to basic questions that range from “Where can I send my payment?” to “Why do you use a door-to-door approach?” Vivint’s answer to the latter is that it’s more personal and allows a sales rep to customize systems for each homeowner.

But in case anyone is wondering, Vivint stresses that the site does not replace its traditional customer service. “If you’re a I’d-rather-just-talk-on-the-phone-er, we will always be here to answer your call,” the company says.

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“You Speak. Your Home Listens.” That’s how ADT is describing ADT Pulse Voice, a new app that adds personal voice commands to Pulse security systems.

Voice commands appear to be the hot new trend in home security. For example, I blogged recently about the voice control capabilities of Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostat. And Alan Stoddard, senior director of marketing for Honeywell Security Products Americas, told me last week that a new release of Honeywell’s Tuxedo Touch this month will provide for voice commands.

ADT announced the release of its new app today and bills ADT Pulse Voice technology as “the first of its kind in the smart home space.”

The company says the technology “enables homeowners to log in and log out of the Pulse Voice app via custom technology that recognizes unique voice signatures. Once logged in, users can arm and disarm their Pulse security panel, control their home’s lighting, adjust thermostats, lock and unlock doors, and check the overall status of their home – all verbally and virtually touchless through an iOS or Android smart phone.”

ADT says it’s all about making life simpler for today’s busy homeowners. No longer do they have to interrupt what they’re doing to manually control their homes. “Instead, a homeowner’s voice can trigger ADT Pulse functions by recognizing select key words, device names and phrases to perform. In addition to accepting personal voice commands, the ADT Pulse Voice app provides auditory feedback to confirm actions and system status for all of its connected devices.”

The technology is a boon for the visually impaired as well, ADT says.

The company says it has also taken steps to secure homeowners’ privacy in case a mobile device is lost or stolen. ADT says it does that by leveraging “a multi-layered identification process allowing only registered members of a household to log in. Through voice commands, a user is approved by three personal checkpoints: a secret phrase, state-of-the-art voice recognition, and confirmed identification of a mobile device. …Without all three verification checkpoints confirmed, any login attempt will be denied.”

The company says existing ADT customers can download the new app for free in the Apple App Store, as well as through Google Play.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pam Petrow stands out in the industry as one of just a handful of female CEO’s of a leading security company.

Now, four years into her leadership as CEO and president of Vector Security, Petrow is being distinguished again, this time for winning the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for her region, the Pittsburgh-based company announced this week.

As the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia award winner, Ms. Petrow will be automatically eligible for consideration for the Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 national program, the winners of which will be announced in November, according to a Vector news release.

The EY award “honors distinguished entrepreneurs who demonstrate widespread success, a commitment to innovation and forward thinking and unwavering passion for business,” the release said. Former recipients have included CEOs, private capital investors and regional leaders of a wide range of businesses.

Petrow succeeded Vector’s longtime president, John Murphy, after his death in October 2010. She formerly was Vector’s EVP and COO.

In a prepared statement about her EY award, Petrow credited company employees and the community with the win. “Being recognized for this prestigious award is not only a testament to the dedication of our employees, many of whom have made serving our customers their careers, but also to the stability and pioneering spirit of the people and businesses in our communities,” she said.

Vector serves nearly 300,000 residential and business customers. The release said Petrow “challenges managers to learn what their direct reports do on a day-to-day basis and to adapt their management style to extract the best performance from their employees.”

It also noted that she “held leadership positions in a number of security industry associations and received a number of awards including the Public-Safety Communications Officials International President’s Award and Central Station Alarm Association recognition for her outstanding contributions to the electronic transmission of signals between central stations and 911 dispatch centers. In 2012, Ms. Petrow was inducted into the Security Sales & Integration Hall of Fame.”

Pretty impressive!

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Monday, June 16, 2014

In 2013, there was a restructuring at the top of DEFENDER Direct, with CEO and president Marcia Barnes exiting and company founder David Lindsey stepping in to take her place. Now, the company announced today, it has a new president, and it’s a promotion from within.

Lindsey is passing the mantle of president to Jim Boyce, the company’s chief operating officer for almost three years. Boyce will also retain his COO title. His leadership has helped the Indianapolis-based company to grow dramatically, according to a June 16 news release.

DEFENDER bills itself as ADT’s only authorized Premier Provider. In business since 1998, the company employs more than 2,000 individuals in 48 states with over 143 branch offices nationwide.

Boyce actually joined DEFENDER’s Board of Advisors in 2009 and became the company’s COO in October 2011. Prior to joining DEFENDER, Boyce served on the executive teams at two large, global businesses, Convergys and Procter & Gamble, the news release said.

As president, Boyce will lead all day-to-day company operations, including overseeing DEFENDER’s Business Improvement Team, which includes key leaders from around the business who collaborate to achieve organizational alignment and continued success, the release said.

“In his time at DEFENDER, Jim has done an amazing job leading our security business. Key components of our business have dramatically grown and improved under Jim’s leadership,” Lindsey said, in a prepared statement.

In his own statement, Boyce said, “I am pleased with the success we are having and am incredibly optimistic about the future for this healthy, growing and inspired company. We have lightning in a bottle!”

Boyce is active in charitable work, according to the news release. He currently serves on the United Way of Central Indiana Board of Advisors and supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He is also involved with organizations such as the YWAM Homes of Hope Program, Junior Achievement and Habitat for Humanity.

I hope to learn more about DEFENDER's growth and future plans. Stay posted.

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Honeywell has released its new LYNX 5200 wireless security system and Alarm Grid DIY Security Solutions, a new Florida company that focuses on helping customers install their own security systems to keep costs affordable, says it is “on a mission to make the L5200 the perfect panel for security system Do-It-Yourselfers.”

It will be interesting to see how much traction Alarm Grid—founded in 2012 and based in Lighthouse Point, Fla., and which offers its customers no-contract central station monitoring—is able to achieve with its DIY approach.

It’s clear the company really likes the new Honeywell panel.

“The L5200 is the sister panel to this year's ISC [West] ‘Best in Intrusion’ winner, the Honeywell L7000, which is expected to be released in the latter half of 2014,” Alarm Grid said in a June 11 news release. “Like the predecessors of these two panels, Honeywell has designed the L5200 to be an integrated system that combines state-of-the art wireless security features such as Advanced Protection Logic (APL) and interactive services that allow an user to control the system from any smart device, with the incredible convenience afforded by modern home automation products.”

Alarm Grid said that with the new panel, “Honeywell has gone far to address many of their consumers' demands, and it's clear that with this panel the company is furthering its commitment to improved user experience. … The Honeywell L5200 comes with more zones of protection, the ability to display a camera on screen, and one of the most exciting developments in Honeywell's technology comes with the announcement that the L5200 is flash upgradeable … which allows the panel to download the latest software updates that have been released for the unit.”

Alarm Grid believes that DIY is the wave of the future and that Honeywell’s new panel is perfect for DIYers. The company says it is making it available to end users through its website.

"Do-It-Yourselfers have really taken up the reins in this industry. These panels are easy to understand, they are simple to program, and they are simple to install," said Joshua Unseth, Alarm Grid's director of marketing, in a prepared statement.

The news release continues: “While the release of a security system like the L5200 would generally mean big money for installers who bank on consumers knowing very little about how these systems work, Alarm Grid has already released the L5200 manuals, they have begun writing L5200 frequently asked questions, and they have even released a L5200 DIY installation video, which they say shows just how simple installing this system yourself can be.”

"We don't think you have to be an experienced DIYer to install a security system," Sterling Donnelly, Alarm Grid president, said in a statement. “… Our goal is to make it easy. For those who want to give it a try, our tech team patiently guides them through every step of the way."

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It was big news last summer when Provo, Utah-based Vivint opened a new 400-employee sales center in Liberty Lake, Wash., suburb of Spokane. But now, barely a year later, Vivint is closing that center, the company says.

Starr Fowler, Vivint's VP of human resources, provided this statement: "It has been a pleasure to be part of the Liberty Lake community, which has hosted one of Vivint’s sales centers for the past year. Due to a reallocation of resources, the Vivint Liberty Lake office will close on June 27, 2014. At that time, all employees are eligible to receive severance, and some employees will be offered the opportunity to relocate to Provo, UT. If of interest, employees are encouraged to apply for other positions with Vivint, and their application will be considered. Vivint remains committed to providing world-class customer service to its more than 800,000 customers across North America.”

It’s not clear exactly why Vivint is reallocating resources away from the center. According to reports from Washington state media, it's also unclear whether Vivint ever reached its planned goal of hiring 400 employees.

The new center was billed as part of the home automation/ home security company’s plan to diversify its sales channel by increasing inside sales. Vivint has been known primarily as a door-knocking company. Vivint has said the Liberty Lake center was its second inside sales center and its first outside of Utah.

Vivint received a $150,000 incentive to open the Liberty Lake center from an economic development fund managed by the Washington governor’s office, according to The Spokesman-Review.

Why the change in plans? I'm going to try to learn more from Vivint execs.

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Recent news reports say that Google may buy startup Dropcam, which makes video cameras that stream video to a user’s computer or cellphone, as a way to get into home security. And The Financial Times has reported that Apple is soon expected to make a “big play” into the smart home, launching a new software platform that will allow users to control security systems and home features such as lights directly from their iPhones.

Should security companies be worried? Not really, according to a report today from Imperial Capital, a New York-based full-service investment bank.

If the Dropcam report turns out to be true, it would mean Google is adding a security component on the heels of its entrance into home automation with its recent $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs, maker of smart thermostats and smoke alarms.

But the report, authored by Jeff Kessler, Imperial Capital’s managing director of institutional research, said it doesn’t believe the Dropcam purchase would have a negative impact on security companies or other pure play home automation companies, like Control4.

The reason, it says, is that “security companies generally are not participants in the do-it-yourself (DIY) market and do not target particular groups that may be interested in such products (e.g., college students, young professionals living in high rises).” Also, the report said, although “Dropcam could be a good entry product for those that do not understand or are not familiar with security products, it does not replace the security, home automation, and customer service capabilities which the likes of ADT or Control4 provide, and nor do we believe that it wants to.”

What about the potential Apple smart home/security play?

The report says: “We wonder if Apple will open up its “big play” to allow a broad base of installers, service, and responders to interact with it, or will it be another closed end system, in which the homeowner, or more likely the apartment owner, can check on what is going on at home on an Apple iPhone, and then have the responsibility of “making the call” to police or health responders based on what they have just seen on the iPhone. Another uncertainty is if the police would trust this system, or would law enforcement be more likely to respond to a more familiar source that has verified the same incident.”

The report summarized by saying that while the new developments are exciting and will be particularly attractive to those who don’t own homes, the lack of professional monitoring is a drawback.

“Remember, these monitoring stations (to be accredited) have to show that their average time to make a decision to dispatch or not to dispatch is less that 30-35 seconds, have tremendous redundancy, and can typically be trusted. We simply do not believe that Apple users will get that service.”

In fact, the report says that these DIY products could indirectly help professional security companies by introducing a younger generation to the idea of home security/home automation, which could lead those customers to “potentially switch to a larger, more powerful, and more comprehensive platform in the out years.”

Alarm.com, a leading provider of interactive security services, also weighed in to me on the new developments involving Google and Apple.

That Vienna, Va.-based company stressed that security is the backbone of the smart home and noted that professional monitoring is a key differentiator, but said security companies need to make sure homeowners know that.

"The key purchase driver for home automation is security.  We see this in both consumer surveys and purchasing trends," Alarm.com said, in a statement.

Also, Alarm.com said, the announcements "validate the popularity of a growing range of connected devices and services. Security dealers should tap into this underlying consumer demand by aggressively marketing and selling a complete range of connected home technologies with professionally monitored security at its core."

 

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by: Tess Nacelewicz - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Professional security companies proudly point to the good service they give consumers as an important differentiator between them and their giant cableco and telecom competitors. And a new consumer satisfaction survey suggests they don’t have to worry about losing that edge to the Cable Guy anytime soon—because it shows new dips for Time Warner Cable and Comcast, and AT&T and DIRECTV don’t fare too well, either.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index released its annual measure of the communications industries this week. The ACSI report measures consumer satisfaction in such categories as Internet service providers (ISPs), subscription TV service, fixed-line and wireless telephone service, computer software and cellphones, according to a news release. Ratings are done on a 100-point scale.

“Customer satisfaction is deteriorating for all of the largest pay TV providers. Viewers are much more dissatisfied with cable TV service than fiber optic and satellite service (60 vs. 68). Though both companies drop in customer satisfaction, DIRECTV (-4 percent) and AT&T (-3 percent) are tied for the lead with ACSI scores of 69. Verizon Communications FiOS (68) and DISH Network (67) follow.”

AT&T’s and DIRECTV’s dips in customer satisfaction are of particular note because I just wrote about how AT&T’s $48.5 billion plan to buy DIRECTV could impact Digital Life—AT&T home security/home automation offering—and the security industry.

Hmmm…a dip in customer satisfaction regarding any part of those companies’ businesses doesn’t seem like a positive—especially if they want to bundle services!

There’s also a $45 billion pending deal for Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable. Both of those companies have home security/home automation offerings but they’re not making customers very happy, at least when it comes to TV and Internet service, according to ACSI.

“Cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable have the most dissatisfied customers. Comcast falls 5 percent to 60, while Time Warner registers the biggest loss and plunges 7 percent to 56, its lowest score to date,” the news release said.

The release also has a prepared statement from David VanAmburg, ACSI director: “Comcast and Time Warner assert their proposed merger will not reduce competition because there is little overlap in their service territories. Still, it's a concern whenever two poor-performing service providers combine operations. ACSI data consistently show that mergers in service industries usually result in lower customer satisfaction, at least in the short term. It's hard to see how combining two negatives will be a positive for consumers.”

Customers also aren’t happy with their Internet service from such providers, according to ACSI.

“High prices, slow data transmission and unreliable service drag satisfaction to record lows, as customers have few alternatives beyond the largest Internet service providers. Customer satisfaction with ISPs drops 3.1 percent to 63, the lowest score in the Index, the release said.

“At an ACSI score of 71,Verizon's FiOS Internet service continues to lead the category, surpassing AT&T, CenturyLink and the aggregate of other smaller broadband providers, all at 65,” according to the release. “Cable-company-controlled ISPs languish at the bottom of the rankings again. Cox Communications is the best of these and stays above the industry average despite a 6 percent fall to 64. Customers rate Comcast (-8 percent to 57) and Time Warner Cable (-14 percent to 54) even lower for Internet service than for their TV service. In both industries, the two providers have the weakest customer satisfaction.”

However, customers are happy with their cellphones. That rating is “up for a second straight year, rising 2.6 percent to a new all-time high ACSI score of 78.”

The release said, “Steady growth in the use of smartphones, which have much higher levels of customer satisfaction, helps drive the overall industry gain. However, as data usage increases, costs to access overloaded networks are high, leaving customer satisfaction with wireless service providers stagnant at an ACSI score of 72.”

ACSI found that, “among wireless phone providers, Verizon Wireless separates from the pack after climbing 3 percent to 75. T-Mobile (69), Sprint (68) and AT&T Mobility (68) are tightly grouped behind. As smartphone adoption continues to grow, network demands increase along with costs to the consumer, each contributing to stagnant customer satisfaction.”

Also interesting were the ACSI POTS ratings. “Customer satisfaction with fixed-line telephone service dips 1.4 percent to an ACSI score of 73, but remains the most satisfying of all types of telecommunications. However, the score is due to shrinking landline usage. As more households abandon fixed-line service for cell phones, the customers that remain tend to be the most satisfied,” the release said.

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