I had a conversation yesterday with Jeff Crews from 4HomeMedia (a software company) who is also a member of the Z-Wave Alliance (members of this Alliance all incorporate Z-Wave wirelessly technology into their products so they can "talk" to each other). Earlier this week, the alliance demonstrated a security solution for major cable providers at The Cable Show in New Orleans as an option for cable companies to offer a security component to their customers. It made me wonder if cable companies would really consider selling security to their customers, and, more importantly, if homeowners would embrace purchasing security from them. It seems like a similar situation with telco companies, and on the surface, it seems like a natural extension of services. However, I've heard from several security industry folks that the business models are too different. For example, telco companies, like cable companies, don't have the customer service infrastructure to support security (I've always been put on hold when calling the phone company). I suppose there's a solution to that problem, like outsourcing calls to a specialized security division, but that seems expensive and, frankly, isn't that what they already do? Plus, I feel like the cable companies can barely handle what they do and don't exactly have the best track record. For instance, my neighbor had her cable knocked out during an electrical repair and it took the cable company over a month to fix the problem. I mean, really, would people wait a month to have their security system repaired? That doesn't exactly exude a sense of security. But, I definitely think the Alliance's appearance at the show is worth a second thought.
So I was just checking out this company, uControl, who just released a touchscreen control panel that can either works as its own wireless alarm system or with an existing installed alarm system. Frankly, I don't know that much about this company yet (interviews are pending), but I was struck by an eerie similarity to the company, iControl, who is also developing a similar touchscreen alarm system and I guess the similarity in name is fairly obvious. Despite the uncanny similarities, the touchscreen panels seem pretty cool and innovative. I had a chance to try out iControl's panel at ISC West and it was definitely snazzy, yet intuitive. You could do the typical alarm things like arm/disarm as well as view video cameras from the panel. It also had some "fun" features like rotating pictures, and Internet access for checking sports scores, stock numbers, weather and traffic updates. It also had the home automation element which included controlling lights, temperature and such. And even though the company names may be confusingly similar, these companies are making security cool.
So in my search for news this morning, I ran across this "security product." It's called the Safe Bedside Table and converts from a table into, well, duh, a club and shield so you can protect yourself from an intruder. The accompanying text gives some explanation: While an alarm system will let you know if someone has broken into your home it wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do much to stop a determined intruder once theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re inside. So instead of sleeping with a gun under the pillow try this Safe Bedside Table instead. When not in use it looks like a normal bedside table with modern design stylings but in the middle of the night if you think there might be an intruder the table turns into a club and shield giving you somewhat of a fighting chance."Somewhat" of a fighting chance? I guess that's better than no chance at all. Well, if you were getting all excited about this product, I hate to tell you that the last part of the Web site reveals that it's not actually for sale, but "anyone with a lathe, bandsaw and basic carpentry skills could probably just build their own." Geez, thanks, I'm sure you'll all get right on that. Until then, I guess you'll just have to settle with the gun under the pillow.
I've seen several news reports recently about people who thought their security system was being monitored (and were often paying for monitoring services), but in fact their system was never reporting to a central station. Not a very positive security message. Well, one company, Urban Alarm out of D.C., has recognized this trend too and is marketing its systems by focusing on its testability. This article (actually, it's a press release) urges customers to regularly test their alarm systems to verify transmission and, just so you know, Urban Alarm is willing to help alarm system users out even if they aren't customers. I bet they are. I know this picture doesn't exactly capture the testing procedure, but you get the idea.
So, I just happened to come across this "security" product (and, you're right, this has nothing to do with monitoring). The product is called Door Jamb Armour and it's advertised as a way to repair broken door jambs following a break-in and also a way to secure your door to prevent future home invasions. Interesting. The company's Web site includes this line: Intruders know that kicking in the door is the easiest way into your home. I guess. Breaking a window must be a close second, though. Regardless, this product could certainly be considered a deterrent to a very lazy thief, but I hardly think it warrants the company's logo: "Because you can't afford false security." Frankly, without any kind of security system to detect that, say, someone's trying to kick down your door, I'd say that Door Jamb Armour isn't exactly providing me worry-free nights.
Just got off the phone with the vice president of licensing for Smith & Wesson, Bobbie Hunnicutt. Smith & Wesson, for those of you non-gun loving types like me, is one of the (if not, THE) largest gun manufacturers in the U.S. Yesterday they announced their entrance into the electronic security marketplace with a partnership (or, in legal speak, "licensing agreement") with NationWide Digital Monitoring. The two company's will develop Smith & Wesson-branded security systems that will be sold and installed by specifically recruited dealers ("We are only looking for professionals," said Wayne Wahrsager, president of NationWide). NationWide, which is a division of New York Merchants Protective Co., will have a separate monitoring division in its central station dedicated solely to customers with Smith & Wesson branded systems. Both company's talked about the importance of protecting and building their brands. Hunnicutt talked about the extensive research Smith & Wesson did to understand its brand, its customers and the expectations and potential of the company. They discovered the Smith & Wesson brand was synonymous with "security and protection" and so their entrance into the electronic security market was a "natural step for us." The Smith & Wesson brand will be rolled out by 2009. I just hope part of their marketing strategy is lawn signs that jive with their bumper stickers.
So, I finally got around to reading The New Yorker article about the man who was stuck in an elevator for 41 hours. Nicholas White, a production manager for Business Week, spent a weekend trapped in Car No. 30 of the McGraw-Hill building in New York City back in 1999. For 41 hours he paced the elevator, pried open the doors, repeatedly used the emergency phone, laid down to sleep and even smoked the rest of his cigarettes (aren't there smoke detectors in there!) ... but nothing. Nobody noticed him, not even the eight (yes, 8!) different guards who were on duty that weekend. Here's an easily overlooked parenthesized sentence in the 8,000 word article that caught my security-honed attention: (Eight McGraw-Hill security guards came and went while he was stranded there; nobody seems to have noticed him on the monitor.) Check out the video for yourself: I don't know how many screens these security guards monitored, but it was a weekend, people. There's little to no activity in the elevators for the duration of the video, and, there's even elevator maintenance work being done, which should at least garner some attention from the guards. (Of course, there's no maintenance work being done on the elevator car that actually malfunctioned and trapped White inside.) I'd say this is a great example of why security guards alone are not very effective. If it had been one guy who missed this, I'd say fine, maybe he was tired. But EIGHT! I know this was nearly 10 years ago and the analytic technology of today wasn't available, but if I were an analytic provider trying to convince companies to invest in notification-based video systems, this example would certainly be in my arsenal.
So, apparently the concept of "intelligent textiles" is more prevalent than I first thought. Here's a blurb about a t-shirt that monitors vital signs such as heart rate and body temperature. It's a good old cotton t-shirt embedded with conductive fibers that's supposedly washable, too. (Good thing, otherwise wearers of this t-shirt may not be welcomed in many enclosed spaces.) Here's how it works: "A micro controller embedded in the t-shirt digitizes the signals and transmits them via a wireless connection to a remote back-end system for real-time monitoring." The article claims part of the five-year development of this technology was partially paid for by the Department of Defense. Interesting. It also said that the company is beginning field testing for the monitoring of emergency service workers such as police officers and fire service workers. My thought is that some company has to be doing that monitoring, why not you?
So there's yet another player in the plug-n-go security market: Rogo. For $10.95 a month, customers can remotely access cameras from their PC or cell phone using this system. The model is similar to other vendors in this arena: making remote video monitoring a mass market product by making it as cheap and easy as possible. But $10.95/month? That's pretty darn cheap. Rogo is pushing the use of USB cameras, which are so inexpensive they can give them away for free, or so they say at least twice in this article. However, the obvious drawback of USB cameras are that, well, they're USB cameras and they have to plug into your computer to work. Who wants 50 yards of USB cord strung through their house, even if the camera is in the form of a cute puppy? (The picture of the puppy camera has nothing to do with the Rogo system, I just thought it was cute and funny ... plus it's Friday.) To counter this downfall, the Web site explains that the system is compatible with AXIS wireless cameras. Another problem from a consumer standpoint is that all the captured data is stored directly on the consumer's computer. The FAQ section of the Web site says that the system only takes up about 5 GB of space, but still... Something interesting and perhaps new about this system is that the cameras can be set on "motion detect mode" and only record when activated. That certainly seems like more of a security-related function. The article also mentioned the ability for the camera to produce graphs and quantitative results based on the footage, or so says the president of the company: Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve also moved beyond just security,Ã¢â‚¬Â [James] Trimble says. Because the system can monitor 24-hour activity and graph it, a retailer can examine the peaks and valleys of activity in a store. That was a first for me, too. It sounds like there must be an analytic component incorporated in the system, right? No mention of the word "analytic" in the article or on the Web site, but perhaps that word doesn't create the excitement in the consumer market as it does among security professionals.
Here's an article that follows one woman's experience in contract hell. Her experience is specifically about getting unknowingly roped into a contract with her satellite television provider, but could easily be applied to alarm monitoring contracts. From a consumer point of view I can completely understand her frustration (I just changed cell phone providers, which was quite an ordeal). And, apparently, so can the author of this article. Here's my favorite paragraph: Customer service contracts have become the bane of our consumerhood, a modern form of indentured servitude, a spiral of preset spending from which breaking free is almost impossible. We wince and sign, lured by equipment discounts or other come-ons, all with a sense that we'll regret it later. However, from the company's standpoint, the need for contracts is unquestionable, particularly in the alarm industry where RMR is the number that counts. I monitor several industry listserv's and regularly read posts from business owners about their troubles with contracts: how to write them in a way that's legally binding and inclusive, but at the same time easily understood by the consumer. I don't often read about the enforcement of contracts, so I don't have a good perspective on how much of an issue it is, but I imagine it's not something that's in the 'likes' column for many business owners. I think it's safe to say that contracts are nobody's friend, except maybe your lawyers.