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John Jennings

SAFE Security acquires Safeguard Security

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08/20/2014

SAN RAMON, Calif.—In a deal that brings it 300 employees, $1.5 million in RMR, 25,000 customers, a guard business and a central station, SAFE Security, based here, has acquired the alarm business of Safeguard Security, a super-regional that’s been family owned for more than 50 years

ESX roundup

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

With ESX 2014 in the rearview mirror, I wanted to combine some of my experiences into one summarizing blog of an event rich in educational seminars and insightful speakers. Here are some of the sights and sounds, in more or less chronological order:

How, in 2014 and beyond, does a security company remain relevant? That’s the question Safeguard Security CEO John Jennings addressed at the ESA eye-opener breakfast, urging audience members to free themselves from outmoded ways of doing and thinking about business.

Titled “Dinosaurs, Woolly Mammoths, Saber tooth tigers and you,” the presentation very directly explored strategies to help security companies avoid becoming, well, extinct. His recommendations? Promoting unorthodox perspectives, challenging the obvious and fostering divergent ideas. He encouraged listeners to emulate the disruptive, risk-taking attitudes prevalent in the tech startup culture—first by considering failure not as an endgame, but as an occasional and even necessary obstacle along the pathway to better ideas.

Jennings also told attendees to ask the tough questions about their businesses, and to be uncompromising about having employees who both perform in the field and elevate the atmosphere in the office.

Strategic planning, Jennings noted, can be relegated to the dustbin of history. In an industry so rapidly evolving and so hard to predict, such projects no longer constitute a good use of time. Oh, and organizational charts? Those can go too. Divisions between personnel need no longer be so neatly divided or even hierarchical, as leaders should aim to pool ideas from all levels of their management structure.

Jennings also made a persuasive and rather funny case for doing away with the term “central station.” “Central station—really?!” he asked with half-serious outrage. He then asked if anyone outside the industry actually knows what a central station is. He’s got a point. There’s something a little unsleek and Star Trek-y about the phrase. And that’s misleading; the facilities I’ve visited are nothing if not sleek.

In the afternoon I moderated a seminar featuring Tom Szell, SVP, ADS Security, Mike Bodnar, president, Security Partners, and Brandon Savage, SVP customer experience and operations at My Alarm Center/Alarm Capital Alliance. It was a good mix of perspectives, and the trio wasn’t shy about proposing some forward-thinking ideas. Savage urged attendees to make customer support not just a differentiator but the key differentiator at their companies. Szell affirmed that the interactive services revolution is an enormous positive for the industry, but said the next imperative is figuring out how to provide top-notch support for this ever-expanding array of services. With respect to the hiring and training process, Mike Bodnar encouraged attendees to identify people with the right mix of hard and soft skills, and added that the demand for operators with those characteristics is only going to increase.

From a monitoring standpoint, the panelists left no stone unturned: PERS, mobile PERS, installer apps, subscriber apps, the ASAP to PSAP program, customer surveys, video verification, and interactive services and the new expectations for customer support they’ve produced.

In the latter part of the session, the audience members posed some superb questions as well. Some asked how to extend the life of PERS accounts or how to develop the most effective and informative customer surveys. Others asked about the threat of DIY  / MIY systems and how best to cope with broader market awareness of these systems.

The ESX show floor kicks into full gear Wednesday. I plan to be there the next two days and to make a point of getting to as many of the educational seminars as possible. 

 

DAY 2 - ESX 2014

 

It had the feel of a seminar anyone in the monitoring space needed to hear. Moderated by Don Childers, COO of Security Central, the panel titled “IP, the Central Station and All that Jazz” got down to the brass tacks of what it takes to be a monitoring company in 2014. One of the ruling themes: You need to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your monitoring company now to determine how well suited or not it is to be reliable hub of IP signals.

The panelist lineup included Sascha Kylau, VP central station solutions and services, OneTel; Morgan Hertel, VP of operations at Rapid Response Monitoring; and Mark McCall, director of IT, Security Central.

The “Internet of Things” movement was broached early in the session, with Kylau mentioning some possibilities for monitoring that might have seemed farfetched a few years ago but that now seem totally plausible. Pet tracking, mobile medical monitoring, mobile tracking, geo fencing, aggregating information from household appliances—Kylau touched on all these possibilities. Some of these services, such as PERS, are already well-established streams of RMR for some monitoring companies, and only stand to become more mainstream in the years ahead.

The panelists agreed that investing in quality ISPs and bandwidth will pay off in the long run. Hertel noted that during Hurricane Sandy, Rapid Response was hit was an astonishing rate of signals for two weeks straight. With such taxing scenarios in mind, he advised monitoring companies to invest in reliable, first-rate ISPs, and to work closely with automation providers to ensure their company can accommodate IP traffic in any set of circumstances. To that point, McCall added that it’s crucial to invest in a network monitoring platform that tracks signal information and informs you when the IP firewall is about to max out.

The panelists didn’t just discuss the equipment investments in the central station IP domain. They also touched on the human capital aspect of the business, which is evolving in proportion to the technology. Hertel said Rapid Response now employs a 25-person IT and software development team.

Later in the day I caught up with Jeremy Mclerran, director of marketing at Qolsys. The company’s big news at the show was the launch of its new user interface intended to make the customer experience more consistent and sleek. To that end, the new look is a rousing success; it’s an uncluttered, clean, visually appealing interface. McLerran explained that Qolsys is so closely integrated with Alarm.com that remodeling the company’s own interface to make it closer in alignment with that platform’s look and feel “just made sense.”

Though the new look features flat, monochromatic icons, McLerran pointed out that the changes aren’t just cosmetic. The company’s intent was to design a “forward-compatible” panel that interoperates with a host of wireless radios and has a slew of home control functionalities already embedded. Qolsys also managed to elicit some guffaws with its anonymous banner ads adorning the escalators: “1980 called. It wants its panel back.” The banners also encouraged industry members to take a deep breath and  “just say no” to rubber button keypads.

In the afternoon I met with Dave Mayne, VP of marketing at Resolution Products, which today announced the release of its new Helix panel, scheduled to ship everywhere in December. Mayne said the panel reflects Resolution’s goal of creating a panel that reduces the amount of time dealers need to spend servicing accounts, while giving them a pathway to adding new home control functions. The Helix employs software and interactive services from SecureNet. It will ship to a select group of early adopters in July, he said.

I also spoke with Kirk MacDowell, VP sales, intrusion-Americas, at Interlogix, about the company’s recent acquisition of Ultra High Speed, a technology provider of telecommunications infrastructure equipment. The move expands the company’s global intrusion portfolio in the residential and small- to medium-sized retail verticals. A big draw, MacDowell said, was that UHS was a “proven, developed and launched” service.

First thing tomorrow morning I’ll be attending the ESX Rise and Shine breakfast, where I’ll be listening closely to what some of the new entrants to the industry have to say about their go-to-market strategies and their vision for the security industry of tomorrow. I’m eager for this session, and from what I’ve heard from attendees, I’m not alone. I expect to see few if any empty seats.

 

Day 3 - ESX 2014

 

The final day of ESX began with a highly anticipated panel moderated by ESX chair George De Marco. The panel was intended to showcase how some of the new security entrants envision the direction of the industry.

The lineup included Adam Mayer, VP strategy and new business development, Time Warner Cable; Gene LaNois, GM, Nest Labs, Pro Channel; and Mike Hackett, VP sales and marketing, Qolsys.

De Marco did not refrain from asking the tough questions, or in other words, the questions the audience wanted to hear. In view of Google-owned Nest recently acquiring Dropcam, he asked LaNois if he thought third-party monitoring centers and installers would remain crucial components of security, or if DIY systems would factor them out of the equation. The response from LaNois, and from the other panelists who chimed in, were not exactly discouraging for installers or monitoring personnel. Yes, both LaNois and Mayer agreed the DIY market was poised to take off. But they also agreed that for more complex integration projects, installers will still be in high demand, and will continue to play a major role in shaping the industry moving forward. The key takeaways of the panel were that lifestyle services and monitored security can and will share a symbiotic relationship, and that DIY systems, while a threat to central station RMR, are not necessarily going to destroy the entire central station model. If anything, they might just modify it.

After the seminar I caught up with Telguard’s Shawn Welsh, VP marketing and business development, and Pamela Benke, director of marketing, to discuss the company’s new cellular alarm communicator for CDMA networks, the TG-1 Express CDMA. Welsh said the product goes along way toward expanding the company’s residential reach, turning rural or hilly regions, where cellular coverage can be spotty, into more viable zones for Telguard’s services. Compatible with Verizon’s 3G/4G wireless networks, the CDMA alternative is being marketed as a replacement to soon-to-be obsolete GSM products. Telguard is making the product eligible for the company’s Upgrade Incentive Program, which allows dealers to receive $25 for replacing GSM units.

On my final day at ESX, I got wind that the Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response met its ESX deadline for developing video verification best practices. Mark McCall, IT director at Security Central, Keith Jentoft, president at Videofied-RSI Technologies, and Peter Tallman, program manager at Underwriters Laboratories shed some light on their roles in the process, and on the numeric threat evaluation criteria outlined in the new recommendations.

Acquiring thy neighbor?

Best practices according to Jennings, Egan, Loud, Goldstein and Cerasuolo
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07/17/2013

YARMOUTH, Maine—One of the best ways for security companies to build density is to acquire a local competitor, but there also are potential pitfalls when doing business in your backyard, according to five security company executives who have experience with these kinds of transactions.

Safeguard makes acquisition

Super-regional completes tuck-in in Santa Fe
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04/18/2012

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Super-regional Safeguard Security has acquired New Mexico Security Services, headquartered in Santa Fe, N.M., Safeguard CEO John Jennings told Security Systems News.

Lessons from the recession

Safeguard Security’s John Jennings says even bad economic times can help prepare companies for growth
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11/29/2011

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—The economic recession took a toll on Safeguard Security, a family-owned, 50-year-old security company based here. Its annual revenues dropped from $34 million in 2008 to $29 million in 2010, company president John Jennings said. However, he said he expects Safeguard’s revenues to rebound to $30 million by the end of this year, and said the downturn provided important lessons for his company.

'Exploring new dimensions' at FAP convention

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Veterans Day, the floods in Thailand and the "cookie ladies" were all part of the conversation at the opening session Friday at Honeywell's First Alert Professional Convention 2011 that I attended in Scottsdale, Ariz. Nov. 10-12.

Friday was Veterans Day and JoAnna Sohovich, Honeywell Security & Communications president, started the general session off by thanking those who have served this country in the armed services. Later in the program, Sohovich, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. who served as a naval officer, also was personally recognized for her service.

Sohovich, who also is president of the First Alert Professional program, referred back to her speech of last year, in which she talked about how to access "the Nevers," a whole segment of consumers who may not be interested in burglar alarms but do want other home automation features for their homes. "They value lifestyle more than safety and security," she said of those potential customers.

And Sohovich also spoke of one of Honeywell’s latest products: the new 6280i Tuxedo Touch touchscreen, which the company describes as "a device that allows homeowners to manage safety as well as energy costs by controlling window shades, locks, lighting, thermostats and security." Sohovich said the Tuxedo Touch, which has easy-to-use features such as large icons, would be launched very soon.

The theme of this year's convention was "Exploring New Dimensions," but Scott Harkins, president of Honeywell Systems Group, said that while introducing the latest technology, Honeywell is focused on "bringing simple back."

He said, "I like to talk about big sexy systems, but the small systems are really what drives our industry." Honeywell’s goal, he said, is to "create solutions that are easy to sell, design, install and service."

He also warned about the consequences for the industry of the floods in Thailand, where the world’s hard drives are manufactured. He said the disaster there would lead to a shortage and increased prices. But he assured dealers that Honeywell is monitoring the situation and "we’re looking for other solutions and looking for hard drives everywhere."

Harkins also mentioned the "cookie ladies" at the Products & Services Showcase on Thursday night—attractive young women who were literally walking dessert trays. They stood in the middle of round, wheeled dessert carts heaped with cookies, which rolled as they walked.

Harkins joked that the ladies proved so popular that Honeywell sales staff from now on would be required to make their pitches in the middle of such carts.

The "cookie ladies" also won a mention from Dan Clark, keynote speaker at the event. Clark, an internationally recognized motivational speaker who overcame a paralyzing football injury, joked that when he walked into the hall where the technology showcase was held, "my first impression was of a walking table."

But he said that he was impressed that even though the show featured technology, the primary "focus was still about people."

And of course the First Alert convention always includes lots of educational sessions.

On Friday, I attended one called "Good to Great! Prepare for Company Growth!" The speaker was John Jennings, president of Safeguard Security of Arizona, who talked about taking his company though economic hard times.

Among highlights of the packed double session was Jennings challenging business owners to "confront the brutal fact"” about their companies' weaknesses and to address them, even if meant firing employees who were had been there a long time but were impeding company growth. Jennings joked that his seminar is dubbed "the widow maker" because it can inspire attendees to go back and clean house.

But Jennings also urged business leaders to listen to and empower the staff they value down to the lowest-paid member. "Good decisions require the infusion of an honest confrontation of the brutal facts," he said. "Create a culture where people have an opportunity to be heard and the truth to be heard."

On the last day of the convention, Saturday, I attended a session on how dealers can get the most out of the First Alert's Dealer Development Group. There was testimony from company owners throughout the conference about how much the DDG had helped their businesses.

One key assist is networking. At the seminar, for example, one company owner asked for help integrating his billing with accounting software. Several company owners raised their hands to tell him they had successfully done that at their companies and Patrick Egan, president of Lancaster, Pa.-based Select Security, promised to sit down with the owner after the session and share information.

Metro Phoenix city looks to force false alarm fines on alarm companies

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03/17/2011

AVONDALE, Ariz.—City officials here held a meeting March 7 with certain members of the local security industry as well as representatives from SIAC to discuss their false alarm ordinance. The results of that meeting include the city remaining firm on its decision to fine alarm companies for false alarms. According to SIAC industry/law enforcement liaison Jon Sargent, the outcome could have been better.