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Demand Grows for Smart Alarm Systems

Demand for smart systems is evident across a wide range of markets and research underlines the fact that this isn’t going to slow down in the immediate future. Whether looking at commercial or industrial applications, home-based requirements and increasingly mobile personal systems, people are ready and willing to invest their disposable income in smarter technologies. Businesses, organisations and members of the public have a hunger for systems that offer flexibility, mobility, added value, integration and simple connectivity; all benefits currently available from the new breed of smart intruder detection systems.

Many people talk about disruptive technologies and their emergence in modern society. Certainly the speed of change in current technology development has seen some widespread disruption in recent times. The fact that a huge number of disruptive technologies are emerging simultaneously is indicative of the capabilities being made available by modern processing options.

Music is a great example of how today’s smarter devices have proved to be a disruptive technology. For many years vinyl records were the mainstay of music delivery. The 8-Track recorder with tapes the size of a house brick could not dislodge vinyl, nor could the cassette tape or even the laser disk. Vinyl held its position until the arrival of the CD, which finished off the traditional record. Some specialists claimed that vinyl would make a comeback but outside of some small niche markets technologies that have been disruptive rarely make a resurgence.

Of course, the CD has now been disrupted by the emergence of digital audio files, and even the personal digital media player market is under pressure from streaming services.

The impact has been noticeable in the music distribution and sales markets, and even established high-end record labels are feeling the pinch as artistes deliver their work in ever more flexible ways.

The same has happened in the film and video industries, as well as the book markets. DVDs and books still sell well, but a growing number of products are delivered digitally. Much as the arguments for the feel and sound imperfections of vinyl making it irreplaceable, the writing is on the wall as consumers increasingly demand instant access to data.

Another area where disruptive technologies are visible is on the high street. On-line shopping allows flexibility, around-the-clock access and a greater choice for consumers. These benefits, when coupled with reduced overheads, have put pressure on the high street with even well-established brands struggling to compete.

Even well-established sectors such as broadcast have seen their powerbase diluted by a host of alternative options that technology provides. The medical sector, education, manufacturing, IT, communications and transportation have all seen disruptive technologies change their approach in the past decade.

The security sector, and specifically the intruder alarm sector, now faces a disruptive technology in the form of smart building and smart home systems that promise a degree of security. Adoption figures show that customers are moving to these smart systems. The users are made up of existing security system owners and those who previously did not have systems. This clearly indicates that the new breed of intruder alarms have customer appeal.

An isolated industry?

The intruder alarm sector existed as a solitary and somewhat standalone part of the electronic security industry for many decades. The intruder alarm was, by design, kept separate from other systems in a building, regardless of the type of premises being protected. Standards were written which enforced that isolation and adherence to the standards was pushed partly by insurance industry requirements and partly by police first response restrictions.

Just as much of the technology used in the security industry has changed in the past 25 years, so have practices in the insurance and law enforcement worlds. While some end users still require graded alarm systems which are compliant with standards, many do not. They instead want to specify levels of protection based upon their own risk assessments. However, more importantly, they want smarter systems that integrate with other devices and deliver specific business benefits.

The big issue is when a user is seeking a smarter system with added benefits, the arguments that traditional alarm systems meet standards and the installation company is approved by an inspectorate is not going to sway their purchasing decision. This is not because standards and inspectorate recognition have no value, but that system being offered doesn’t meet with what the user wants!

In a world where Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon are setting the technological agenda, going against what they are preaching will always be a difficult ask for a security company. This isn’t helped by the fact that as well as facing competition from other installers and integrators, there are also systems from Nest, Hive, Samsung, Panasonic, Somfy and a whole host of other technology players that all claim to deliver security alongside other benefits for the user.

On top of this, many utilities providers and cloud service companies have identified that security is always on the wish-list of those seeking smart solutions and are subsequently bundling some level of protection in with their products. Users are attracted by the added value on offer from the systems, and if security is mentioned it’s another box ticked.

Some consider how attempts to enter the security market didn’t go well for a few leading utility companies in the past, but back then they were offering traditional security systems which weren’t that desirable to customers. Now they are offering smart home systems which are desirable.

Ignoring customer demands is often a trait that disrupted industries suffer from. One well documented failure was that of Kodak. Despite inventing the first digital camera, Kodak didn’t pursue the market because it had too much investment in the manufacturing of photographic film.

Even as digital photography was in the ascendancy, Kodak developed digital cameras that used film. The devices gained the benefit of megapixel imaging, but the use of film was retained because of Kodak’s business interests. The customers, however, saw no benefit in owning a digital camera and still having the cost of purchasing, processing and printing from film.

When digital photography first appeared in the market, it was arguably inferior to film-based cameras. However, it didn’t take long for the public to adopt the technology and when they did, Kodak was unable to turn itself around in time.

Installers and integrators of intruder-based security systems must accept that a growing number of customers aren’t making decisions based on security; they’re making buying decisions based upon a recognition of smart system benefits. Security is one of those and at times it won’t be the one that really swings the buying decision. People want to automate workplace or household devices and appliances, but they’d prefer a system that did that as well as protecting their property.

This might seem like bad news for the intruder alarm sector, but it’s not. It’s actually good news if – and it’s a big if – installers and integrators present their product options in a way that appeals to the user.

A subtle difference

There is a difference between a smart building system that includes security and a security system that includes smart building functionality. This is very much down to the platforms upon which the systems are based. In order to avoid confusion, we will use the term ‘smart consumer systems’ for smart building systems that have a security feature added, and ‘smart security systems’ for security systems that offer smart building benefits.

It is important to also realise that despite the growing popularity and demand of smart consumer systems, users do have some concerns about the options. These are longevity of the various platforms, wireless connections being dropped, a requirement for multiple apps to manage different system elements, lack of technical support and complex installation and set-up procedures. It has to be remembered that despite these reservations, people are still buying the systems and demand is increasing!

Smart consumer systems are typically based upon a central hub which makes use of smart device apps, cloud services and various edge devices. They usually make use of WiFi and/or 3G/4G links to communicate. While some DIY systems do exist, many require a more advanced installation. Even so, the focus is on simplicity, ease of use and expandability (at a cost).

Smart security systems are typically based upon a graded intruder alarm panel which makes use of smart device apps, cloud services and various edge devices. However, connectivity is usually via secure wireless or supervised hard-wired connections. Professional systems require installation. The focus is on reliability, efficiency and consistent around-the-clock performance.

The difference, while subtle, is actually important. Smart consumer systems are relatively new and already some of the platforms have been discontinued as manufacturers find more efficient ways of working. Smart security systems are proven in the field, well established and have been designed to offer performance in a wide range of conditions. The platforms used are well developed and won’t be discontinued because the manufacturers have got them right.

This means that one of the concerns of users is immediately addressed by selecting a smart security system.

With regards to connectivity, smart consumer systems rely on third party everyday communications links which are also being used by a growing number of devices. The system is fighting for its share of connectivity. Indeed, one the issues that many users have with smart consumer systems is that connectivity can ‘drop’, leaving the system either lagging or unable to communicate.

Smart security systems, however, make use of robust and resilient proprietary signalling technologies to ensure that if, on a rare occasion, communication is affected, the user is made aware of that fact.

Again, a significant concern of end users is met by the use of smart security systems.

Another issue commonly raised by end users of smart consumer systems is the need to utilise multiple applications. This is because many of the smart devices come from various third party devices. People have separate applications for lighting, power supplies, heating, security devices and comms options.

The issue is that while there are a handful of allegedly ‘common’ protocols, most apps are made to interact with a specific device.

Because a smart security system handles all connected devices via the control panel, there is only one app required. This creates the link between the user and the system and all further communication is handled by the panel.

Again, a common issue that users have with smart consumer systems is removed.

Finally, because the installer or integrator manages the installation and configuration, as well as providing on-going technical support, the final issues or end users are eliminated.

Alongside removing many of the issues that users have with smart consumer systems, smart security systems can equal the benefits on offer. Through peripheral devices it is possible to deliver a wide range of interactive elements such as control of electrical devices and appliances, video, audio, data streaming, push notifications, scheduled or triggered events and actions, alongside some in-depth security and safety features.

Interestingly, when you compare the costs of smart consumer system peripherals with smart security system peripherals, the latter are competitively priced and often are lower cost than some of the big-name consumer brands.

In summary

There is no doubt that the technological landscape is evolving and businesses, organisation and householders have demands that are very different to those of just a few years ago. Investments from the large corporation in the technology world indicate that the changes will keep on coming.

Electronic security systems are well placed to join the disruptive technologies in offering users greater choice and currently offer a superior option to smart consumer systems.

However, unless these systems are sold correctly installers and integrators could miss an opportunity to grow their businesses.

BENCHMARK
Benchmark is the industry's only publication for installers and integrators which is dedicated to technological innovation and the design and implementation of smarter solutions. With an unrivalled level of experience in technology-based systems, Benchmark delivers independent and credible editorial content.