Alarm Monitoring: Death Of The Human Touch?
WHEN word of a new price point of $5 per month for monitoring began to seep out of the U.S. recently, it was hard not to see the shift in contextual terms – the universality of devices, increasingly global internet services, affordable hardware, affordable software development, ubiquitous smart phone ownership and life at the end of an app.
SEN reported on the looming closure of the PSTN network many years ago and at the time there was a sense of monitoring’s future being challenging, yet glittering. We never saw the demise of POTS as being a threat to provision of alarm monitoring itself. But with IP now the default communications method for most applications, there’s an emerging vision of a different sort of security industry.
We’re not talking about these changes happening tomorrow, nor will our central stations no longer monitor the interests of serious organisations. But there are going to be adjustments to user expectation, as well as adjustments to the monitoring business model that serves ordinary consumers.
News of $5 dollar per month monitoring services, not only from economy alarm providers, but from a big digital provider like Amazon, makes FAI’s dollar-a-day service released in the mid-1990s look like a very good deal from a provider’s perspective. And the question for security installers and professional monitoring providers is where will this trend lead?
It’s not going to end here. With Google and ADT having formed an alliance late last year, there’s little chance their offerings will not be governed by the net zero opportunity cost of existing comms services. Seen in this light, a few extra baud of alarm data is a triviality on a modern network, and $5 a month sounds like money for jam.
The first $5 announcement came from Wyze Home Monitoring, which released a solution that has the option of professional monitoring powered by Noonlight and supported by an unidentified TMA 5-Diamond certified monitoring company that contacts police in an alarm event. The solution includes contact and motion sensors, as well as a hub and keypad.
Now Amazon has released a $US4.99 monthly fee for its Alexa Guard Plus service – this gives users hands-free access to an emergency helpline, smart alerts about activity and other emergencies in their home while they are away, as well as new features to deter potential intruders, and a free Energy Dashboard service.
It’s tough not to see this trend – offering existing customers monitoring services at prices so competitive they are impossible to resist – becoming widespread. It aligns perfectly with affordable video and music streaming services that have completely changed the video and music industries – not to the benefit of incumbent providers, either, many of which have been swept utterly away.
We reported last issue on Google’s investment in ADT, as well as its announcement of a joint home automation and security solution combining quality hardware and clever software. While Google seems to have put Nest to bed in the face of its new alliance, the company’s ability to take a stripped-down version of the new product to a wider consumer market while supporting the professional monitoring business of ADT is unquestionable.
From the point of view of local installers and monitoring stations, the nature of the present is not only nebulous, it makes the business model of the future increasingly hard to quantify. App and browser-based services like Alarm.com, which supports a large number of quality security and home automation solutions, are not designed to compete at the $5 a month level. In fact, the entire business model of distribution, installation and professional monitoring, isn’t designed for bare bones.
Instead, it seems the online services of big digital players are taking on a fundamental gravity by which the income of paid services of many kinds are increasingly drawn to them. Developments like analytics and software automation are hardly likely to alter this profound shift – instead they may feed it by empowering software solutions that make the most of hardware inputs and outputs. It goes without saying that if analytics could eliminate false alarms, monitoring would be a more streamlined animal, indeed. The technology to achieve this increasingly frightening-looking future is here, whether users are prepared to pay for it or not.
One true thing security people can hang onto as we’re sucked into the future’s funnel, is that these new ultra-affordable services will engender no loyalty, must be intensely automated, will deliver no human contact and are likely to be inflexible when it comes to response. The answer for professional providers is that they offer the best possible service, using automation to unload needless burdens from monitoring teams so quality operators can handle human contact in the moments of genuine need that build unbreakable bonds.
For the industry bodies charged with governing standards and licensing, these changes need to be squarely addressed. It’s clear that DIY has side-stepped the licensing requirements of alarm installation and it’s just as likely automated monitoring services provided by big digital providers may now side-step the professional requirements of alarm monitoring providers.
These are difficult discussions, but the industry needs to start having them, and it needs to start bringing studied pressure to bear to ensure the standards and services end users expect from their security providers are maintained.