Lee Chua (front) with members of the BENS team.

Bureau monitoring is undertaken by an installer or integrator on behalf of end user clients via a preferred professional monitoring service. John Adams spoke with Lee Chua of monitoring provider, BENS, to discover the qualities of the perfect bureau monitoring service.

JA: What are the qualities and capabilities of the perfect bureau monitoring service, in your opinion? What sets the best providers apart from the rest?

LC: IT! We are big on IT. Our skills range from C, C++, perl, python, javascript, jQuery, php, SQL, encryption etc. We use it to enhance our operations and provide our bureaus services that are unsurpassed. Other qualities include having a suite of services on the Internet to aid the bureau in managing its clients, having an inhouse IT team of engineers to maintain equipment, develop services to aid operations, develop interfaces to connect to new IP devices, and to develop web services for bureaus for their internet presence for their clients.

Also important is monitoring of the situation in the control room, to pinpoint issues affecting the service – bad installs, bad programming of panels, user recalcitrance, having a deep understanding of all things ContactID. Unfortunately, this seems to be the de facto preferred protocol for alarm signalling. A good provider needs to be capable of handling of Contact ID ‘systems signals’ that most installers are not familiar with and are often unaware of.

Then there’s panel offline management. As more alarm panels move to IP, panel offline can become an issue if not managed. We cannot be handling offlines like the Securitel days. Offline must be handled with the highest priority. This is only possible if offlines are managed, for instance, check clients do not report offlines more than 6 times in a year.

Good providers must have equipment with redundancy and must be looking ahead to move to cloud redundancy. They also need to be able to handle independent IP alarm systems, for instance, IP communications from alarm panels not tied to 3rd party proprietary systems, which require hardware equipment.

JA: What’s the single most important aspect of bureau service when it comes to supporting installers and integrators?

LC: Providing bureaus with easy access to information online. We provide various up-to-date reports, live feeds and newsfeeds to the bureaus.

JA: How important is your team when it comes to monitoring on behalf of bureaus?

LC: Very important. Our frontline operators are supported by many levels of support, training/reviews from management and IT. We are proud of our IT support – it’s unsurpassed in the industry!

JA: What challenges are installers and integrators with monitored clients facing in 2021? How can they future proof their monitoring business model?

LC: Self-monitoring – video and alarm. Embrace it and sell the need for having monitoring done professionally. It is harder to sell compared to the old days when ‘self’ monitoring was neighbourhood monitoring. The app paradigm now is a real challenge, especially for residential markets.

JA: What about the challenges facing bureau service providers like BENS?

LC: Again, pure self-monitoring services, as well as alarm panel manufacturers, and manufacturers of IP bridges for dialler panels, providing self-monitoring services.

JA: How big is video verification as a service?

LC: We are still of the opinion that video verification is not scalable, given the price point clients are willing to pay. We find that video verification requires new thinking by installers. They need to be aware that the cameras must be placed strategically and with no false alarms (pedestrian traffic, rain, weather, etc), or else this traffic can hamstring the monitoring centre. Many installers have the mindset of a CCTV installer and couldn’t care less about requirements to minimise false alarms. We are also aware of video monitoring reluctance, especially if there is cloud storage outside an Australian jurisdiction.

JA: What are the trends in monitoring from your perspective – is there more home automation, more video verification?

LC: It is still a lot of talk and little successful penetration. What is holding the industry up is the lack of a standard communication protocol to marry alarms, home automation and video verification. In the old PSTN days, we had Ademco protocol and all its variants (and all its faults) as a de facto standard that paved the way for the development of alarm services. The industry now needs an open protocol to cater for and merge the 3 services of home automation, alarm monitoring and video verification/monitoring before we can see any real scale penetration.

JA: Do you see any change for professional businesses which need professional monitoring? Are these businesses expanding their systems as new technologies, new sensors become available?

LC: Yes, we are seeing businesses that want more services over the Internet. They are keen in having some video monitoring but baulk at the price. Most use alarm monitoring and have self-monitored video.

JA: When it comes to technologies like IoT and 5G, where does BENS stand in terms of its planning for the future?

LC: It is fairly stable. There are issues with false alarms and bad installs. The issue is uptake and installers are still more like CCTV installers – couldn’t care less with false activations. Better camera edge technologies may solve this, but the issue is cost. We hold hope for the costs to come down and for RTSP to be more integrable to alarm monitoring requirements. We need the camera manufacturers to talk to the alarm security industry and to have more open protocols for integrators.

JA: How far along is Australia in terms of switching from 3G to 4G, in BENS’ experience?

LC: Slow, but it was expected. Not surprised that panel manufacturers were slow to move. We are of the opinion that households and businesses will change in time and will see/realise that an Internet service is an indispensable utility, much like power and water (but to a lesser degree). There will soon be more products in the market where the Internet connection is on multiple links – wired and xG backup for the whole premises, and not just for the alarm panel or any IoT devices. IoT and alarm panels then will just have an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection…relying on the router to have more reliable multiwan uplink connections…

JA: What’s the penetration of cabled IP into monitoring stations – or do you mostly see wireless?

LC: We have more IP on xG than Ethernet but this will change when the recognition of Internet being an important utility filters through and with more routers with multi uplinks – multiwan. Panel manufacturers are slowly seeing IP uptake using open protocols like SIA ADM-CID and CSV-IP. They can ditch the DAA (for either ethernet or Wi-Fi chipsets which are both cheaper) and not rely on 3rd party IP bridges to convert DTMF signals to proprietary protocols over IP. Alarm panels can then communicate directly to monitoring centre servers without intervening 3rd party IP-conversion systems.

JA: BENS is privately owned and has a long history in the industry – when was the business founded – what have been its key milestones?

LC: We started in 1980 in industrial computers, producing our own computer boards for industrial controls competing with PLC implementations, etc. In the mid 1980s we entered the security industry when SNP had issues in its control room. We designed a receiver using our industrial computers to replace the Larse Corporation (leased line) system with a wall of flashing lights. After that success we tendered with SNP as principal and won the contract with NSW State Rail Authority in the late 1980s. We designed SRA a radial network of leased lines to all its stations that was multi-dropped which they used to support their operations centre until 2016 after about 30 years of service – well over EOL for some components. They are still using the BENS Alarm Management Suite.

In 2000 we moved our systems to using Internet technologies and provided bureaus services online. Our benchmark online service was iLog, on which bureaus can view a live feed from their clients…it’s very useful for installing new clients. We house and make available historical records from 2000 online.

JA: Would you argue that privately-owned monitoring providers have an advantage in the evolving alarm monitoring market thanks to be light-footed and fast to react?

LC: Yes, but they must have the proper engineering skills.

JA: How important are technology partnerships for bureau service providers like BENS?

LC: Very important, especially now with IP, and especially in not having an industry wide open protocol for communications. We are pressing IP gateway providers like Permacon, Multipath, Emizon and Direct Wireless to provide open communications over IP, rather than needing to have their receivers in our equipment room. COVID has forced us to start thinking about replacing hardware receivers with cloud services.

JA: What will the future of the monitoring industry look like – lots of automation, lateral monitoring services from security to healthcare to environmental – something else?

LC: We are seeing signs of resurgence of SIA protocol…the only published industry standard available that is IP-friendly. We are seeing some panels manufactured by panel manufacturers that can communicate directly using SIA-ADM-CID over IP direct to us. This trickle will soon grow, and independent alarm panel manufacturers will take this path. Panels will strip out their DAA section and save a few bucks and replace it with an ethernet or Wi-Fi chipset. Panels will emerge like the old days, where they need not provide a (proprietary) receiver, and ‘anyone’ can make one to sell.

Another technology to watch is Bluetooth mesh and Wi-Fi 6 mesh… but is less ubiquitous than ethernet. More panels will soon be in the market with SIA/IP/Ethernet-Wi-Fi bypassing the need for a DTMF/PSTN to IP conversion devices. It is unfortunate that the ContactID is still in use in the SIA ADM-CID. It is, however, open (and unfortunately very much butchered). SIA can be extended to allow for video and home automation as it is an extensible protocol for instance:

  1. To allow for home automation signals – temp, etc
  2. For video packets
  3. Position (for health workers, etc).

Or perhaps ASIAL could form a body to extend the SIA protocol, or come up with a protocal itself.

JA: Is BENS working on any interesting services you could tease SEN readers with?

LC: We intend to have a one-stop APP independent of panel manufacturers and to bridge the gap between self-monitoring and professional monitoring, which will make professional monitoring a necessary add-on/safety-net. The 2 services need not be mutually exclusive and competing.

JA: What message would BENS like to give security installers seeking a quality bureau monitoring service?

LC: Look for a provider with an inhouse IT department that can give bureaus an Internet presence for their clients to oversee their service themselves; that offers historical reports, service status, etc; that has the knowledge of all available IP systems (xG, Ethernet) and how to connect/commission; that can help with the transition from DTMF communications over voice services (xG or PSTN) to IP systems; and that has a full suite of management reports of all their clients online – battery, offline, 3rd-party despatch, etc.

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