The Interview: Peter Mellino, RISCO Group Australia

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Peter Mellino, Risco
Peter Mellino, Risco

RISCO’s commercial director, Peter Mellino, worked in electronic security for nearly 30 years before leaving the industry in 2007. Returning to security in 2016, his deep experience and long sabbatical give him a unique perspective on what has changed in electronic security and what has stayed the same. He speaks with SEN editor, John Adams. 

JA: You left the industry in 2007 to join Rittal? After 18 months at RISCO, what would you say has changed?

PM: The electronic security industry has changed but it took me a while to embrace the changes – that’s because I had an expectation of where I thought the market should have been. I really felt that technology would be way ahead of where it is right now. During my time out of the industry I often spoke with people about the software and hardware race in computing. So, I would have expected the same race in the electronic security industry but while technology has progressed, we are not where we should be. 

Consider that we talk endlessly about IOT but it’s not entrenched yet. From my perspective, some manufacturers, installers/integrators and users are on the right path but others haven't embraced networking yet. On the topic of IoT and integration of multiple technologies, the thing that probably has taken me most by surprise is how people haven't really embraced visual verification at the control room. We have a lot of good technology, but at the other end where it needs to be received, gathered, actioned, there are deficiencies.

JA: It’s hard to argue with those points. Something to bear in mind, too, is that RISCO really straddles the hardware and software space with its secure cloud and app and it has done for many years – that’s the core of the business, isn’t it?

PM: That's correct. I can truly say that RISCO is very well positioned to offer some great technology to market. And be a serious all-round player and I mean from end-to-end, from equipment to control room, to end user. You mentioned that key word – cloud. Yes, we have a very powerful cloud solution backed by Microsoft Azure, one of the best business clouds in the world. Essentially that cloud gives us the power to do layers of integration seamlessly. This combination of powerful cloud and excellent hardware makes RISCO the industry’s best kept secret. 

JA: Could you tell us about the nature of the RISCO cloud?

PM: I think to answer that question, you've got to look the whole architecture of our product offering in order to understand how we can seamlessly integrate into different technologies and different devices as well. Simply, cloud-based IP platform, give us total flexibility when it comes to delivering information to layers of users. 

JA: Given its history, RISCO has a high-end hardware back history, doesn’t it? Does that carry through to the current product offering?

PM: RISCO began as Rokonet, which manufactured arguably the best electronic security hardware in the world. I visited the Rokonet factory 25 years ago when I worked at DAS. Then, going to see the RISCO Manufactory plant 25 years later. I must say, I was blown away by the capacity of the organisation and what they've done in that period of time. In fact, the manufacturing operation reminded me of the high-quality manufacturing that the Germans do. The innovation of the Germans. I did work for 2 German companies simultaneously in the 8 years I was out of the industry so I can benchmark it. Really cutting edge, first class manufacturing.

RISCO still has a great line of detection products. It's constant development, algorithms – the development of a product range that can maintain its stability under different environments. I think we do have probably the most extensive range of detection products on the market. RISCO has developed an excellent range of 2-way wireless products. I think that's probably key as well – the 2-way functionality on our panel and devices allows for higher-security signalling, as well as remote programming of detection devices and supervision parameters. I think that's really important in the wireless space. 

JA: We’ve touched on video verification but I think we should go back to it – this is really the heart of RISCO’s solutions, the ability to link video footage and snapshots with alarm events in real time then deliver them to a monitoring station or an end user, depending on the service that’s being provided.

PM: For me, visual verification is probably the aspect of the RISCO solution I enjoy the most. Due to the cloud-based architecture of the product, we can now get our own panel with its alarm signals, and link it to a camera and programme it as follows: “If that input goes off, trigger that IP camera to take this many snapshots for video verification”. 

That process is managed seamlessly via the cloud. Physically, the alarm panel and the camera don't connect, they connect at a cloud level, which gives us total power from the point of remote management. As you say, that's our product philosophy and our design philosophy is to add other things to the cloud to expand our capacity for integration. 

I think what we have done with visual verification is we've really up-scaled what we're doing in security and with eliminating false alarms. And for me, that's the big ticket. We've eliminated false alarms. I just know with our own use in this office here, immediately something happens, when it's just the detector and just the alarm, you're wondering, the moment you have a PIR camera, albeit wireless for ease of installation, bang you know what's going on. And you can then make a decision on how to action it.

When it comes to visual verification, the key is our app. I think we can pride ourselves on how user friendly our app is, but yet so powerful for the installer and what they need to do for setting up, etc. for the consumer or whoever. We've done a lot of work on the app to make sure that it's a powerful app and it's always being improved.

JA: Tell us more about the app – what’s different about it?

PM: The big thing here is that unlike a lot of our competitors, our app and our cloud service is free. No subscription, no download costs or anything like that - we really leverage the app to empower our hardware as a value-add that makes our solutions more appealing to the customer. In terms of functionality, the app offers plenty. You can arm and disarm on a partition or per area basis. You can view images on demand, you can view video in real time, live streaming, you can view the event history log, you can have monitoring services on demand – in this case you can activate monitoring and deactivate it from the app. You can also activate home devices, or even your outputs. You can record video directly to the phone, if you have live view and camera on in an alarm situation and something's happening, you can take evidence and upload it straight to Facebook.

Those push notification alerts are optional because we can basically tailor this service to any monitoring station or end user. Monitoring stations often don't like end users to have all notifications. What we have also done for some monitoring stations is implemented a delay on the push notifications to the end user because, essentially, they come through within seconds, while it might take a busy monitoring station a minute to assess an alarm event and action a phone call.  

Something that is neat is that there's multiple panel control via the app – you can manage up to 15 control panels currently. All receiving notifications - home, office, holiday home, whatever. Or, if you’ve got a small chain of shops you can be logged into all of them at the same time, controlling them, and receiving images and notifications. The number of panels the app you can manage fully – including video - simultaneously is shortly to be expanded to 25. 

The app also handles maintenance and faults, which benefits installers or monitoring stations. In such cases, every time there's a fault on the system or low battery you can get a notification saying Smith residence has a low battery, allowing you to give the customer a call. This means there is ongoing service work for part-time self-monitored customers who might only opt for full monitoring services some of the time. 

JA: You’re an intrusion company but video is now at the core of your intrusion solutions, isn’t it?

PM: If you look at the overall security business, we are in a video-based world. When I left the industry, CCTV was already dominant but I think you could argue the business has moved even further towards video now. That’s a key reason I'm happy with where RISCO is positioned and with our direction. We've certainly not lost what we do with intrusion – volumetric detection of secure spaces is vital - but by integrating video using wireless cameras and IP cameras we’re able to make the intrusion side proactive. 

JA: Tell us about the cameras RISCO is offering – what’s the quality like?

PM: The quality is 720p, which is strong and the cameras are all P2P, so they enrol very simply and easily. The analogy I give is that it's like actually setting up a Bluetooth in your car from your mobile phone - it's that easy. We've opened up the ONVIF protocol into our panels, as well and that’s another big development. You can have an independent CCTV system as long as it's IP-based and the cameras are ONVIF-compatible, link it to our alarm panel and monitor it via our cloud. 

Simply, you can also put an NVR onsite and have it act as a traditional CCTV system locally while creating an integration between the two and view them all from the one application. Basically, you create a mapping rule in the cloud. When zone 2 goes off, link a 30 second video clip from camera 2, for example. The NVR can be monitored locally but you have the alarm and the video pushed directly to the smartphone. Or, in the case of specific control room handling, the event and the video will go directly to the control room instead or as well.

Something that relates to this is monitoring services on demand, which is a new concept that allows users to . MS on demand means that if you're on holidays you tap a button and the system sends events to the monitoring station not to you – this can be nominated on a per day basis. It's something that we have to try and educate the control rooms on here.

JA: Would you argue that electronic security technology, consumer technology and public network infrastructure have got away from many monitoring providers?

PM: Correct. Again, it's what I was saying earlier John. We've got the technology, but the back end in the Australian market, are not there to embrace a lot of the technology that we have. For example, our app is powerful and flexible – both for the security industry providers and end users – from the installation base to the consumer. 

It's also powerful for the control rooms if they want to then hand it to their bureau clients who might use it to create different profiles, different service levels for customers. We've spent a lot of time and dedication in getting that app really right. From where I stand in the marketplace is no one has an app as powerful as what we have, and flexible. 

JA: In terms of alliances with monitoring providers, do you just go to the market and anybody can run these systems through the receivers or network pipes they happen to have? Or is there more to it than that?

PM: There is more to it. In the last twelve months, we've worked hard going around Australia, talking to the key control rooms about visual verification and how they can deliver it into their control rooms. In Australia, one of the things that we found was that, which is different to the rest of the world, is that many systems communicate through the 3G wireless network with security providers. in the middle there – Permaconn, Suretek, SCSI, etc. They have their receiving devices sitting in the control room at the end of a nice adaptor unit, and essentially at the other end, the alarm panel doing capture. 

Our concept is, we actually go to the control room and we deliver our alarm and visual verification straight into their control room handling software. We've worked hard with the likes of Bold, Patriot, etc. to link our products straight in, I don't quite know this, eliminating essentially the middle man. The network providers. But we're giving a better solution, because it's seamless straight in and IP-to-IP. However, it will be a delicate process to educate control rooms to see it as a way of capturing that self-monitoring market, as opposed to losing a monitored line.

JA: You mentioned the ability of the system to self-monitor all the way through to the device level. How is that carried out?

PM: The 2-way sensors are a great feature in that they allow sensitivity programming to be undertaken from the keypad or the app. You can change the sensitivity, camera settings, turn off LEDs, things like that, or remotely or via the keypad to the device, idea being that once they are installed unless you need to physically change the location or change the device, you don't have to go back up to it. 

From a technical perspective, RISCO’s 2-way comms are designed to be a lot more securer  reliable than what the old 1-way comms many of our competitors’ use. With these, when an alarm happens, the sensor sends 3 signals - essentially the same signal back to the alarm panel 3 times - and fingers crossed the panel receive it and passes the event on. If the panel isn't ready to receive or is powered down, that signal is gone. Conversely, our 2-way alarm must be acknowledged back at the sensor after sending. If the sensor doesn't receive the acknowledgement, it will continue to send the alarm signal until it does, so RISCO’s signalling technology is a lot more secure reliable  than many competitors. 

JA: You’re not just wireless though – tell us about RISCO’s hardwire bus.

PM: Our Bus technology is quite different to a lot of other Bus technologies where you must daisy chain. Our Bus will allow a star configuration or a daisy chain, or a combination. But the power of the Bus technology and the information that you can get from it, and the control – that’s just amazing. We can get analytics back from detectors telling us what's going on in the field and we can then control devices with the same Bus technology – it’s just fantastic.

JA: Most people know RISCO has a seriously big sensor range but what is the control panel range at RISCO?

PM: In Australia there’s Agility 3, our completely wireless 32-zone, 2-way system. The LightSYS 2 is the hybrid system, so a combination of wireless, hardwired and our RISCO Bus technology, which we'll touch on a little bit later as well. Up to 50 zones. Then we have the enterprise-level Prosys Plus, which is essentially a larger version of the LightSYS with some access control to come, which will go up to 512 zones. As you suggest, we have a large array of wireless products that link into these systems - from satellite sirens, to PIR cameras, to smoke detectors, flood sensors, to wireless keypads, IP-rated keypads and a whole lot more. 

JA: Does RISCO have a smart home controller or is that integrated into the primary security controllers you mention here?

PM: We also have a smart home device, which again is cloud-based. This plugs into the customer's router, and then at a cloud level it’s married up with the rest of the system. This device does have a great deal of flexibility in terms of its ability to facilitate automation in a cloud environment. It supports Z-Wave devices with presets and schedules for your devices, as well as multiple IP cameras – in fact there’s no limit to IP camera numbers because they're connected directly to the customer's router and out to the cloud. Being cloud-based, there's no limit to the hardware that can be managed by the app. This takes a bit of getting your head around but it really works. Cloud is hugely powerful. 

JA: What is coming up for RISCO? What should installers and end users be looking out for in the next 6-12 months?

PM: I can’t give too much away but there are a number of new things coming. Early next year, our Smart Home Gateway web and we'll also be pushing harder into access control on the cloud as well. Everything will be designed to come together in a total solution to meet the needs of the ANZ market, which is different to that of Europe and the USA. The ANZ market is different in the way product is designed, as well as the way people use it. 

I think in the future you’ll see a strong push towards video verification technology. We're pioneers in that as we've discussed. You’ll see security, video and home automation on a single application. Installers will realise RISCO is not just about intrusion anymore, we're not just cameras, either. We’re able to offer intrusion, video and automation - a complete control centre for the home. That’s where the future is for RISCO – and for the electronic security industry, too.♦