10.12.22 – SIW – Paul Rothman
CSaaS is one way for integrators hosting central stations to deal with rapidly aging central station receivers and evolving IT and staffing needs
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.
Central monitoring has long been the backbone of any effective fire or security system; however, providing central station services has been a challenge for most residential and commercial integrators. Central monitoring requires a technically advanced facility that features a redundant technology infrastructure as servers, power and communications systems, as well as modern IT capabilities. As those systems have evolved both in capabilities and costs, many integrators who provide in-house central monitoring services have been left struggling to catch up.
In much the same way that it has impacted the security service provider industry, cloud computing has enabled the rise of the Central Station as a Service (CSaaS) – thanks to the recently enacted UL 827A standard. UL 827A permits existing UL-listed central monitoring providers who qualify to add the 827A listing to deliver hosting to other central stations.
While much industry coverage has been given to UL 827A from the third-party and wholesale central station provider perspective, for security integrators with an internal central station, this could be a game-changer.
“The availability of hosted central station services will be a key factor in the future growth of the alarm monitoring industry,” UL writes in a whitepaper on the benefits of UL 827A. “Hosted services can reduce the investment required for the deployment of central stations while providing CSSPs (central station service providers) with greater strategic and economic flexibility in meeting the current and future needs of their customers.”
Advantages of Hosting
According to long-time central monitoring and alarm industry expert and consultant Peter Giacalone, moving an integrator’s internal central station to a hybrid or fully hosted offering in partnership with a UL 827A-certified provider enables the integrator to:
- Focus on service offerings rather than technology challenges;
- Reduce operational expenses;
- Reduce capital expenditures;
- Adhere to requirements for proper diverse telecom and network connectivity; and
- Satisfy UL MEW mandates for redundancy.
An essential benefit of a hosting service is the ability to relieve some of the burden from the central station – in the form of reduced need for IT experts on staff or the burden of paying for and maintaining routine hardware, as well as software licensing and upgrades. Outsourcing enables the central station to focus its resources on service delivery to customers.
In the end, partnering with a third party means that integrators would no longer need to update monitoring technology and infrastructure. They would also be able to increase the number of value-added services to offer more options to customers – and thus open more potential RMR. Those value-added hybrid or hosted services, according to Giacalone, are vast. They include:
- Central station receiver hosting & management
- Central station automation hosting & management
- PBX telephone hosting & management
- Telephony services management
- Human resources in planned or emergency situations
“It appears that as time passes, more self-monitored integrators will migrate to a hosted or hybrid structure,” Giacalone predicts.
Case in Point
Chris Newhook, Director of Monitoring Operations for Massachusetts-based American Alarm and Communications, shared his company’s path to a hybrid hosted central monitoring solution during a panel discussion at the recent OPSTech annual conference hosted by The Monitoring Association (TMA).
American Alarm and Communications has six branches and customers all over the New England area and he explained that the internal monitoring centers were running on soon-to-be outdated POTS technologies, and turning to new technology such as Avaya or building out a new monitoring center were not a viable economic option.
“We were sitting on and supporting dying technology, when it comes to central station receivers and associated telecommunications paths, and we knew that there wasn’t really a heck of a lot we could do to fix it,” Newhook admits. “Our support staff was very limited. We didn’t really feel that there was a strong succession plan there and we were bringing on new companies (via acquisition) as well. We didn’t have a lot of options.”
Eventually, struggling to support aging and sometimes failing alarm receivers and with telephony costs “going through the roof,” Newhook saw the writing on the wall and moved to partner with a hybrid monitoring provider in March 2022.
“We are still working through it, and we have learned some things along the way, but overall [moving to a hosted solution] has been a great success” Newhook explains. “It has given us peace of mind as well. You kind of focus on the hardware and the software costs and the infrastructure cost benefits, but I always go back to people. We had good people in place, but we were starting to look at ‘what-ifs’ and they were becoming very serious. That’s what led us into this wild new world.
“It’s not a magic fix – the phone line problem is the phone line problem; we just have better, more capable people dealing with it faster and more accurately,” Newhook adds. “That allows you to start digging and looking at which accounts are failing and moving those people off those phone lines. You need the time and your people focused on that strategy and making it happen. I didn’t have the time to do that before. Now I do.”
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of taking the leap, Newhook explains, is letting go of some degree of control over the monitoring operation – whether that is real or perceived by the integrator.
“I’m not entirely sure we had the kind of control we thought we did, but I can say right now that I am a lot more confident,” Newhook says. “I’ve never had any issues with our [hosted] provider. We usually find out about circuit issues or any kind of problems well ahead of it.”
A big part of hosted services, Giacalone says, is not so much about eliminating head count as it is about making those people more productive and more focused on revenue-generating ideas and services.
“Particularly with the hosted environment, it is very important that the [technicians and central station staff] that you are transitioning away from are bought in,” Newhook adds. “That same technical staff that was struggling with receivers in the past is now looking for those problematic accounts and assigning truck rolls. If you can’t make that transition successfully, it can be difficult.”
Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine, a printed partner publication of SecurityInfoWatch.com. Access the current issue, archives and subscribe at www.securitybusinessmag.com.