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5.1.24 – SSI – Morgan Hertel

The alarm industry is stuck in a time warp compared to some others across the technology landscape. It’s time to innovate.

When I started in the industry in the late ’70s, most new systems were digital dialers with keylocks or some other mechanical devices like a simplex lock. By the mid-’80s, various types of keypads started to emerge and become the norm.

Some of these new keypads just triggered a relay that was connected to a keylock input, and some were just starting to get integrated into the control panel. Many of you might remember the 12-wire keypads back then.

For the most part, programming was done by burning a PROM chip with the various options. And, of course, there were still lots of panels with jumpers and screws used to set things up. Alarm monitoring automation was just starting to be mainstream, with computer systems that looked something like a large refrigerator. At that time, it was all character-based green screen terminals that were used.

Stuck in a Time Warp With Keypads

The reason I started this column with how things looked in the ’70s is simple: If you compare where the alarm industry is today, study the technology growth and then compare it to any other consumer products, it’s like our industry is stuck in a time warp.

Even today, with digital dialers now being more than 40 years old, we are still dealing with installation companies installing new dialers. If not installing dialers, they are installing radios with digital dialer capture and then re-transmitting signals.

Think of all the things that were rolled out in the ’70s and ’80s that are long gone: floppy disks, 8-tracks, cassette tapes, the Sony Walkman, tube TVs — the list goes on and on. Yet, here we are, in the alarm industry, still installing digital dialers, door contacts, passive infrared motion detectors and keypads. (At least, that’s where most of the industry is.)

But, in a galaxy far, far away, there are innovators breaking the mold and getting out of the time warp. In that cosmos, there are men and women who think differently. They believe there are contemporary, better ways to keep life and property protected. They understand that using all available technology is the right answer.

There is also a new set of consumers coming up, called Gen Z. They were born between 1997 and 2012. This group has a number of really important traits to understand and appreciate if we want to survive a transition to them as security system consumers and users.

Digital Natives

These are the first digital natives. They were born into instant data inside an always-on world. Their world is one in which there is no meeting in the middle; you have to meet them at their level. That means everything you do has to be in that instant, high-tech, highly digital mode.

This is a significant challenge if you try to sell a technology to Gen Z that was first deployed in 1978. In fact, trying to sell them will just offend them. They will swipe left and go to the next company.

At the same time, Gen Z is incredibly pragmatic. They look to simplicity for their lives, and they want things just to work around them. They don’t feel like they should ever touch a ’70s keypad.

The system should just know the best way to keep their family safe and secure, and they don’t want to be bothered with a keypad code. In fact, they don’t want to be bothered at all. The solutions that get to the point where safety and security are invisible will be the clear leaders.

At the same time, Gen Z is financially smart. They understand risk and reward very well, and they’re completely content with purchasing enough security to get the job done and feel safe, even if it’s not the platinum package. That’s enough for them.

That means you have to have solutions that will fit their current needs but also be capable of stretching with them as they grow and as their risk profile increases. You have to have flexible solutions prepared, each one with a path to the next level of products and services.

The Real Question

So, the real question is this: What does all this mean to the average sales and installation company? What it means is this: You need to have a dreamer on the team. You need someone who can lead you to products and services that will fit this new paradigm. It means you need to take the time to go to industry shows like ESX and ISC West to get your team (and yourself) immersed in what’s coming.

It means that part of your budget — both time and money — must be allocated to trying things out and, ultimately, adding them to the portfolio. It means you will also need to be in a position to own the home, including the Wi-Fi networks, the home automation and the energy management.

If you’re going to be in the residential market, you must be able to do this. There are those from this generation who are going to be there soon — in fact, a fair number of them are there now.

It also means you need a monitoring center — either your in-house center or a wholesale company — that is capable of monitoring and helping you be successful in all these disciplines. Monitoring centers also have to be in a place where their automation can manage all these systems and platforms in order to make it all work seamlessly.

They must be able to deliver a rich customer experience that the new digital consumers want and, in fact, demand. It’s no longer acceptable merely to call a subscriber, tell him or her that the alarm is going off, and ask what he or she would like you to do. The specialist of the future must have really solid situational awareness and a much better understanding of the user’s risk profile in order to be of value.

It’s Time to Change the Keypads

It’s time for change. It’s coming with or without you. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to be part of this or if you’re going to be left behind. These are some of the most exciting times ever in the history of the security industry.

Embrace the changes, and I believe you will have incredible opportunities to grow and expand and do things you never would have considered before, all while making more money doing it than you thought possible. But you need that innovator…that dreamer…that person who thinks differently.

Steve Jobs was never as right as when he said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” It’s time to let the crazies lead for a while.