ARM Security has transitioned its Grade 1A monitoring station to Bold Manitou and in the process has enhanced operational efficiencies and empowered operators, while offering customers a far superior monitoring capability.
WHEN you think about the cutting edge of electronic security technology alarm monitoring software doesn’t immediately leap to mind – automated thermal drones and robotic sentries seem more thrilling. But when it comes to meeting the operational demands of security and safety for many customers, monitoring software really is where it’s at. The digitisation of communications and technology is allowing monitoring stations to harvest data inputs in new ways, driving lateral expansion of services and delivering opportunities for growth in a business beset by corporate sharks hungry for a bite.
Visiting ARM Security in Perth feels like the antithesis of the recent push from big corporates intent on getting a more-or-less self-monitored home automation solution into every home, with video intercom, trendy silver smoke sensor and surveillance camera with fisheye views. ARM Security is an entirely different animal – along with security installation business, Securus, it’s a division of CTI Security, a subsidiary of CTI Logistics, which publicly listed in WA in 1987, and has a turnover of more than $A150 million.
ARM Security’s deep roots in the electronic security industry are reflected in the intensity of the company’s operational focus on behalf of customers – this focus led ARM Security to a major technological transition that changed the way its monitoring business was managed. The transition was a process stimulated by growing dissatisfaction with multiple existing platforms, as well as by a growing realisation the digital revolution offers well managed business more opportunities than threats.
According to CTI Security manager Chris Burns, the move from its old monitoring platform to Bold Manitou was part of a long process of deliberation.
“Times are challenging – technology changes, there are new corporate competitors, but there are also new markets and new revenue streams evolving – going to Bold Manitou was our response to those opportunities,” Burns says. “I first saw Manitou at IFSEC in 2014 and we could already see the way the industry was changing. In the UK, if you want a police response, visual verification gives you priority.
“We spoke with Bold, did some evaluation and made the decision to go with Manitou with support from Bold’s local distributor, SCSI,” Burns explains. “It’s a big financial commitment and a huge commitment in time and you must maintain your business efficiency through that migration. The process is not to be underestimated but having been through it the gains are significant and it was well worth making the change. In the current market, you either take a giant leap or you get left behind. You must invest in your customers.”
“For us, the growth of visual verification as a key monitoring service is significant – from an alarm response perspective it’s simply brilliant and we can also undertake virtual patrols across a range of sites, including public utilities. In the past, patrols would have been scheduled at significant cost. Video patrols aren’t just more cost effective, they are a lot more effective and they can be conducted around parameters given to us by the customers, or Manitou will decide when an operator should undertake a virtual tour based on remote site events.
“Prior to this we had multiple technologies, platforms and workstations the operators would work from, this was complicated and had the potential to lead to errors. Furthermore, when operators wanted to review an event they could not do so from a single platform. Now everything is on a single platform, with every event input, every keystroke, every snippet of video that is watched being recorded.
“While video verification is one strength of Bold – there are other services we’re doing well with – lone worker through an app, as well as the dedicated device SoloSafe managed through the universal connector and GPS tracking – all seamless, all integrated. Those applications previously would have been through multiple third parties. This means high efficiency from an operator’s perspective and from a customer’s perspective, it means a much higher level or service.”
Jeremy Hopfmueller, manager of ARM Security, handled the transition process and he says that from an operational perspective, there is a lot to like about Bold.
“Manitou supports a lot of different technologies that can be integrated directly into media gateways and universal connectors with virtual receivers,” he explains. “This allows us to have a lot of flexibility with video verification, to work with different sub systems and devices our customers have installed – it’s also great at managing traffic reduction. There are action patterns to reduce traffic to allow operators to deal with big events that require priority attendance, priority activation and follow up, rather than just being reactive all the time to the continued comms fails on certain sites.”
According to Hopfmueller, as well as big things like video verification and GPS tracking, there are smaller pieces of key functionality that make operations smoother by reducing operator error and increasing efficiency, like detailed call lists based on time and day, rather than just reading a page of notes that might be years out of date.
“You can also keep an eye on less obvious inputs like weather patterns within the system, so if there’s a major front coming through it allows you increase your operator capacity to handle the increase in alarm events,” he explains. “But there’s no doubt video verification, alongside the ability to monitor almost anything, is at the heart of this solution.”
“When it comes to video verification, when you demonstrate the system for customers with the latest IP cameras with their high resolution and good compression, they immediately see how Manitou operates and they understand the benefits. From our perspective, to have that capability integrated into one monitoring platform – that’s what makes the difference.
“If there’s an event, our operators will see an icon flashing alongside it, which tells them video is available and instantly they can see what is occurring on the site. That’s in comparison to having a security patrol and/or a keyholder attend, which is a minimum of 15-20 minutes – basically you can instantly respond to what is happening on site and make appropriate decisions, relaying relevant information to third parties like the police is very powerful.”
A challenge in the past when it comes to video verification is that it was a third-party solution that required a separate workstation.
“In the past there would be a dial-up system – the alarm would come through and to access video on the site, the operator would have to turn to a third-party workstation and dial in then find their way to the right camera to view the scene – it took time and was clunky – the alarm on one screen, the video on another,” Hopfmueller explains.
“With Bold Manitou that entire process is instant – operators can see the action pattern, the system is telling them video is available, they click on the icon and are watching video from the site. Depending on the remote surveillance system, you can also undertake a pre-event interrogation – if you don’t see anything in the live footage you can go back and grab a 30 second snippet prior to the event and view that to see what’s triggered the alarm.”
Being able to remotely manage video surveillance offers access control possibilities, too.
“There are customers which don’t want to have to manage after-hours access to buildings so we’ll have the cameras on the gates so we can verify people coming in and out in real time and authorise access,” says Hopfmueller. “The interest in video, particularly video verification, applies to all our customers – it’s SMEs, residential properties, small and large commercial businesses and government organisations.”
Managing the Transition Process
For a major control room like ARM Security, the business of changing monitoring platforms is a process that needs to be managed at every step, with both old and new systems running alongside each other. The fact the 2 systems were quite different in almost all their particulars added additional complications. The existing solution was based on old analogue technology and while it was reliable, could not be integrated with third party platforms – these had to be linked to by operators manually on a separate workstation per platform.
Bold Manitou is quite different. Designed root to tip to be open to data inputs it supports automation and integration via what Bold calls the UniversalConnector, which allows integration of data streams from almost any sub system. SMS, email, ODBC database, FTP, TCP, GPRS, RSS, UDP and simple files can be converted into regular signals and carried into Manitou as GPS, video, or audible alarms events. There’s also GPS tracking – a tracking and duress app for smart phones – as well as integration with iView and iMix, which allows video verification to be undertaken using almost any CCTV system, complete with integrated audit trail.
Bold also has auto-text, interactive 2-way communication with clients via an app, and a level of automation that means the operator only intervenes when they need to. For instance, alarm events might only appear to the operator when there is video verification of an event. This means you can manage busy times with fewer operators and operators can dedicate more time to examining verified alarm events, which enhances service levels. Another big strength that was instrumental during the transition process is the fine-grained Bold Genius training package.
“Our expectation was that this process would be more painful than it was, but it was reasonably smooth,” Burns explains. “I think the main reason for this was that we were able to run both platforms simultaneously and stagger the migration at a time when our operators were at a level of comfort with the new system.”
“With a task this complex, you need a single person managing and it was a benefit to us that Jeremy, who managed the transition, is a very process-driven person and has handled similar migrations for Signature Security. Having a lot of experience, he programmed the transition over 6 months and everything was done to the T.
“We were able to step through the transition process while our operators were training on the new system and were able to handle alarm events on a dummy site, and this gave them plenty of opportunity to learn how to manage the system before we migrated any lines across. Even then, it was not a complete cutover but was staggered and that helped because our confidence grew with training and experience.”
For Hopfmueller, the success of the transition depended on the team, as much as it did on the plan.
“It was about getting a buy-in from all stakeholders – not just from me, but from Merton and Grace, my 2 managers, from all our operators and senior management,” he says. “It was about accepting the decision to make a change, making a plan, then being sure we had covered everything off in order to execute. At the start, the project contained over 200 items, each with its own timeline. Every item was ticked off as we progressed through the journey.
“We had weekly meetings and updated the project plan, identifying key areas staff needed support. We leaned hard on resources to drive items on the plan forward. We had challenges with some timelines, but we had support within the business to ensure tasks were completed – we had the mentality this was a process we needed to go hard at for 6 months through to completion.
“As part of the transition process, ARM Security had to run its existing platform through port splitters in-line with the new platform, then the operators actioned events in both platforms. Prior to this, we had to pull staff out of the control room during quieter periods and train them using a huge series of Bold training modules – each operator had to finish one module before moving on to the next. This 3-month process positively underpinned the enthusiasm of operators, who went through to supervisory, data entry and management level as well.”
The ARM Control Room
We head into the control room through the man trap. The space is rectangular with the rack at the far end of the room. There’s a video wall with workstations facing and a manager’s desk slightly elevated behind the workstations. It’s a bigger operation than I expected, with multiple fully functional workstations. Fairly typical of monitoring stations, rostering is built around peak event times, with fewer staff when things are quiet – in the middle of today there are 2 operators and a manager.
“As part of the upgrade we’ve consolidated and moved all our receivers, recorders and other rack-mounted gear into the dedicated network room,” Burns explains. “All that gear used to sit behind the operators and the entire process of moving that equipment, conducted while we continued the business, was a serious challenge and a major but necessary expense.”
Each workstation comprises 3 screens but it’s quickly apparent these are all dedicated to the one system with the additional screens employed to display multiple pieces of functionality simultaneously.
“Each workstation has Manitou running on it and we generally have Manitou running on the big screen, so operators can see what priority events come in no matter where they are in the control room,” Hopfmueller explains sitting down at the nearest workstation, which has only one monitor awake.
“What we’re looking at here is one of our video verification sites – as you can see, one of the benefits of Manitou is that there’s only one screen required and everything the operator needs is contained in that screen. In terms of the process of actioning an alarm event, when the operator picks up the event from the event traffic, the system clearly defines to the operators what the event is and where.
“During the process of setting up a client with video verification an alarm zone can be mapped to an adjacent camera so when the operator sees the event they can see the camera with the correct angle of view and can access the action pattern for an event like this single sector zone alarm,” he says. “In this case, we are going to look at the video footage – if we don’t see any disruption to the site we can clear the event.
“I click on the icon and it tells me video is available – it’s Zone 8, which you can see is a fence line PE beam. The operator can then go to camera 1 and have a look down the fence line to see if there has been a breach. On this site, the CCTV system has PTZ cameras with pre-set capability and we can use the alarm event to drive the camera to a pre-set, zoom in and zoom out – we can look at footage prior to the event, during the event and after the event, and we can look at different cameras for different angles of view.
“In another scenario we can use a camera covering the front gate to zoom in on a truck, check its number plate and if it’s authorised to access the site, we can open the gate,” Hopfmueller explains. “And everything we are doing when interrogating the site or an alarm is recorded to the event history and we can deliver all that to the customer in a folder the following day if we need to. In the instance of this PE beam activation, the operator has seen this was a false alarm and can close the event and clear it using their password.”
Watching Hopfmueller steer the system is instructive. He never leaves one screen yet has access to events, reporting, video surveillance, mapping and a load of other functionality. In certain ways, it’s like a well-tailored single-site PSIM – everything is right there. Looking at the operators at their workstations, each focused on one screen yet actioning layers of functionality, you can see that, compared with multi-platform applications, Bold Manitou reduces the number of touches required from an operator in every part of the monitoring procedure – everything is streamlined.
ARM Security control room manager, Merton Glass
Chatting with control room manager, Merton Glass, I get a sense of the intensity of the process – not only the business of moving and upgrading hardware and software without messing with the reliability of the existing system but the lengthy process of operator training – more than 250 modules needed to be completed before taking ARM Security live with Bold Manitou.
“It was exciting when we switched over to the new system,” Glass says. “Getting our first GPS event and seeing it displayed on maps. Another fun part with the video verification was watching operators manage events in real time <I>inside<I> control room software and hearing them say, “Look, I can actually see what’s happening on site!” They got really excited about that.”
Something else that is integral to Bold Manitou is traffic reduction – what that means is stripping out all the signals from the event queue that clog more important aspects of operation. Since the system went live, the team has worked hard on its database of signals, so Manitou can manage administrative signals in the background, leaving operators free to concentrate on more important events.
“That enhanced efficiency gives operators more time to examine events as well,” says Glass. “In the past there would be an alarm event and you’d be straight into the contact list. With Manitou operators think, “What do we have here?” and they have the tools to look at the site and make informed operational decisions with complete audit trails.”
At this point, Burns takes a Solo Safe device out of the control room, so we can check out the system’s event reporting, video and mapping functionality.
“The Solo Safe device reports in .xml and its signals go into our media gateway using an onboard SIM card,” Hopfmueller explains. “As the device is activated you can see the event appear in the queue as a high priority alarm – it can also be labelled as a medical alarm, or a man-down alarm and the system mapping shows you where the customer site is, as well as the location of the device. There’s a help situation and a duress situation – in this case, the icon flashing means there’s mapping available through BoldTrack, which comes into play through Google API.”
“At this point, the operator picks up the phone, dials the number of the device and there’s a set script – a greeting, self-identification and the operator says they have received a request for assistance from a Solo Safe device, and asks the person if they are ok or if they need assistance. The person might say they have fallen and request an ambulance to their location, as well as asking the operator to obtain additional assistance from another authorised keyholder.
“If the unit has been activated accidentally, then they request a password and clear the event. Conversely, if it’s a confirmed duress alarm with an incident in process, then we will immediately advise police and if necessary they will dispatch a vehicle.”
The strength of the system, particularly its ability to confirm intrusion allowing much faster actioning of police response, has come to the attention of WA Police.
“We have had WA Police look at our system after there was a significant theft of firearms from a store,” explains Burns. “They are very proactive about reducing firearms getting onto the streets – part of that is making sure firearms dealers have the best security possible. What they saw fed into legislation changes relating to standards for security systems for gun dealers – they wanted to include video verification.
“We demonstrated what Manitou could provide them for such applications and they could see that if video verification had been in place there would have been a much better chance of catching the offenders. They based their re-write of the standards around video verification, as well as enhancing the way alarm systems are monitored, including dual paths and higher polling rates. We’ve had a lot of success with firearms dealers coming to us in the last 6 months keen to meet the standard that the new legislation now requires for licensing.”
According to SCSI’s Daniel Cananzi, ARM Security has taken advantage of the capabilities of Bold Manitou.
“ARM Security is a cautious and deliberate operator and those qualities stood the team in good stead during the process of transitioning the ARM Security control room to Bold Manitou,” Cananzi says. “It’s not easy making such a big change to an alarm monitoring business, but the results were worth the effort. Now the process is complete, the Bold Universal Connector allows tracking of pretty much anything – duress is just one example – you can simply monitor any stream of data from any location with management on one platform and seamless traceability of an event.”
Having run 2 systems alongside each other, then switched to Manitou, Burns has a clear opinion about which is better.
“Bold Manitou is a quantum ahead of our previous system,” he says. “We needed a solution that offered us the power and flexibility to evolve our services now and in the future. That said, we had operators who had been using our old platform for 15 years and we thought it would be challenging re-training them on Manitou. It ended up being very easy because once they had done the training, they could see the benefits for their own work – the new system is easier to use, more efficient and delivers them vastly more information, faster.
“But perhaps the most significant endorsement of Bold Manitou comes from our customers,” Burns says. “We find if we put a client onto Manitou with video verification, we get 2 or 3 new clients referred to us. The initial client recognises the benefits of the system and they’re so pleased with its performance they promote its benefits to others with no encouragement from us.”
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