Alarm monitoring software and hardware manufacturer Suretek’s re-imagining of itself highlights the huge changes sweeping through the alarm monitoring industry, as well as clearly setting out real opportunities.
SURETEK’S co-location facility and data centre in Sydney’s western suburbs is unquestionably the single most impressive facility of its type in Australia. Due to open in the first quarter of 2016, the facility is the centrepiece of Suretek’s business model, as well as a statement of belief about where the market is going.
The overall facility, built inside Suretek’s head office, incorporates a Grade 1A co-location centre, along with an integrated data centre incorporating Suretek’s cloud array. When you think co-location centre, think monitoring centre for control rooms – a facility incorporating more than a dozen hot workstations that’s designed to offer Suretek’s 200 monitoring station clients and their 500,000 customers, the pinnacle of failover support.
Glenn Smith, Suretek’s founder and managing director is a man of considerable commitment and uncommon focus. When Smith first began building the Suretek co-location facility and data centre some years ago, his idea was that it would act as a hot support centre for the 25 monitoring stations then using Suretek’s CAMS software. But the market has changed since then and in response to these changes, Suretek has created a security ecosystem through which its monitoring station clients can drive and expand their businesses, as well as empowering the businesses of bureau clients.
What does Suretek’s network offer? The short version is remote management of a client’s security and automation solutions via the monitoring centre or bureau. There’s also considerable scope for the development of new revenue streams, major cost savings in infrastructure and considerable enhancement of the efficiency of monitoring centre operations.
From an industry commentator’s point of view, what’s interesting here is that Suretek has created an end-to-end solution that brings in any and every existing alarm panel, as well as new security and automation panels. But while the holistic nature of Suretek’s offering is the central takeaway, it’s a hard thing to get down in a linear exposition of words. The interlocking elements of this solution move forward on a broad front. Suretek’s co-location facility, its monitoring software, its app, its redundant security network and its cloud solution are conjoined.
Suretek's Glenn Smith
“With Suretek it’s a whole solution,” explains Glenn Smith. “You get the infrastructure as well as the software, the global networking capability, the IP technology for automation and the co-location facility. As well as expanding the range of services monitoring stations can offer customers with their existing alarm panels, we are building new revenue models and helping monitoring stations lower communication costs. A lot of monitoring stations are one dollar a day – if they can lower their comms costs and improve their customer service levels, then half the battle is won.”
Making monitoring stations more efficient is critical and that comes down to the software. Monitoring alarms is no longer a matter of just bringing alarm events to a screen. Good monitoring software needs to be intelligent and service oriented. It needs to help a control room run more efficiently, reducing the demand on operators to make mundane phone calls through the use of automation.
“From the point of view of the monitoring station, calling a client is 35 cents on a landline, more on a mobile phone and you are only getting one dollar a day in revenue,” Smith says. “If you can swap that for a message from the operator in the form of a pop-up that informs the user of the event and gives a number of selectable options: ‘An alarm has gone off – do you want to talk to the operator, call the police, send a patrol, attend yourself? The monitoring station is directly communicating for a micro-cent, and they are making the customer part of their existing security system.”
The efficiencies go deep. There are serious savings to be made on communication costs, too. Suretek’s network allows monitoring stations to take their comms to IP and that means a big reduction in copper line costs – not just when contacting customers but organising patrols with other control rooms.
“If your control room spends 3000 on copper line rentals every month before they even make a call, our solution will reduce those costs by more than 70 per cent to around 900 per month, while giving the control room the ability to upsell customers excellent remote management app features and automated messaging using their existing alarm systems.”
Of course, none of this process can be secure, redundant and entirely dependable unless the monitoring software has a robust back end.
“Importantly, we have the infrastructure to manage the back end of the process – no one else has this infrastructure in the holistic way we have done,” says Smith. “We have our own cloud system that allows us to push millions of signals across the cloud successfully without any losses – every event, every poll. When planning out solution, we knew where we wanted to be and we realised a Cisco cloud-based solution was what we needed in order to get there. Everyone who does cloud properly needs to have that infrastructure but we are the only provider who offers it as part of a whole solution.”
A key part of this has been a long period of time working with telcos at the APN level to allow secure alarm signals as well as these attached services. All devices talk to CAMS’ secure central nucleous – the Suretek cloud. According to Smith, Suretek focuses heavily on securing information within a secure data pipe in a secure network.
“A control room cannot be exposed to the internet – how can we offer these services without their being a security risk?” That’s something we work hard on,” he says.
Smith points out that while the CAMS software is a key part of Suretek’s solution, it’s way beyond the software now.
“Today, it’s about the whole service you provide – software, hardware and a big network that forms a secure ecosystem, with everything connected end-to-end ensuring a smooth integration at the monitoring centre, and the ability for the control room to communicate with the user,” he explains.
CAMS AlarmLink App
These days many companies offer an app but there are a number of things about Suretek’s AlarmLink app that make it quite different. For a start, it’s part of the monitoring station software, not a third party platform and that means not only does the monitoring station push event notifications directly to clients, the app works with existing alarm panels – there’s no need for re-installation of systems.
“With CAMS, as a panel gathers signals, detail is sent to the user – who opened or closed the system, test reports, events, etc – the alarm events are going down the control room path, they are not being directed to the user,” explains Smith. “That means they can be picked up by the operator or the automation software and responded to in the way the control room’s procedures require – that might be a phone call or an automated pop-up.
“In either case, the important thing is that we’re not sending signals in 2 directions at once, all signals go via the control room and arrive at the user as a communication from the control room. This is important because sending signals directly can highlight instances of latency in the control room process at particular times of the day – an alarm signal is sent to the user’s email but it may be a couple of minutes before the control room gets hold of the customer on their mobile phone. And with AlarmLink, the bureau customer can put their logo onto the app.
“By bringing everything through the nucleus of the software, giving the user more service oriented solutions and proper value, the security solution is not a grudge purchase,” Smith explains. “The security system becomes a thing users can’t do without when it comes managing their security and home automation system.”
According to Suretek’s Luke Kavanagh, the underlying truth in all this is that monitoring solutions are no longer defined by their communications path but have about the services you attach to them and about the client experience.
“With the AlarmLink app, customers have buy in that they never had before,” Kavanagh says. “They are looking at the app every day, arming, disarming, checking event history, checking real time events. The monitoring centre is the one talking to the user and by being able to do that, the service is basically independent of devices – you don’t have to have a particular panel to get the service, you select a particular CAMS monitoring centre – the control room and the monitoring service is the key. It can be alarm diallers or any type of panel reporting via IP, the alarm signals are pushed to the app and the users can interact with the panel via the app.”
IP allows lateral projection of monitoring and taking things to another level with AlarmLink is monitoring, not just of the premises, but of every person attached to an account who carries a smart device loaded with the app. Another cool feature is a geo-fence – you can use it to keep an eye on kids who are at home by themselves.
“We’re also just about to release a full panic app and we think this will be another growth area for the monitoring industry – it’s ideal for lone workers or mobile fleets,” Kavanagh explains. “The panic app has neat features such as ‘Follow me’. This involves a user pressing a pre-alert when they are about to do something that may be risky – go to the carpark, or undertake an action that may carry an element of risk and requires real time monitoring.
“Once the pre-alert is set, the monitoring station is alerted and all the user has to do is shake the phone and an alarm will be sent with a precise location. We’ve also built in man-down with the user required to check in every ten minutes or an alert with coordinates will be sent to the monitoring station.”
Increasing efficiency further are installer apps for customer sites designed so that new customers are automatically updated into a CAMS monitoring station as they are programmed on the site, without the need for time consuming data entry. Of course, when you talk security and cloud in residential applications it’s inevitable the conversation will turn to home automation.
“Home automation is a key area of growth in the future with plenty of competition for who will provide and manage the central hub that will govern such systems,” says Smith. “We believe the security control panel will win out here for a number of reasons. For a start, the security functions are the most important of home automation functions.
“Then there’s the fact people generally trust security installers who have an existing duty of care for their customers. They don’t install a system and run away, they often bureau the monitored line, so they have a sense of ownership and ongoing interest. This trust relationship is a base from which to add home automation and IP communications to existing security systems. They might add VoIP phones and intercoms, too.”
The Colocation centre
Central to all these other capabilities is Suretek’s colocation centre, which will soon be completed, with only final commissioning in the new server room, video surveillance cameras and some components of internal communications systems yet to be installed. I’ve been here a number of times during the construction process, including at the very beginning, so I can see how close it is to being finished. Frankly, this facility is amazing. There’s really nothing else like it in Australia.
Suretek's Co-Location Centre – Smith built most of it by hand.
The server room is not fully powered up yet and we take a look at the cloud servers which are all about to be commissioned. The UPS solution is all in, 2 full racks which handle power needs until the big diesel generator kicks in. In the future, instead of a control room spending 25 grand on one receiver it will all be cloud based, explains Smith.
“We represent 200 control rooms in Australia, so it’s all about being able to support any of them through any emergency. To that end, our colocation facility will be up and running live – perhaps the only one in the world to operate this way,” he explains.
External mantrap door
“The idea behind the colocation centre was to allow smaller monitoring centres to compete with larger ones – that was back when we had around 40 control rooms on board with CAMS,” says Smith.
“The co-location facility means the little guys who spend $A500,000 building a control room can have full redundancy and the highest security levels even if they can’t afford to build a second control room to monitor the first. This makes their services seamless in the event of any unforeseen incident."
Suretek's cloud server room
“We now have 155 control rooms running CAMS, which is about 62 per cent of all control rooms in Australia – and we bought ADSW a couple of years ago, which represents another 29 per cent of Australian central stations. We estimate we provide around 90 per cent of all the monitoring station software in Australia and these big numbers have made the redundancy provided by the colocation facility much more important.
“This facility means that in the event of any failure at a smaller monitoring CAMS centre, all the traffic is switched over here and there are hot workstations ready to go. “This seamless monitoring service is critical for every monitoring station and we believe none of our competitors offers this level of support.”
A fully networked control room offers considerable efficiencies. There’s no need for expensive PSTN lines, no need for expensive analogue receivers, no need for the complexity and expense of voice recording – all the control room needs is a data connection to Suretek’s secure and fully redundant network. It’s an thrilling prospect.
“Half the control rooms are worried about the new technology and the other half are excited about the opportunities but we feel we have all our customers covered,” says Smith. “Thanks to features that improve user experience at the same time they enhance control room efficiency and revenue streams this combination of CAMS, our Suretek network and cloud, and our colocation centre, makes perfect sense. Monitoring is changing shape and we are excited by it.”
“How do you feel about the future of alarm monitoring – there are challenges as technology changes. Can the business model survive?” I ask.
Thanks to its RemoteGuard video monitoring solution, Smith says Suretek is Australia's largest Mobotix distributor.
“Monitoring stations are here to stay and they now have the opportunity to grow their businesses in multiple directions with considerable reductions in communications and hardware costs,” says Smith. “The service they provide can’t be underestimated. Alarm monitoring will never go away for the person who cares about their family, business or assets.”
“You’ve obviously invested Suretek’s profits back into the business,” I suggest.
“Yes, everything has gone back in – it’s been exciting to do that,” says Smith. “Given the speed the market is now changing I would not want to have done it any other way. We now find ourselves in a very strong position. When we started working on this secure ecosystem and co-location centre it wasn’t clear how things were going to turn out – the industry wasn’t ready for this – but everyone is ready for us to turn it on.”
By John Adams