Add some volume to your business: Audio options to enhance security
By Andrew Snook
From mass communications to false alarm reduction, audio tools are becoming more popular as a means to improve both security and customer care
By Andrew Snook
By implementing audio into existing systems – or installing entirely new tools with audio features – security users can improve their systems while taking advantage of additional benefits, such as enhancing customer experiences.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve seen here is people just want more,” says Michael Zuidema, marketing operations manager for Code Blue Corp., a manufacturer of emergency systems. “Whether that’s more features, more functionality, more integrations or abilities to work with other products, people want to be able to do more things with their emergency communications products.”
He says it comes as no surprise that people expect more from their security products, since so many of our everyday items now serve multiple functions.
“Look at an iPhone — it can take pictures, play music, make phone calls,” Zuidema says. “I think people look at our products the same way. It’s almost a piece of real estate, if you will, that they can expand and build on as technology changes and advances. It makes sense that customers are wanting to get more in order to keep their customers, visitors, students, patients — whatever the case may be — as safe as possible.”
The primary function for audio security devices is as a proactive deterrent solution, says Chris Wildfoerster, business development manager of audio for Axis Communications.
“Having a voice message come out is more of a deterrent than a camera that might sit passively in a corner during an event,” he says. “The key is that it changes passive into a proactive deterrent to stop something … before it happens.”
Another vital role that audio applications play in security is in helping reduce the number of false alarms that emergency crews and security teams are dispatched to investigate.
“We’re plagued with false alarm issues from motion detectors, glass breaks. A lot of alarms don’t give 100 per cent coverage in a facility, and police response is not as fast with that kind of technology,” says Chris Degenhardt, sales director for Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, who says false alarms comprise about 98 per cent of the alarm notifications in the U.S. (Similar numbers have been reported in Canada.) “The more we can verify an alarm, the better off we are.”
Jan Wittmann, director of regional marketing for Bosch Security and Safety Systems, says that incorporating audio is a huge advantage in emergency evacuation scenarios.
“If it’s a life or death situation — like an evacuation, for example — then audio just has big advantages because you have a response to a threat that’s immediate,” he says.
Aiphone technical sales and support engineer Paul Hefty says that audio systems have two main applications.
“You still have your traditional paging to get announcements out, but with everyone having cameras everywhere, you need to have audible communication to identify who is there,” he explains. “Primarily, you see that in door-entry environments, or data entry.”
Although someone can easily identify a co-worker or a courier, it can be more difficult to assess the threat level an unidentified visitor poses without an audio system in place, Hefty says.
“People put in all these camera systems and then are unable to identify potential threats,” he says.
Does adding audio features into an existing security require a substantial financial investment?
“It really depends on what kinds of features you want,” Code Blue’s Zuidema says. “How many bells and whistles are going to add onto this? If you’re just looking for a phone, we have a number of economical options for somebody just looking for intercom applications.
“But if you’re going to incorporate cam- eras, public address speakers, other types of software and technologies — and if you’re looking for something larger — that can really impact the case. But from an overall interest perspective, we have not seen it going down, we’ve only seen it going up from the last four to five years from both a quoting and sales perspective.”
Wildfoerster says that one of the biggest challenges related to selling audio systems is that a lot of the security dealers are not necessarily comfortable with installing these types of systems. But he argues that by adding these types of systems to the services and products they offer potential and existing clients, dealers and installers are able to increase their profitability per project while growing their relationships.
“It makes them much more important to their client,” Wildfoerster says.
When incorporating audio into a security system, service providers really have to understand what the customer’s needs are, including how their homes are built and set up.
“If they have a train that drives by every day at 1 p.m., that’s something we need to consider,” Degenhardt says, adding that any type of regular loud noises should be taken into consideration.
“I think the biggest challenge, for us, is making sure the communication line is continuous and making sure we have all the players we need at the table,” Zuidema adds. “Whether that’s IT, whether that’s local security, whether that’s local facilities — whoever the players are — making sure everybody is on the same page, so we get everybody exactly what they need and there’s no confusion or questions and no delays.”
The retail market space is one area where companies are constantly looking for additional features to enhance security while improving customer experience, and analytics plays a key role.
“We have the network cameras, we have the network audio, but what ties those two together is analytics,” Wildfoerster says. “You think of someone who dwells or stands in a particular area for particular period of time, the camera notices that and we can send a mes- sage out to that person.”
Property managers and owners can also use analytics to track people throughout a store.
“You can see where they’re going, what they do when they’re in the store, how often they stay in different areas,” Wildfoerster says. “These are analytics that you can add to the system and incorporate your audio messaging to reinforce where the customer is going and what they’re doing.”
These applications have been very successful in helping stores reduce organized shoplifting, also referred to as shrinkage.
Wildfoerster says stores have found that 85 per cent of shrinkage is reduced by incorporating analytics as part of their audio security solutions. One of the ways analytics is sometimes used to reduce shrinkage is with the help of pressure sensitive pads that are placed on shelves with commonly stolen items, such as energy drinks.
“They have a system where it senses the pressure on the pad being reduced significantly — like someone taking an arm and swiping the cans off — and it sends a message out over the
store letting someone know that assistance is needed in the energy drink aisle,” Wildfoerster explains. “It’s pretty cool. They’ve got the videos of people taking armloads of energy drinks and putting them in bags, and then once they hear the message, they drop the bags and try to put the energy drinks back. Again there, the power is behind the analytics.”
Wittmann adds that retail stores often require a certified mass communications system integrated into their fire systems, but also want it to be used for enhancing customer experience with features like background music, advertisements and page calls.
“Multiple uses of systems is another thing we see as a trend,” he says, explaining that by integrating audio features with video can cover off a large number of a customer’s security needs while providing considerable cost savings.
Educational and religious institutions are other areas where audio systems are growing in popularity.
“Churches and schools are, unfortunately, the highest crime areas based on size and space; and its really tough for a traditional alarm system to protect those buildings,” Degenhardt says.
“Historically, we were always in an education setting — colleges and universities,” Zuidema adds. “But in the last five years we’ve seen a lot of growth in the healthcare sector, airports and large corporate campuses with multiple parking lots and locations.”
Hefty says one market segment that tends to elude many companies is the residential side of security systems. But with systems going network-based, he sees a lot of potential for growth.
“Now the number of devices doesn’t matter. As long as you have a network drop then you can usually make something happen,” he says. “It just opens up so many options for people.”
As people and companies become better educated on the types of audio solutions available in the marketplace, the more these products will continue to grow in popularity.
“Typically, most folks that are looking for a system don’t even realize that audio is available,” Degenhardt says. “That’s where our job comes into play, to help them understand what’s available.”As far as Zuidema is concerned, the sky is the limit for the potential for audio applications.
“In my view, we’re only limited by our imaginations,” he says. “There’s so many more uses and applications for these products that I really have a hard time seeing it slow down or taper off in the near future. I don’t see it slowing down at all and can only imagine what the future has in store for us.”