What’s the big idea?
The buzzwords of our industry — Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile credentials, the Cloud, and artificial intelligence — are increasingly becoming more about deliverables and less about “what ifs.”
After years of talking about them in the abstract or relating them to high-end security installations out of the reach of most, today, we can see the applications for, and the impact of, these key trends.
That being said, making the most of Big Data, the Cloud and other important developments requires a clear understanding of how they will fit best into a particular scenario for a specific client. For building solution providers, there needs to be a delicate balance between selling products with a high level of intelligence and pricing yourself out of projects and the market with items a customer may not require or yet fully understand.
Knowing how and when to use the technologies and concepts we’re discussing here, how to price the related systems and then sell them to customers based on their particular needs will help systems integrators remain competitive and retain the loyalty and trust of their customers.
Today, customers find themselves swimming in data, which can make it difficult for everyone from property managers to police and security personnel to find relevant information, whether a specific security-related event has occurred or they are trying to apply data to solve a non-security problem. Big Data is a good thing if it can be used precisely and efficiently and if it can be retrieved easily and applied with purpose.
Fortunately, the advent of analytics has made the difference by allowing those who have to deal with pre- and post-event data to hone in on what they need. In a security situation, this means being able to concisely identify a situation, often by applying a series of algorithms that can sort through the data and get to the heart of the matter, such as finding a man in a red car exiting a parking lot or determining who left a package unattended by the front door.
Big Data also has applications outside the security realm, as when it is applied to a visitor management system or toward time and attendance tracking. Through data analysis, you can extrapolate information to determine specific actions, whether it is setting appropriate shift times at a manufacturing plant or determining the right heating or lighting patterns within a building. Retailers are using video analytics from Big Data to help merchandise their stores for maximum sales results based on traffic pattern data.
Within the context of buildings, stronger integration of systems enhances not only the installer’s setup experience, but the user’s experience as well. Lower installation costs, based on hardware and labour, are critical for winning project bids, but so is providing an intuitive user experience with an integrated interface that allows for ease of viewing, controlling and reporting.
Among the interesting developments surrounding IoT is the growing partnership between security players and non-security data gatherers, or artificial intelligence (AI).
By teaming together, an alarm system begins to learn a user’s behaviour and make decisions related to those actions, such as knowing to turn on the air conditioning and the lights as employees arrive for work. Based on behaviours shared by the alarm system and its AI partner, the system can even begin to discern the difference between weekday and weekend actions and respond accordingly. In a commercial setting, by combining the intelligence of building systems with AI, the building can “know” certain things and respond, such as unlocking the office door or sending the elevator to the first floor when the CEO arrives.
With the proliferation and ubiquitous use of mobile devices, we foresee the days of access cards potentially coming to an end. The use of mobile credentials, typically housed in an individual’s smartphone, has the potential to greatly reduce cost and lower the risk of unwanted user access. Even in temporary situations, one can easily create a mobile credential that can be turned on and off and will not be lost or stolen.
One of the latest technologies being used in this arena is BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). Using the built-in Bluetooth feature of a mobile phone, an individual can access doors, elevators and other secured locations. And the opportunities continue to rise for mobile credentials as society becomes increasingly tethered to smart devices.
The downside fear of transitioning to mobile credentials vs. access cards is that dealers and integrators will no longer have the opportunity for a markup. This source of revenue has been the norm with card sales. However, the industry is finding a way around the loss of card revenue by charging for the mobile credential licence, so the movement is away from card revenue and toward licensing fees.
Operating in the Cloud takes away much of the hardware and maintenance burden for building managers; it becomes a win-win for both dealers and integrators as well as end users because both can see and experience a true upside.
The managed/hosted solution has become popular with installers and integrators because it allows them to add more value to their clients and helps build an on-going relationship between them. By getting commercial customers onto monthly contracts, dealers and integrators strengthen their position with their customer and it becomes harder for their end user to shop around.
Clients like these Cloud-based solutions because they solve a very real problem for them. The bottom line is that clients don’t want to have to backup and maintain servers, issue access cards or upgrade systems, and so they are willing to pay a monthly fee to outsource this work. They also don’t want to have to train people who sit at the security desk or the reception area to handle some of the backup and maintenance chores or risk those same people introducing viruses to the system by downloading their personal music and videos on to the company’s security servers. Operating in the Cloud is insurance against some of these bothersome, yet very real, threats.
There will always be new areas to explore as well as existing ones to fine-tune. Cybersecurity is one area that, although not a new issue, requires constant attention, especially in light of changing industry standards that need to be followed.
Both the retail and the commercial industries present continuing opportunities to cross-pollinate technologies for security and non-security purposes. On the retail side, video analytics, which began as a security technology, is now being used to reshape how people shop. Some retailers are using video analytics to incentivize their customers to make a purchase, noting how long someone pauses in front of a display and then sending a coupon to their phone as a nudge to buy.
Within commercial and residential buildings, voice entry systems, designed to regulate who enters a space, are also being used to advertise local businesses. This not only helps the advertiser with targeted sales — a building manager, for example, may share data on what types of cars are in the parking lot to get advertising from a specific dealer — but the building manager can recoup some of the investment in the hardware by multi-purposing the entry security system.
In the end, maintaining and growing your customer base comes down to how you can show value to your customers. Understanding what they value must be the primary objective. This level of understanding usually comes from staying abreast of the latest developments and usage trends and working with your clients to determine and guide them in which technologies and practices will have the longevity to best serve them now as well as in the years ahead.
Michael DeMille is the senior director of product management at Toronto-based Mircom Group.
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