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Q and A with Jeff Crews

Bell recently launched a new home monitoring service. SP&T News spoke with Jeff Crews to talk about what this could mean for the home monitoring industry.


May 8, 2007
By Andrew Wareing

Topics

SP&T News: Why Bell Canada is getting into the home monitoring business?

Crews: First, a bit of background: I’m part of a group called Bell New Ventures. It’s a division within Bell that’s driving a lot of the innovation within Bell Canada and really, we are the first business coming out of that division. Over a year ago, when we started to look at the traditional home security market, it was clear to us when you look at the relative penetration in Canada — which is about 17 per cent from the research we have done — that told us that more than four out of five homes did not see sufficient value in the traditional home security market.

We went about looking at what a value proposition has to look like to make a service better than a traditional offering and really expand the market beyond its current size. So, what we’ve done is take a look at and take advantage of our current wireless technology, combine it with a personal website and come up with a service that we think is much broader and better than anything in the market today. From our perspective, by giving the homeowner that website to personalize the service, we put the ability, the convenience and the control to customize that service right in the hands of the homeowner.

We call the service Home Monitoring from Bell. We’ve consciously steered away from any security label because we feel very strongly it represents just one application that people will choose home monitoring for. A couple of everyday applications, for instance, would be if I’m stuck at the office, my wife is at work and the kids are coming home from school. You can determine what to be alerted about, who should be alerted and how be alerted. Say my school age daughter does not get home at the time specified, I get notified, my wife who is travelling gets a text message and our best friend’s parent’s neighbours get alerted. So it’s having the ability to think of those every day situations, and then go in and set up the response group that I want to be alerted.

Another example is that I can tell the system to tell me by mid-morning if there’s no movement detected in my elderly parents’ home. We see an opportunity to leverage our service into homes where there is an age concern, whether or not there is a family coping with a disability. The ability to provide that caregiver with peace of mind by being able to monitor the health and safety of someone with a disability living somewhere else, access that information over the Internet or through an alerting process, we think there is an opportunity.

SP&T News: So It’s expanding the functions of a traditional home security service to other areas.

Crews: Exactly. We have a video option. Some people are interested in that, some are not. Here’s a true story, I have a two-and-a-half year old daughter and it was picture day but I had to leave home early while everyone was still in bed. My wife called me, and told me to look at the mudroom camera and there my daughter was (dressed for pictures). It’s a unique example for me, but we hear those kinds of stories. Another person said they couldn’t wait to set it up at their ski chalet. That’s because he doesn’t know when he needs to call up the snow plow.

Again, that’s one unique example; as people get the service, those are the opportunities we hear about. But the broad uses we hear about — things like elder care — are the ones we’re hearing most often.

SP&T News: As Bell is practically in every home starting with a phone line, does that give you an advantage in that you can leverage Bell’s brand in an area that has traditionally been a challenge for other home monitoring services?

Crews: We’re optimistic, but what we’ve tried to do is look at making the service really easy to use; something the homeowner can buy off the shelf, take it home and install it, and then configure the service online, so it’s making the service easier to use, more relevant and way more convenient — again, a really core element of the service. It’s the marriage of the website and the service which is completely wireless. I’m not sure if it matters to consumers but, from our perspective, it adds a great deal to the ease of use, installation and safety, so, when you start to wrap all those features into the product, we think we have a winning proposition to offer the market.

SP&T News: This is an area where there are a lot of (home monitoring) players already established and now Bell is coming in with this offering? Are you hoping to take advantage of a hole they’ve left open?

Crews: The security penetration, when you look at the Canadian market, is relatively low. Certainly, are there going to be times when people are looking for a security system and are we competing with traditional providers? Absolutely we are. But our proposition, we think, is one where we’re integrating the hardware with that personal website, doing it in an affordable way and layering on those applications. We’re looking at expanding and even creating a new category of home monitoring that is beyond the capabilities of traditional security providers. So, in some senses, I would say we are competing. My definition of success will be to expand the market beyond its current size.

Five years from now, if we were to look at the home security and home monitoring market, I would like to see it having a penetration rate of much higher than 17 per cent. As we’ve looked at the research, we’ve seen that it (traditional security monitoring) is a relatively mature market but we’re aiming at that 83 per cent that have not seen sufficient value in the traditional offering with a broader message and expand the market in that regard.

SP&T News: How do you see this impacting the home security, home monitoring industry in general? Is the goal here to set the bar ‘higher? ’

Crews: I feel strongly that we’ve set the bar higher than anything available in Canada today. I can only think it’s going to have a positive impact on the industry. As word of our service comes out and consumers exercise their right to choose, I think it will drive greater innovation as we learn together what the market needs. We’re all out there trying to go after those consumers.

SP&T News: With the fact it is wireless, it runs on batteries. What happens when the batteries run out?

Crews: You would receive an informational alert and it would say that the batteries are starting to wear down. There’s intelligence in the system to send an alert three months in advance. The average battery life is two or three years. They’re lithium batteries that provide very good life.

One of the other things we’ve thought of is what if the power goes out? There’s 24-hour battery back-up in the base unit as well. For a vast majority of power interruptions, the unit will continue to function just as it always has.

We’ve always tried to work hard at making it affordable so we’re trying to make sure we have that right mix of value. Again, the market will help us learn where are the opportunities to provide additional conveniences. As we’ve looked at the market, our service stands up very well.

SP&T News: The switch from analogue to digital wireless signals is something that traditional security monitoring companies are struggling with. Does that give Bell another advantage?

Crews: I think it does but, on the other side of the coin, those customers are typically in long-term contracts. This service does not integrate into a typical hardware provider’s equipment and that is why, if we go back to the question of whether we are looking at the traditional service provider and going after them directly, in some cases we’re going to by virtue of customers choosing our service (over another company). But, our value proposition is much more attractive to homeowners who don’t have anything in their home, but do have school age children or elderly parents in their home. The consumer caregiver market is over three million and growing. That demographic is mostly women who have young children and aging parents in their family that they’re taking care of. We know that those caregivers are not only typically taking care of their own aging parents, and are taking care of their spouse’s aging parents. The demographics bear out that information. That sandwich generation is getting pressure from both sides of the demographic equation so I think there is a tremendous opportunity to target that area, which is much broader than home security, per se.

SP&T News: Could this be added on to an existing package someone has with Bell, such as their Internet, telephone or satellite service?

Crews: This service works independent of any other service in the house so, if you wanted to receive an alert over your cellphone, you don’t have to be a Bell Mobility customer and, because it doesn’t work over the Internet, there’s no issue about phone lines. It works completely independent, even for people using Voice over IP. We worked hard to think about all those things to come up with how the service was going to be divided.

SP&T News: We’ve been talking primarily about a home application but is there an opportunity for a business/commercial application of this?

Crews: We have seen small business owners purchasing the service and they are experiencing the same benefits that the consumer can enjoy.

SP&T News: Do you see Bell Monitoring for business separating off into a separate service because they may have different focuses?

Crews: Potentially; we’re going to let the market teach us how separate those requirements are because, certainly as you get from that small business application that can be aligned to a consumer offering, you are going to get into much more sophisticated access control requirements. Our interest is in the consumer market where we see considerable opportunity and we’ll let the market guide us with feedback on whether or not that other opportunity presents itself as well.

SP&T News: Because of the option of a camera, have you had to deal with any issues relating to privacy or misuse of the system?

Crews: We’ve been very concerned about that for various reasons. For instance, knowing if cleaners have come in when they said they were or the caregivers for my elderly parents, for instance. In that case, I’m giving them a pin number to deactivate the system and that information is logged and I can view it on my portal. Video is an option and we’re sensitive to those privacy issues. It’s all user name and passwords and security equipped with that service, there is no home monitoring staff and no one has the ability to monitor anyone else’s information. It has the same level of online security as an online banking site would have. It’s user-controlled completely.

We see that video fits a variety of applications, but it doesn’t fit all.

SP&T News: There is a lot of talk right now of integrating home security and monitoring with home automation and we’ve been hearing from a lot of our readers that there is a push in that direction. Bell is involved with smart metering and satellite dish home entertainment; is that another direction for Bell to go into?

Crews: It will have to be the market that will help us decide; but certainly there is lots of opportunity to continue to layer on services. When you have the base unit and are able to control it remotely from a website or a hand-held device, there is lots of opportunity in lighting , opportunities to think about heating and air conditioning. From an energy conservation standpoint, I think there’s plenty of opportunity to layer on those kinds of opportunities as well. But, again, we’ll see what the market tells us.


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