What benefits does alarms-over-IP technology offer end users, installers, insurers, monitoring centres and alarm panel manufacturers, and who is actually using these systems? In this, the last of his three-part series of articles, Ian Tredinnick provides the answers.
We will look at some of the organisations that are already gaining benefits from IP monitoring and alerting. Examples here are from the extensive experience of the Chiron Iris system which now has over 60 monitoring centres across Europe using the Internet Protocol (IP) and over 10 000 installations running satisfactorily, covering high security areas such as banking through to residential systems. This final article analyses the reasons why the organisations are adopting IP for their security systems.
The advantages of alarms-over-IP technology are multifold and the attractive combination of significant cost savings, value-added services, proven levels of security and quicker transmission rates means an increasing volume and variety of users are opting to ‘future-proof’ their security systems with it.
The rapid growth of corporate IP networks and broadband ADSL has prompted many security managers to actively investigate how this technology can provide them with increased services while actually reducing their monitoring costs. These early ‘corporate’ adopters of IP security have already invested heavily in their IP networks and want to make full use of their infrastructure. Commercial and residential users alike are adopting IP very rapidly right across Europe. In the business sector, IP networks are not confined to the higher-end of the market either – SMEs (small to medium enterprises) can take advantage too. Meanwhile in the residential sector those receiving home alarm alerts can protect themselves against the possibility of being asleep, on a plane or out of the country when the call comes by backing this up with the safety net of a monitoring centre’s involvement in order to react to any intrusion attempt.
End users speak...
IP alarm systems can benefit everyone, whether it is a private house, a small business such as a jewellery store, larger organisations in the public sector such as a hospital or a local authority, or indeed a blue-chip commercial operation like a bank. In South Africa, for example, the operational benefits of this technology include the opportunity for carrying out remote alarm panel management and diagnostics, mitigating the need to physically travel perhaps hundreds of miles across bush-land to physically visit a site. Such support savings have proven themselves even in Europe where distances are not so high to send engineers.
Let us take three examples of installed systems, starting with the major high street travel agency and tour operator Thomas Cook, which also had a high risk being a money exchange shop. In this case Thomas Cook already had an IP infrastructure to every site.
This company has switched intruder and personal attack alarm monitoring at its network of over 1000 stores to Chiron Security Communications’ Iris system, enabling it to replace its dedicated signalling system and associated telephone costs. This system has been running satisfactorily for nearly three years. Thomas Cook’s Group security manager, Steve Nelson, says this service had been costing his company around £150 000 annually and after recouping the modest investment associated with equipment installation, he anticipates substantial monitoring cost savings of some 70% per year.
By using the company’s existing wide area network, it is adding value to its original investment in this infrastructure, while enabling further services to be used over it. These include the ability to add building management services telemetry for activities such as reporting on heating levels, water usage metering and freezer temperatures.
Besides the intruder alarm element of the system, Thomas Cook is also examining the potential value of an Iris system software module that allows visual verification of an alarm alert. Pictures from existing site cameras can be sent direct to a monitoring centre operator’s screen simultaneously with the alarm activation, allowing the operator to scan pre- and post-event images to help verify the cause of an alert. Nelson notes that this ‘future-proofing’ technology would also allow the company’s regional sales managers to remotely dial-in to stores to observe customer flows and other management-related issues, further adding value to the equipment.
Meanwhile, a prominent building materials retailer is reporting that its own experience of a similar system installation has included equivalent cost savings to those achieved by Thomas Cook. But it also had an unexpected benefit – namely the way that the installation itself has brought the security and IT departments within the same company much closer together. “The IT director can now see that Iris is making financial savings to his budget and this is one of the reasons that a greater degree of internal trust and cooperation has developed. This now means that we can resolve other issues much more quickly than happened before,” says the organisation’s head of security and loss prevention.
A third national retailer using Iris has been able to extract more efficiency from its IP link by using it to remotely communicate with a third party finance house to speedily open customer credit card accounts.
Across Europe, banking and retail have been the early adopters, but in mainland Europe we are now seeing a wider spread of clients emerging.
Apart from the early adopters of the large corporate we are now seeing a wider range of IP users for Iris. For example in Denmark, Esberg Commune and Arhus Commune have adopted Iris to work alongside its CCTV systems. This is an interesting application as investment has already been made into IP for CCTV for all the public buildings, schools offices, clinics etc. Using the same IP infrastructure has both saved costs and linked more closely the alarm alerts with the CCTV cameras.
Similarly, Glostrop Hospital has used Iris within its campus, routing alarm alerts not to a major monitoring centre, but to its own guarding centre, such that again alarm alerts can cost effectively be linked to CCTV and used for guard control and response.
Besides end-users, IP alarm transmission and monitoring is an attraction to installers, monitoring centres and alarm panel manufacturers who can see the benefits too. Iris, for example, is now supported by over 60 monitoring centres across Europe and many alarm panel manufacturers are now offering the technology embedded within their panels. These manufacturers are looking to enhance their product ranges and this type of equipment helps to differentiate their service against that of their competitors.
For installers, the attractions include the ability of a system like Iris to work with both new and old ‘legacy’ alarm panels. The system is also simple to install – no specialist IP knowledge is required.
For both installers and insurers, another reason for the high growth in IP alarms within regions such as Europe is the nature of commercial packages offered with inclusive equipment and monitoring in a single market-ready offering. The technological advantages of IP can be used to differentiate different signal types, such as voice, IT, access control, CCTV and intruder alarms, using the same transmission path. In practical, operational terms, this offers residential and SME customers cost-effective commercial packages comprising, eg alarm monitoring, visual verification, CCTV surveillance and vehicle tracking as ‘added value’ services, instead of the relatively simple task of supplying an alarm monitoring device with related signalling that used to be all that was provided.
From high security to residential
IP is an obvious choice for monitoring at the higher end of the market, with the reduced costs and opportunities for multiple routing of monitoring and alerts. However, IP is also an ideal opportunity to provide higher levels of services to the SME and residential markets. IP via ADSL is proving reliable and cost effective and we are now seeing commercial offerings involving low cost monitoring to these sectors across both ADSL and more importantly GPRS. GPRS is the IP data service of the mobile network system and is proving cost effective for security. GPRS-equipped alarm panels are now appearing on the market and have a number of benefits. Firstly, such GPRS systems can be pre-configured before delivery to the user; installation costs are thus reduced and the system is independent of the user’s own communications system. The second major advantage is that GPRS can be used for alerting, monitoring and remote management of the alarm panel.
To sum up, in parallel with the integrated service benefits and cost efficiency gains available to alarms-over-IP users, this technology is now opening up fresh markets. It is also providing a realistic opportunity for lower-risk businesses and residential customers to take advantage of an holistic approach towards improved premises protection. The cream on top is the range of added-value security and management services that can also be exploited. This 21st century solution is here to stay.
Ian Tredinnick is the managing director of Chiron Technology.
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