The New World of Monitoring
Today's monitoring systems are integral to a total management solution
- By Gladys Nova
- Mar 01, 2006
IP connectivity is an over-arching development that promises to impact many issues that video monitoring users and their vendors face. Software serves as the glue in the developing world of IP connectivity for the security industry.
Ultimately, all security hardware, including panels, cameras and access devices, will evolve toward the IP approach. Developments within the security industry and trends affecting the greater IT world in general promise significant changes for both software developers and central station and monitoring centers.
Today's open database architectures permit almost limitless reporting capabilities. A GPS option enables tracking of field technicians. A video option enables alarm verification, one of the industry's greatest concerns. A Web option lets people access data from remote sites. The list goes on.
Implementation of open IP-based software solutions is inevitable based on several significant trends in the industry. Expansion of false-alarm legislation compels development of robust verification methods, such as intelligent video combined with monitored access control. Demand for location-based services for service mapping and dispatching requires extensive seamless implementation of GPS technology. Customer expectations of anywhere-anytime capabilities compel the development of Web-based solutions.
Such marketplace expectations require an IP approach in order to coordinate the requisite hardware and software interactions. With manufacturers of security hardware looking for universal applicability of their products and management at monitoring operations increasingly expecting plug-and play technology, security software solutions must adapt to this new world.
For example, banks want systems such as ATMs and legacy software packages to easily interface with their video and monitoring systems. Government facilities need their systems to integrate with PSAP databases, employ telephony integration and interface with advanced video technology. Retailers want to incorporate advanced multi-location features and have their systems easily adapt to branch operations. Their systems also must integrate with industry-standard video and alarm technologies, and the reporting features need to permit monitoring of open and closed events and exception tracking.
Integration is Imperative
In the new world of IP, the word "proprietary" must be abandoned. It's a Microsoft world in which client/server schemas are king. Thus, any monitoring system or software must be based on Windows® and provide an SQL server database. Without these simple, common tools, integration and IP are out of reach.
After all, an open database platform provides easier integration, interfaces with other leading software applications and opens up a new world of reporting with third-party tools. Most importantly, an IP system provides Internet and intranet access to data and images to anyone authorized from anywhere.
Monitoring cannot stand as an island unto itself. Users, vendors and installers need to consider the following systems when creating holistic solutions to security and integrated business models.
Video. Obviously, monitoring systems must be designed for use with the industry's leading video monitoring equipment and provide a single user interface. The monitoring application should display the alarm information to the user and send a command to the operator's video viewer application to start video viewing. The video viewer application, in turn, should display video for the account in an alarm condition.
In a typical configuration, each monitoring operator will have both a software monitoring application and a video viewer application. Additionally, they will want to employ advanced video features, including pan, tilt, zoom, start and stop.
Global positioning system. A GPS interface offers the ability to track service employees, service vehicles, containers and other company assets equipped with GPS transmission devices. Such an interface takes full advantage of today's wireless communication networks and includes full-color maps graphically displayed for easier tracking and verification of route and scheduling information. New jobs can easily be scheduled into a daily route based on the proximity of each employee to the jobsite.
Voice response terminal. A voice response terminal system allows touchtone telephone access to the central station database. From any touchtone telephone, a user initiates a multi-level identification process. Access is denied unless the caller properly identifies him or herself with a valid PIN. VRT supports interactive voice response, which uses customizable prerecorded messages in an automatic fashion. Alarm confirmations are automated for automatic call and response.
For people working in the field, such a system provides:
Placing systems on-test (entire systems or individual zones).
Taking systems off-test and reviewing test results.
Retrieval of alarm history.
Listening and responding to interactive voice messages.
Access control. Control of system card access is rarely centralized in one location. This important issue must be resolved. With a system card access feature, users can:
Centralize card access control.
Assign groups of contacts to card readers or groups of card readers.
Control card reader use to scheduled times by assigning card readers to system schedules.
Redundancy and n-way for disasters. A critical priority for many users is system redundancy. A "hot" redundant application should use two or more systems that communicate in real time and provide the benefit of load splitting. Since multiple computers are used simultaneously, most functions should be able to be performed on any machine. The quality of the data synchronization needs to be excellent, and the data transfer must be bi-directional.
Not only is n-way robust and reliable, but it also employs the world's most advanced disaster recovery technology. An n-way redundancy feature allows for the deployment of onsite primary and secondary database servers that communicate over a dedicated network connection to remote servers located at an offsite disaster recovery center or separate monitoring center.
Monitoring servers perform data synchronization with "n" number of primary and secondary servers located locally, nationally or internationally. Within an n-way configuration, any of the several servers are used for primary operations, and each is updated in real time. This type of replication option allows for bi-directional communication so that data is transferred from the remote database back to the primary database as needed. Such a redundancy process should update all servers in real time.
Report/communications server. There are substantial reductions in alarm handling with the use of predefined response plans that include automatic e-mail and fax responses.
Fax and e-mail processes can be initiated on a workstation and executed on a secondary PC. This type of report server integrates faxing, paging and e-mail into the dispatch process. Batch reports may be set up for fax or e-mail processing. Key features should include automatic dispatch for alarms and demand notification in the dispatch sequence. Make sure that template-based e-mails can be sent within the application and e-mails are saved and stored within the account's history. In addition, the pager interface should allow text messages to be sent to pagers and batch faxing be provided for selected reports.
Floor plan and document imaging. Documents in any third-party database, including CAD drawings, should be attached to a site record and retrieved through the application. Floor plans should be tagged with alarm points that will flash when activated.
Telephony. The system should integrate easily with the company's existing telephony services. For example, an autodialing capability will simplify the dispatch process, saving the operator time while preventing errors when calling account contacts. Call lists can be presented to operators more clearly with a phone icon to signify if a call has been made to an individual contact. This acts as a guide during a dispatch sequence.
Propelling Monitoring Systems to the Next Level
Integrated applications based on client/server and IP technology provide end users with one database for all customer functions, including ad hoc data mining. By combining unique elements of the monitoring and security industries with a contemporary customer service model, end users can have a complete system that automates virtually every operational task performed by service-based companies, including billing, service, job management and, of course, monitoring.
Accounts receivable and customer service. Both accounts receivable, which includes features of billing and cash receipts/collections, and customer service applications can be combined to provide businesses efficient, effective back-office operations. Simplified data management and an organized workflow will ensure that personnel conduct an effective billing operation. Today, a billing module not only encompasses a great deal of flexibility, but also can organize and guide the user.
For instance, the customer contract can serve as a focal point of the application. This document can be electronically represented in all its facets to billing personnel. In reality, a scanned image of the signed contract may be attached to the digital file. All terms and conditions are thus presented clearly and concisely. Price changes and maintenance are automated so that changes at a global level flow through all contracts. Similarly, such a system allows for the creation of "what if" scenarios.
Job management. Service and monitoring can be integrated in an intuitive design with a seamless single point of data entry. Service issues are then automatically created based on monitoring events. For example, when the system receives a low-battery event, a service ticket can automatically be created. Service employees, based on their call schedule, can be included in the dispatch call list.
Multiple scheduling methods should exist to accommodate various methods for tracking technicians. The technician's schedule, job knowledge and location can all be determining factors to ensure the most logical assignment to jobs. Service maps can provide a real-time visual to help reassign the closest available employee to a job or to add a new job with ease.
Service issues can be created with predefined problem diagnoses and closed with causes and resolutions to allow an organization to troubleshoot recurring problems. Management reports can help identify patterns to eliminate unnecessary service calls.
Prospects and promotions. A prospect can be entered and linked to a promotion that defines options and pricing. Sales quotations can be prepared and sales appointments scheduled. As part of the sales cycle, a prospect record can be seamlessly converted to a customer record, thus avoiding duplicate data entry.
Market source tracking, which identifies how the customer heard about the company, can quantify marketing effectiveness by analyzing prospect or customer responses based on marketing sources, such as advertising, sales shows and recommendations from other customers. Promotion creation enables sales and marketing personnel to identify marketing tools the company uses, such as sales campaigns, telemarketing or advertisement campaigns. To simplify data entry and billing tasks, the system can even predefine pricing for promotions using packages, contracts and services.
Monitoring Takes on a New Paradigm
Designed to meet the challenges of customer relationship management, monitoring systems now provide advanced intelligence across many sectors of a business. Today's companies need enterprise solutions founded upon IP-based, comprehensive open database management systems that offer standard connections with a wide range of audio, video and access control devices, and connect to human resource data, document imaging and accounting applications in order to create a total management solution.