Remote Access

As IP connectivity continues to increase the performance potential of integrated AV and control systems, so to does it increase the complexity, and consequently the potential for service issues. Fortunately, IP connectivity is a double-edged sword, and the technology that increases system complexity also provides an avenue to monitor and maintain those systems.
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As IP connectivity continues to increase the performance potential of integrated AV and control systems, so to does it increase the complexity, and consequently the potential for service issues. Fortunately, IP connectivity is a double-edged sword, and the technology that increases system complexity also provides an avenue to monitor and maintain those systems. That’s exactly what more and more companies are bringing to market: remote monitoring of integrated systems, and the promise of decreased service costs and potential recurring revenue for integrators.

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CEO Russ Pritchard and president Doug Weinstein of Certified Cyber Solutions and the detailed bandwidth view within their monitoring solution

The growth of what is starting to look like a whole new product category within the custom channel has come about from the confluence of a number of factors. First, the technology that permits remote monitoring has evolved to such an advanced state, combined with the fact that that ability is not only needed by integrators, but desired as well. As Hagai Feiner, CEO of Access Networks explains, his first foray into residential integration was when the owner of a private real estate company in LA contracted him to install “the exact same” IT network in his residence that Feiner installed in his office. It was the successful relationship with the AV integrator, and the ideas that sprung from their IT brainstorming that led Feiner to think that he could take his approach to monitoring to a national level.

That’s a common story among the startups that have gotten into the monitoring business, including ihiji, Varan Monitor, and Nuage Nine, which were founded by integrators who saw a problem and then developed their own way to solve it.

Marshall Currier, national trainer for Panamax/Furman pointed out that remote monitoring is something that other industries like IT and security have done for years, and that it’s about time that the CEDIA channel has gotten on board. “That’s what really drove us into the BlueBOLT product,” he explained of his company’s new remote power management platform. “Our original attempts at IP control required a lot of back-end setup; they required remote service on top of basic configuration,” and the old-school custom guys had no idea how to make it work. Clearly there was a need to make it easy.

Michael Maniscalco, president of ihiji concurred. The value of a solution provider like ihiji is that the integrator doesn’t have to have an IT genius on staff, but just needs to understand networking.

“Some of the larger and more established integrators were our first customers,” Maniscalco explained, “because they’re managing so many clients.” A large customer base requires a lot of juggling and fire fighting, he stated, and his goal is to allow dealers to proactively address these issues, solving problems remotely, and managing fewer service calls.

Colin Bradley, CEO of The Com Portal, said that his company considers itself the helpdesk solution for AV programmers and integrators. “Our motto is, ‘Know there’s a problem before the client does.’ That’s what we’re all about and why we’ve started the whole thing.”

The Business Case
Because there’s more than one approach to remote monitoring, be it hardware-or software-centric, it’s more important at this point to examine what remote monitoring brings to the table, and why integrators should consider partnering with a company that can do it for them.

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Initially, ihiji has catered to integrators with large customer bases that require a lot of juggling and fire fighting. The goal is to allow dealers to proactively address these issues, solving problems remotely via the company’s Dashboard (pictured here), and managing fewer service calls.

When asked for his elevator pitch, Vaughn Petraglia, CEO of Nuage Nine said, “We’re a developer and provider of solutions to automate and manage computing, automation, and energy services. We offer error discovery and protection to allow integrators to increase revenue and decrease costs.”

Doug Weinstein, president of Certified Cyber Solutions, said that regardless of how the solution is achieved, whether from a hardware or softwarecentric approach, the need for advanced diagnostic and analytical tools is common to the custom channel.

Petraglia agreed, noting, “Right now it’s the higher end integrators who feel the most pain in this space.” By which he meant integrators who have the most clients, the largest installations, and as a result the biggest service requirements, can benefit the most from these systems. He stated that, in the short term, Nuage Nine and similar offerings are most attractive to that segment, although he explained that his products are priced in such a way that mid-tier integrators also are able to deliver the service their clients. “It’s just a matter of time before we move downmarket and pick up more integrators,” he concluded.

In Weinstein’s view, monitoring is a necessity as AV and control systems become more complex. “It’s my perception that for some dealers their first reaction might be, ‘I’m going to sell the client a system for a hundred grand and then sell them monthly monitoring because something’s going to break,’” he joked.

Some may also worry that the client’s expectation is that the service is gratis, because that’s the integrator’s job. But Weinstein pointed out that there is value to be derived from in-depth system monitoring. “Getting status notification e-mails is great,” he said, “but what do you do with the information?”

Certified Cyber Solutions’ philosophy is to look years down the road and figure out what to do with trending information, and in the long term be able to proactively prevent things like equipment failure from happening. “Dealers can now go to the client and say that they can manage their technology, and here are the levels we can do it at,” Weinstein explained. “Smart dealers know that they’ve got to take ownership of this, and that they can charge for it.”

Russ Pritchard, Certified Cyber Solutions’ CEO added, “One of the things about expectations is that clients don’t realize how many addressable devices they have in their house, nor the breadth of things that we can do.” He asserted that clients don’t know that their home is often more complex than their office. ”The diversity of info from streaming media to data creates a whole new set of complications,” Pritchard said. “We provide that insight for analysis and problem solving.”

Service Efficiency
There are two cardinal motivations for adopting remote monitoring: decreased expenses through increased service efficiency and increased revenue through monitoring contracts. As Varan Monitor director of sales Nick Palanza explained, his company’s focus is on the former, leaving the latter to the integrators.

“The Varan [product] is a proactive system monitoring solution that can automate their service stream without being dependant on a contract from us.” Varan sells integrators the tools to allow them to actively manage their installations. Pricing, he says, is up to the dealer.

The bottom line with service efficiency is that remote monitoring and control pre-empts most of the truck rolls that integrators have to make for minor issues like rebooting a locked-up control processor or HD-PVR. Time is money, and the productivity lost to rolling a truck for a trivial matter is money that can be better spent elsewhere.

At the same time, deep analytics means that when a truck does roll, the technician knows exactly what to bring along for the job, further increasing efficiency and saving both time and money.

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Colin Bradley, CEO of The Com Portal, said that his company considers itself the helpdesk solution for AV programmers and integrators.

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Recurring Revenue
In a channel where hardware margins seem to evaporate, and what’s profitable to sell and install one year may not be there the next, “recurring revenue” has appeal. As Panamax/Furman’s Currier explained, the next revenue stream for integrators has to be monitoring control systems.

“The security industry figured this out long ago,” he said. “Now AV integrators need to get on board.”

Integrators’ costs are going to vary from vendor to vendor. For instance, ihiji’s Maniscalco pointed out that his company’s Appliance is scalable and low cost. “Our monitoring cost starts at about $120/year to the dealer and goes from there,” he said. Maniscalco further stated that his brand is differentiated from others in that it’s a fully inhouse solution and doesn’t carry the added costs of expensive licenses for things like Microsoft Windows-based OS, or third-party servers.

Nuage Nine’s Petraglia explained that the cost of his company’s system monitoring boxes range from $1,000 to $1,500, and that integrators’ clients should expect to spend between $100 and $150 a month for monitoring, which adds up to good margins for integrators when spread across their client base.

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As Hagai Feiner, CEO of Access Networks explains, his first foray into residential integration was when the owner of a private real estate company in LA contracted him to install “the exact same” IT network in his residence that Feiner installed in his office.

One key way of getting the value of remote monitoring across to clients is to specifically sell the benefit of advanced monitoring. According to The Com Portal’s Bradley, his company can offer everything from IP address tracking to monitoring device and subsystem connectivity. ”One feature that’s really taking off is our chart plotter, [which is a] data logging and charting system” Currently free under The Com Portal’s community services page, it provides planning and plotting for everything from energy tuning HVAC systems to tracking wine cellar climate metrics. “We developed it because it solved problems for our integration company, and it will solve problems for yours too,” he stated.

Like a lot of industry trends, remote monitoring is a category that has slowly been gaining ground, building up momentum as more vendors offer solutions and more integrators key in to the benefits of offering it as a value-added service to their clients. In the new year we may see a widespread shift as the custom channel adopts monitoring services as both a best practice and a new source of revenue.

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Nuage Nine offers error discovery and protection to allow integrators to increase revenue and decrease costs.

Monitoring Partners

Remote monitoring of AV and control systems is rapidly shaping up to be an entire segment of the custom channel in itself. Here’s a brief rundown on the companies mentioned in this article.

Access Networks (www.accessca.com) is not a monitoring company per se, but is a highly specialized IT firm with CE integration experience. It partners with integrators to design and build enterprise access solution that offers bestpractice network topology and configuration.

BlueBOLT (mybluebolt.com) from Panamax/Furman provides secure, hosted IP system control, enabling integrators and end-users to remotely monitor and control power to home theater equipment by accessing power management components from anywhere they have web access.

Certified Cyber Solutions (www.certifiedcybersolutions.com) sells products and services to integrators to manage their technology on an on-going basis. In addition to monitoring if a product goes off-line, its advanced diagnostics tool offers bandwidth utilization analysis and the ability to look at historical data to keep systems current even as that technology evolves. CCS’s Home Cyber Shield provides a protective layer against both operational interruption and security threats.

The Com Portal (thecomportal.com) consists of a tight knit group of veteran web developers, Crestron engineers, and programmers focused on developing apps and software that allows integrators to know there’s a problem before the client does.

ihiji’s (ihiji.com) invision tools allow integrators to save money by reducing truck rolls and generate recurring revenue. The cloud-based remote monitoring solution was named the winner of CEDIA ’s Manufacturers’ Excellence Awards Best New Product Category

Nuage Nine (nuagenine.com) is a monitoring services company with a recurring revenue structure, providing solutions to automate and manage computing automation and energy services, and capable of error discovery and protection to allow integrators to increase revenue and decrease costs.

Varan Monitor (varanmonitor.com) offers proactive system monitoring solutions whose primary goal is allow integrators to automate their service stream without being dependant on a third-party monitoring contract, letting them create their own recurring revenue stream to streamline their service business.

Lee Distad (www.leedistad.com) is an Edmonton, Alberta-based custom channel business consultant.

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