Businesses and their service provider partners have found previously unexpected use cases for technology during the coronavirus pandemic. Case in point: Managed services provider Interface Security Systems became a crucial cog for enabling retail stores and restaurants to either re-open or provide curbside service.
Interface Security Systems got its start in 1995 as a traditional security and monitoring service, but over the years it has branched out as a managed services provider for retail stores, quick service restaurants and casual dining, among other verticals.
Interface Security Systems delivers SD-WAN, managed broadband, secure 4G/LTE, and VoIP services to its customers. On the managed services side, the company provides network connectivity to customers' sites, backup connectivity over 4G wireless connections, and a PCI compliance component. For SD-WAN, Interface Security Systems has a partnership with Fortinet in place.
For customers, such as Panda Express, Interface Security Systems handles the connectivity needs while also providing security measures through its IP-based interactive monitoring system, which includes live video and two-way audio.
The company's monitoring solution was traditionally used for video capture in the various verticals. If a retail employee thought there was an issue with someone stealing, Interface Security Systems could provide the video clips to see what happened.
With an employee pushing a button, the audio system can alert customers that they need to vacate the building if necessary, or if there's a fight the audio can inform shoppers that police are on the way. On a more peaceful note, the interactive monitoring system can also be used to improve traffic patterns and store configurations for promotions
To avoid false alarms, Interface Security Systems' interactive monitoring system can be used to detect when there's an actual intruder in a restaurant versus a balloon floating across the premises.
Interactive Security Systems has security, video and audio experts that monitor its systems from its C3 facility in Plano, Texas. The C3 facility is also able to provide analytics for the company's customers.
Once the coronavirus pandemic became entrenched, Interface Security Systems' monitoring system enabled new use cases.
"There's an increased need for employee safety and for customer safety, and so we've seen more reliance on our services," said Brent Duncan, Interface Security Systems' chief revenue officer. "There's a new normal now. A good example is our customer Big Lots. They're using us as a means to audit social distancing and policy enforcement in their stores. Then they're having us do voice downs, to help assist the associates in the store so that the associates aren't the ones coming in and saying 'Hey, please maintain 6 feet distance in line.'
"They're hitting a button and we're coming in and saying 'We'd like to remind you of Big Lots policy to maintain social distancing.' We're articulating the policies so that the associates don't have to get into the middle of it."
Duncan said his company was able to help its customers enable curbside pickups during the coronavirus pandemic.
"We have customers that tend to be very mall based," Duncan said. "They were really just dead in the water, although that's one area where they're reopening at this point. But in the thick of it, in the April and May timeframe, they were really almost completely grinded to a halt. They weren't set up to have employees work outside of their stores.
"In the case of those customers, we were finding ways to support them through that period of time. Because they're mall-based, they don't have quite the same set of security concerns that a standalone customer or even a customer with an outdoor storefront would have. It was really about working with them to help them weather the storm until they got to a point where they could open back up."
To speed up connectivity across multiple sites, Interface Security Systems has a network-in-a-box, or restaurant-in-the-box, offering that features a proprietary cabinet for the managed services that help customers to streamline their operations, improve security and reduce costs. The cabinet includes all of the interface-managed services, routers and a remote reboot that cuts down truck rolls. With the cabinet, services can be installed in short order and they're replicable across multiple sites.
"Unfortunately, there were franchisees that that weren't in a position to survive COVID-19," Duncan said. "They couldn't afford to shut down for a month. We saw larger franchise operators come in and buy up the smaller guys. With smaller guys, the buyers didn't know what they were getting on the network infrastructure side.
"They can take our network-in-a-box and deploy it quickly. Even if they can't deploy it on the terrestrial network infrastructure, they can use dual-4G wireless connectivity to a site. They're able to get a network in place on a new site in a week. We've heard from our franchise operators that there's a lot of value for being able to do that."
Privately-held Interface Security Systems has 600 employees and deployments across 65,000 customer sites. On the security side, it competes with traditional security alarm vendors such as ADT while AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are competitors on the connectivity end of the business.
What's on the roadmap
Going forward, Duncan said his company was looking at adding more artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities at its C3 facility. Duncan said that 5G and IoT would also provide additional opportunities for Interface Security Systems.
"AI is the big driver," he said. "We're seeing AI come into play for something like an outdoor camera environment at an auto dealership. At 3 in the morning, we can utilize AI over those cameras to know the difference between a possum running across the parking lot and a human being. It's the same thing with social distancing. When you're tracking human beings moving around a store, you can see where they've clustered and you can initiate a sequence to do an automated voice down to enforce a policy.
"So the AI piece is really moving the business intelligence and analytics. The goal of a lot of our customers from the merchandising side of things is to effectively start to emulate the analytics customers get from online shopping into a brick and mortar store. So they know how long someone comes into the store. Where they're shopping, how long they linger, the products that they're combining. They can use all that to inform store layout, staffing and provide a better experience for their customers."