Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Using technology to liberate not enslave our children

These are strange times for parents. We live in a world where a child is mysteriously snatched from a room whilst her holidaying parents eat dinner a few metres away whilst teenagers shoot each other in the inner cities. We know rationally that there isn't a child snatcher or gun-toting `hoodie` hiding round every corner. But we increasingly behave as if serious threats to our children are all around us, just waiting to catch us unawares.

The everyday stuff of our own youth such as walking to school alone, playing in the streets, crossing the town unaccompanied or just going off to play with friends now seems to pose huge dangers.

A recent report from the UK Children's Society warns that parents' fears about safety are stopping children from playing outdoors unsupervised. And, unsurprisingly it shows how today's parents are not giving their children the freedom to roam that they enjoyed in their own childhoods in the 1970s.

Why are we such paranoid parents? Why do we worry at the idea of our confident, outwardly worldy mobile using, Powerpoint presenting, technology-savvy kids even walking on their own to school - when we were making my own way at even younger ages?

Maybe it's because we live in a society where it’s difficult to gets things in proportion and where insecurity is pushed at us from all directions.

With a background of car alarms, police sirens and the continual media diet of bad news and sensationalism we are driven to form a particular view of reality – that seldom accords actually with our own experience. What we know rationally to be the exception feels more like the norm producing an unrealistic view of the potential threats that may surround us.

But because we care most about our children, we worry most about them. And in the UK the amount of time we spend worrying about them is increased by a vigorous nanny state foisting ever more intrusive health and safety legislation upon us, fear of litigation and a growing compensation culture.

This means that parents and teachers alike are less and less likely to take the responsibility for supervising sports days, school trips or even neighbourhood activities. It’s this that further isolates children from the sort of life experiences we enjoyed. Climb a tree? You can’t be serious - just think of the potential consequences!

Of course there are real worries - like danger inherent in the vast increase in traffic in the last 30 years. It’s true that scores of people are injured by hit and run drivers every single week in our major cities. But then of course our offspring aren’t being conscripted to be slaughtered in vast numbers in world wars or dying en masse of childhood diseases either.

What’s the root cause that makes our generation of parents seemingly too fearful to let our children play out of our sight? Maybe it's because we might know a lot about the security situation in Afganistan and the current vagaries of the financial markets but do we don’t know who lives in our street. We’re isolated and isolation breeds suspicion. And so much of our isolation has been made possible by the technology that we surround ourselves with – cars, radio, television, video games and so on – that put up barriers to real communication.

We see this effect even in our traditional attitude to the systems choose to monitor our own homes. Such systems certainly serve to isolate us further, so it’s a moot point as to how effective they are. Sirens so loud that they are designed to attract the attention of patrolling police vehicles heighten anxiety and systems link directly to remote control centres by passing those around us. That is until the latest false alarm causes the police to refuse to attend and further activations further increasing our fear.

The last thing we think of these days is involving our neighbours in the protection of our property and, by implication, our families. Yet by using the right technology we can start to reestablish the sense of trust and mutual dependency that underpins the strongest of communities. Indeed it can give us structure and information that will keep the worst of our anxieties at bay.

We can’t return to past but we can take advantage of what’s available now to try and restore some balance in our lives. For instance, the same technology that often serves to divide us can be a platform to unite us. If an automated internet-based system can send you or your neighbour a simple text or drop you and email when a family member returns home and knowing this or you or your neighbour can call round or even have a quick check in a web cam to see what they are up to when they return, we might start worrying a whole lot less and begin to convince ourselves that we shouldn’t become prisoners of our own paranoia. Then we might be more ready to take the risks that will enable our children to be released from being enslaved by a sedentary existence that extends little beyond the confines of the car, computer and television.

Time for us to work together so our children to get out and about again. Just don’t get me started about the threat from virtual worlds…

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Remote Home Monitoring

Summary information from Day 2: CONNECTIONS™ May 2007, hosted in Santa Clara, CA

Is the market for remote home monitoring real, or is it just niche play? This panel discusses go-to-market strategies that are working, who is buying, why, and what's next.

Brad Bridges, Assistant Vice President-Business Development, AT&T
Bill Diamond, President, Xanboo, Inc.
Andrew Hartsfield
, CEO, WiLife, Inc.
Kevin Meagher, CEO, Intamac Systems Ltd
Duane Paulson
, President, Sequel Technologies, LLC
Reza Raji, Founder and CEO, iControl Networks, Inc.
Moderator: Bill Ablondi, Director, Channel Research, Parks Associates

Specific Questions to Address:
  • Will this market gain traction with mainstream Internet users?
  • How critical is video surveillance to the service offering?
  • What are the applications that motivate consumers to buy self-monitoring systems today
  • Is security the main application, or is it pet watching or monitoring elderly family members?
  • Is monitoring the elderly the looming "killer app”? What will be the most popular applications?
  • What has been the experience of service providers in this market? With revenue possibilities seemingly low to moderate, how do providers view monitoring services?
  • Will self-monitoring services complement or displace professional security monitoring services?
  • The big security monitoring firms are not going to sit still and watch their revenue erode.
  • What will be their reaction to the activity in self-monitoring?
  • What is the best way to penetrate the vacation and second-home market?

The panelists in this session had a wide-ranging discussion on the market opportunities for remote home monitoring and control. Not all were addressing the market in the same manner. Intamac is working with service providers, e.g., British Telecom and Bell Canada, to turn the business of security monitoring on its head. Duane Paulson a seasoned security systems executive, explained how Sequel Technologies will work with security systems installers to provide monitoring capabilities rather than forcing end users into a monthly service contract. Andrew Hartsfield said that most people are motivated by security concerns to buy a WiLife system, but once installed, the camera(s) are used for everything from watching pets while at work to keeping an eye on potential parking spaces in front of a city apartment.

Xanboo has been pursuing the home monitoring market for many years and has tweaked its systems so they can be sold on a stand-alone basis or as part of a service package, as AT&T is doing. Brad Bridges of AT&T said he was pleased with the adoption of their Home Monitor package and thought that Parks Associates’ forecast was too conservative. Reza Raji of iControl agreed, stating that his firm was on the verge of announcing several partnerships with service providers that will build consumer awareness and expand the market.