We frequently receive enquiries from customers asking if we can supply them with software for Gent Vigilon fire alarm systems.
The question relates to a wider issue regarding open and closed protocol fire alarm systems and what this means.
Certain brands are immediately associated with the term open protocol, primarily Apollo, Hochiki and Nittan. Typically these are manufacturers of addressable fire detection and alarm equipment who have not had their own fire alarm control panel manufacturing capability. They had therefore made their protocol available to fire alarm panel manufacturers to fill the missing piece of the jigsaw. Over the last twenty years a number of specialist fire alarm panel manufacturers have emerged, including Advanced, Kentec, Morley and C-tec. An important characteristic of the manufacturing companies is that they are product suppliers only, they don’t have installation and service businesses.
Open protocol product is generally easy to get hold of. All the manufacturers mentioned above tend to sell their products through the major distribution outlets, although some panel manufacturers require attendance on product training courses before panel software is issued.
The term ‘closed protocol’ was traditionally used to describe fire alarm systems where the original business model of the companies was to provide a fully engineered package, from product manufacturing, through to system design, installation, service and maintenance.
These fire alarm systems were often regarded as ‘high end’ products. These brands are the ones that have often been installed in the major buildings of the UK and are capable of sophisticated cause and effect programming, which make them capable of managing complex evacuation strategies in large buildings such as airports and large stadia.
The other feature of these fire alarm systems was that once installed, they could only effectively be serviced and maintained by the manufacturing company’s service department, because the fire alarm control panel software and product support was only available through the manufacturer. The customer was effectively tied in to the supplier for the system’s life span, which meant that servicing costs were often much higher than for those of open protocol systems where the free availability of software and spares meant the choice of service provider was much greater. It is this aspect of ‘closed protocol’ systems that has caused some dissatisfaction with customers.
A third way, which for the sake of providing a label we will call a ‘managed protocol’, was developed by manufacturers including Ziton and Notifier, was to sell products through appointed specialist fire alarm companies. This route to market allowed the manufacturing company to retain some control over the quality of installed systems by providing training and product support services, which the specialist installer, sometimes called value added reseller or system integrator, in return would commit to promoting the manufacturer’s products.
At the turn of the century the value added reseller route to market was adopted by Gent with the establishment of the Gent 24 System Integrator network. At the time, Gent was part of Novar PLC who owned other businesses who had successfully developed this business model, notably the German fire alarm manufacturer Esser and Trend Building Controls in the UK.
The move from being a supply and contracting business to a product supply business only was seen as a means of withdrawing from the higher risk world of construction contracts to the safer environment of product supplier. Gent had a strong installed base and the service revenue generated from that was highly attractive to prospective system integrators.
The Gent fire alarm business appears to have prospered under this strategy. The system integrator network is now in excess of 100 fire alarm companies and so the product can no longer really be regarded as closed.
However, this does not mean that product support and software are available to everybody.
So back to the question in hand, how can you get Gent Vigilon fire alarm software?
The answer is actually quite straightforward, in that you need to become a Gent System Integrator to get access to the direct supply of product, software, training and technical support. However, to become a Gent System Integrator you will need to meet Gent’s acceptance criteria, commit your engineers to Gent training and focus your sales and marketing activity to achieve Gent’s requirements in terms of generating revenue through your product purchases.
This can be problematic for specialist fire alarm maintenance companies, who are very likely to come across Gent Vigilon fire alarm panels installed in buildings which they maintain but do not generate enough sales of Gent fire alarm products to qualify as Gent System Integrators.
Multi-disciplined building management companies have significantly grown in prominence in the fire alarm maintenance market over recent years as clients look to reduce costs in their supply chain. Client organisations with multiple buildings are likely to have Gent Vigilon fire alarms in some buildings which the service provider will need to support as part of the larger Service Level Agreement. What options are available in these situations?
After over 15 years of the Gent 24 System Integrator network, the pool of fire alarm service engineers in the labour market who have worked for one of the approved Gent System Integrators and received Gent training is quite significant and so this should be taken into account when recruiting. Whilst these engineers may not have access to Gent Vigilon software, they can conduct basic maintenance and replace components such as detectors and call points on a like for like basis. Replacement parts can be easily purchased through specialist fire alarm distributors such as Fire Trade Supplies.
This still leaves the issue of what to do if faults occur or system changes are required which require software? In these circumstances an appointed Gent System Integrator will need to be used in a subcontract role. If you find yourself in this situation feel free to give Fire Trade Supplies a call and we may be able to put you in touch with a suitably qualified integrator.