Open Protocol is the Preferred Option, over a Closed Protocol Fire Alarm System
What is “Open or Closed” Protocol?
This has been one of the most emotional and debated topics in the UK fire alarm industry for over 30 years. Depending on what side of the fence you were on, swayed the opinion you would have on the subject. In the one corner you would have the large fire alarm manufactures, such as ADT, Gent, Protec, who not only manufactured the equipment, but then offered a maintenance package to the end user. However, these companies restricted access to parts, software and training to either only their personnel or to fire alarm companies that had a financial agreement with. This type of fire alarm system was known within the industry as “Closed” protocol.
In the other corner, were the rest of the fire alarm manufacturers, companies and installers. These manufacturers, produced fire alarm equipment for the industry, such as fire alarm control panels by Kentec Electronics, Advance Electronics, Morley, Fike. The smoke detectors and peripheral equipment by the likes of Apollo fire detectors, Hochiki, CTEC, Argus, EMS, Hyfire, but to name of few. Their equipment was available to all parties within the industry with no restrictions. This equipment was known within the industry as “Open” protocol.
The rise of “Closed Protocol” Or “Restrictive Access” Fire alarm systems.
As far as I can remember, back in the early eighties (ADT, Gent, Protec), were able to get specified in many a large project. Now what you have to bear in mind, is if you are selling a system to a client and you know that once installed, that you will be the only company able to supply the end user with the required parts and service agreement, you can afford to lower your initial installation tender bid, knowing that you can recoup the money back over the lifetime of the system. Therefore, even at tender or the bid stage, a closed protocol system has an advantage. During the period of the eighties, many a fire alarm system installed was “closed” protocol.
Closed Protocol Systems picked up a bad reputation
However, over the years, the horror stories soon began to surface about end users with this type of system being charged well above the market rate for equipment and labour. The end user had nowhere to go, and were now trapped with a fire alarm system that could not be serviced or maintained by the open market. As the years went by, the term “Closed protocol” was scorned upon within the industry and many end users. End users, fire consultants and the industry in general, “wised up”, began to insert clauses that only “Open Protocol” systems were invited to tender. The companies producing these types of systems, were now being excluded from many a tender and we’re losing some of their dominance within the fire alarm industry.
The Closed protocol companies had a change in strategy and were out to change the industry’s perception of the term “Close Protocol”
In recent years, since around 2009, I have observed that the fire alarm companies who produced closed protocol systems, started a marketing campaign to change the perception of the term closed protocol. Their marketing campaign through website’s, blogs, road shows, etc., was to turn the focus on the true meaning of the term “Open Protocol”. Their argument was that no system is a truly open protocol as you cannot have any one detector capable of being used on all types of fire alarm panels, and this is correct. Therefore, their systems cannot be considered “Closed Protocol” and hence they could distance themselves away from that term. Whereas, I agree that the fire industry term of Closed Protocol may be factually incorrect, all within the industry knew that these types of fire alarm systems, restricted the open market from provided fair competition and more choice.
If “Open and Closed Protocol” is not the correct term, what is? Restrictive or Non-Restrictive Access
The correct term for an open or closed protocol system, should be whether there is free and unrestricted access to: training, software and parts. If access to this is denied for whatever reason, it should be deemed as a “Restrictive System” as we know it as “Closed Protocol”. Therefore, even though the big four are trying to shift the terminology, the principle is the same, they restrict access to their equipment and software.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a “Closed Protocol” or “Restrictive Access” System?
Manufactures of these types of systems will tell you that the biggest advantage is the restricted access to the software and parts is to the benefit of the end user. Their argument is that because this is a life safety system, it prevents people who are not trained or competent from working on the system. Hence, avoided the possibility of the system not working as intended due to their incompetence. However, this argument, does not convince me. I agree, there is an issue that persons not competent can attempt to work on a fire alarm system, but to avoid this from happening, why not ensure that only fire alarm companies with third party accreditation, such as BAFE, receive access to software and training. A BAFE, accredited fire alarm company, has proven their competence by obtaining the accreditation.
The disadvantage is the client is basically trapped. It could be with one fire alarm Company, or a selected few. Therefore, there is less competition. Less competition usually means that prices for parts and labour are higher than what is available in the open market.
An Example of “Closed Protocol” system, exploitation.
This was no more evident than from a newsletter I received from a Ziton fire alarm equipment supplier by the name of “Fire4U”. Ziton was considered a closed protocol or a restricted access fire alarm manufacture. They (Ziton), distributed their equipment through a Ziton distribution network of a few selected Fire alarm companies. As you can imagine the cost for equipment from the selected Ziton agents were well above the open market prices, due to lack of competition from the open market. However, this one Ziton agent Fire4U decided to break ranks and offer the equipment at open market prices, supply training and software to the fire alarm industry. The result, the end user had a reduction in the cost for maintenance works and parts. However, Fire4U, received letters of complaint from the other Ziton agents, as they were no longer able to charge the extortionate prices, as much as 350%, according to Fire4U. This example, typifies what closed or managed protocol systems are all about.
What is “Managed Protocol”?
A term used when the manufacturer has a selected network of fire alarm companies to distribute their products. The training, software and parts are restricted to only these companies that have a signed agreement with the manufacturer. The next question you will probably ask, is how do you become one of the selected companies? The criteria to be in a position to enter into an agreement is you have to make a commitment to sell an agreed amount of their equipment.
We were approached by one of the big four and were offered access to software, parts and training, if we sold annually £100,000 of their equipment. We declined. However, what this does show is that a fire alarm company that has an agreement with a manufacturer will not be thinking of the best interest of the end user, but in accordance with the agreement they have with the manufacturer, whether or not the system is best suited to the end user needs. A fire alarm company with no allegiances to any one particular supplier, is in the best position to choose the best system available from many suppliers.
Fire Systems only fit Open Protocol Systems
At Fire Systems only install open protocol systems, or system with no restriction to the software or parts. This enables our clients to choose us not because they have no choice, but because they are happy with the service we provide. For more information on systems that are closed protocol or have a restrictive access policy contact our office on 020 8541 5646, or visit our website on www.firesystems.co.uk and complete our contact form