Proprietary vs. Non-Proprietary Fire Alarm Systems: Why You Should Care

Published on February 16, 2019, by AFA Author

The concept is simple – purchase a proprietary fire alarm system and be prepared to be “married” to the manufacturer and service provider. Alternatively, you can purchase or install a non-proprietary fire alarm system which will give you the ability to choose from a variety of authorized fire alarm service providers. In this article we will explain how this decision will impact the alarm systems end user and why choosing a non-proprietary system is the obvious long term choice. 

What are Proprietary Systems?

By definition, Proprietary is an adjective that describes something owned by a specific company or individual. In the computing (as in the alarm) world, proprietary is often used to describe software that is not open source or freely licensed. Therefore, with a proprietary fire alarm system the manufacturer and the local authorized service provider are usually the same company. They own the program, the system and the equipment you would need to maintain your system(s). Propriety systems integrate exclusively with the equipment and software provided by the company that manufactured the system. In other words,your service provider “owns" the service rights to the system that was purchased.

By contrast, Non-Proprietary fire alarm systems are “open source” and are usually provided by authorized distributors who have been factory trained and represent the equipment’s manufacturer. These systems can usually be serviced by a number of companies who are authorized by the manufacturer of the fire alarm equipment. Therefore, if you have a non-proprietary system, once the contract term expires, you do not have to stay with a particular company toto have your system inspected and maintained. As a result, your ongoing costs for repairs and maintenance can be negotiated in a free market. In other words, you’re not stuck with a particular service provider. 

Why choosing a Non-Proprietary system is a less expensive option

Proprietary companies tend to give the end user or installing contractor a very low price for the equipment and installation of a system. They do this because they are capable of making their money back through their being the only place to go for service. Once the system is installed, you are beholden to their service and their price. They no longer have to give you the best pricing because their customers are already locked into using the proprietary service company. In other words “you can’t go anywhere else”. 

Non-Proprietary system providers must price their services and equipment competitively from the installation to their aftermarket fire alarm services because of the nature of their open sourced program. The customer has multiple options to choose from a group of fire alarm vendors who can do the installation and/or provide service with better pricing. Choosing a non-proprietary fire alarm system allows you to compare and “shop” for authorized distributors and for fire alarm services.  

Why will I get better Service by Choosing a Non-Proprietary System?

Proprietary systems providers can take advantage of their single source relationship by providing slower service and response time.  The reasoning is simple; a  proprietary service provider does not need to service your system in as timely a manner as a non-proprietary system provider because you are “stuck” with them whether their service is good or not. When you need additional equipment, field devices, programming changes, and/or software modifications, you need to wait for them because you cannot go anywhere else for help. Plus, the cost of these items are generally much higher than the same services using non-proprietary equipment.

As a result, both response time, ongoing cost, and the quality of service should be of a better quality with a non-proprietary service provider in order to keep the customer. 

Conclusion

When comparing the two types of systems it couldn’t be any clearer that the advantages of the installing and service company providing a non-proprietary system far outweighs those of a single source (proprietary) route.  Being locked into a specific fire alarm vendor limits a building owners choices, basically handcuffing them to their existing manufacturer and preventing them from shopping for the best price and most reputable service(s). Once a proprietary system is installed, the only way to change service providers is to retrofit the entire system. 

Installing a non-proprietary system gives you options! If you or your contractor are faced with the design and/or purchase of a new fire alarm system, make sure the fire alarm system provider you are looking at offers non-proprietary systems.. This will allow you to receive better service and better pricing throughout the life of your fire alarm system.