Simplifying Technology

June 27, 2010
Our Clients Expect a Lot More From Us, But Can We Deliver?

Based on my 20-plus years of observation, our industry has been relatively unsuccessful at delivering on the promise of simplifying technology for our clients. By “promise” I mean the idea that if our clients decide to include one or more of the technology solutions we offer, their lives will not only be easier and less stressful, but somehow amazingly transformed with new levels of comfort, convenience, and simplicity.

Richard Millson New
Richard Millson ( owns Millson Technologies, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Here are three reasons why our industry has not been able to reliably and consistently deliver the integrated technology nirvana that we promise:

1. No Manufacturer Standards. The first, and arguably most important, reason is that manufacturers that focus on creating products aimed at our industry have no universally recognized and supported standards we can count on. Every automaton system has its own “language” and specific protocols. Every sub-system we offer, including lighting control, distributed audio, home cinema, security, and so on, all have widely varying levels of capability in terms of responding to control commands and even reporting their current status. Even within these disciplines, the individual devices are all over the map in how they can be controlled (dry contact, IR, RS232, IP), if they offer any level of control/feedback at all.

2. Too Much Focus on the Gear. There is far too much attention paid to how the systems will be designed and installed and not enough attention given to the experience of the people who will use them. To our clients, the interface is the experience. What they will always care about is that the systems they paid for can be operated and controlled simply, easily and reliably, every time.

3. Lack of Repeatable Business Processes. Many ESCs have yet to standardize their own business operations, resulting in less-than-predictable results for their clients. It’s simple; if you don’t run a business based on doing the same thing the same way every time, how can you expect to provide consistent and predictable results for your clients?

Our Competition has Changed

Our customers can now purchase a far better user experience in the form of an iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone4 than anything we can deliver.

We need to start standardizing our operations and creating better user interfaces because our clients’ expectations already have begun to change. Instead of competing with each other, we are all now competing with companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Android, BMW, and Mercedes. These brands, and many others, are setting new standards for delivering simple, intuitive user interfaces that we, as an industry, cannot currently replicate.

Our customers can now purchase a far better user experience in the form of an iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone4 than anything we can deliver with the solutions we have traditionally offered. It seems to me somewhere between quaint and sad that traditional automation companies still promote the idea that it is amazing and valuable to our clients to be able to access current weather, stocks, traffic etc. on their touchpanels, when anyone can now get this information and much more, in higher resolution, on their mobile device from anywhere in the world, for free.

Our Clients Expect More

Our clients’ standards for how simple, easy, and intuitive technology can be, is changing rapidly. As a result, the kinds of “integrated systems” that we have delivered in the past are very quickly going to appear antiquated and inferior to our customers. In addition, their expectations for how much a completely integrated and elegant technology solution should cost is also being redefined.

Faced with these realities, manufacturers and ESCs need to do everything they can to remain competitive and relevant. Apple’s latest rise to prominence began with the introduction of the iPod and an almost religious focus on the customers’ experience of technology through the user interface. The bottom line is that they made the experience of using their technology simple, intuitive, reliable, and ultimately predictable and comfortable. If you are a manufacturer or ESC serving this industry, I strongly suggest you consider doing the same.

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