We, as an industry, know that big changes are upon us. How does an integrator manage the expectations of clients while grappling with a myriad of off-the-shelf gadgets and keep them secure?
The integration model IS changing.
InfoComm’s new “Integrated Life” full-day conference took these topics head on the day before the exhibits opened. The panel conversations and attendee questions were especially poignant in light of the very recent Apple IOs announcements, where they expanded their HomeKit application to include Siri voice control with companies such as Crestron, Control 4, and Savant. Apple has, for some time, slowly added a space for the collation of control apps with an eye towards streamlining them. Rather than having the end user manage apps for lighting, TV, or thermostats, Apple wants you to access control in no more than three taps. This move brings the dream of smart device ubiquity a giant step forward.
Who is the Client
Fittingly, smart speakers were one of the major trends discussed at “Integrated Life” (along with AI and AR/VR), but the steady flow of smart speakers being purchased and installed comes with some big questions. What are the expectations of clients incorporating these devices, and what degree of professional help do they desire?
The analytical data provided by Parks Associates (who also hosted the seminar panels), reveals a good deal about how these users view the smart home. While the percentage of users incorporating control tools is much smaller than other available skills, they do still register on the radar. The users are a segment who are interested in the technology of home control, but for whom cost and complexity of existing systems acted as a deterrent.
The data seems to indicate that usage of more comprehensive applications, such as control of lighting, grows over time. As control becomes a familiar part of a user’s lifestyle, there is a willingness to include more complex interactions.
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Chicken or Egg
The question is as old as the debates of ancient philosophers: Is the IoT smart device trend driving integration of device control, or are home automation fans jumping on because it is available? In truth it seems to be a mixture of both, with a notable set of users jumping in after the purchase of a smart speaker. The availability of smart lights and thermostats has piqued interest of the possibilities with many starting with a single room and then expanding as satisfaction sets in.
Ultimately, end users are concerned with four essential factors with implementing smart device control: ease of use, simple integration and upgrade, security, and proactive application.
Devices need to connect via standards already implemented in the home — standards such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Zwave, and Zigbee to name just a few. These are standards that the average homeowner can potentially implement themselves, but this comfort level also provides confidence that one is not tied to a proprietary protocol, and that items and features can be added simply.
The Integrator Role
The quick rise to commonplace for smart devices has many in the industry questioning the future role of the integrator in residential systems. Fortunately the questions have turned more towards how we accommodate these into business plans rather than a desperation to keep them at bay.
Providing feature-rich systems that can be upgraded and expanded as needed, operate consistently, and, most important, securely is our ace card. In order to accomplish this, integrators must gain a level of competency in the architecture of these mesh networks.
These systems are expected to become proactive, incorporating AI in future generations, providing an experiential environment. Our industry’s experience and skill set positions us to provide systems that know a client’s preferences and initiate them as they walk in.
The Integrated life is Profitable
Smart speakers provide exciting new business models of providing recurring revenue. An integrator willing to explore initiating subscription services and equipment leasing to end clients can open a whole new dimension.
The future of integration is solid for those willing to incorporate the new paradigm and accept the new models. In the end, listening to our clients needs will result in strong profits and growth for the integrated life.