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A Tipping Point

There’s never been a more challenging time to be a residential electronic systems contractor.

There’s never been a more challenging time to be a residential electronic systems contractor. With fewer and fewer high-margin products to sell, control touchpanel killers like the iPad and Android control platforms becoming affordable for the mass-market, and the housing market still in a slump, it isn’t easy being you.

Yet there are still plenty of opportunities available to residential integrators who are willing to look for them and to adapt to change. September’s CEDIA EXPO offered clear evidence that hundreds of manufacturers remain committed to this channel, and the product introductions highlighted in this issue are a testament to their continuing innovation and passion for everything from entertainment technology to home healthcare and energy management products.

The big message in this month’s issue, however, is the need for ESCs to adapt to a changing world. Richard Millson writes on p. 16 that an ESC built for the future must reengineer their company structure with a strong emphasis on project execution rather than on sales. “Unfortunately,” Millson explains, “with the complexity of the systems we provide today, the ever-escalating expectations of our clients, and the increasing quality of pre-packaged technology solutions like the iPad, it is no longer enough to simply sell and install things.”

It is Gordon van Zuiden, however, who is the most blunt in his assessment. He says that several profound and disruptive changes have dramatically changed the custom integration industry over the last 12 months.

He argues that ESCs have to know how to best match emerging broadband entertainment content with the needs of their clients. He also believes that, eventually, ESCs will spend less time writing custom control programming for a proprietary touchpanel and more time designing and installing of electronic subsystems that deliver the “app experience.” The simplicity, ease of use, and familiarity of the iPad platform for lights, sound, and AV control will spur more demand for the installation of these electronic subsystems,” he says.

Perhaps the comment of the month, however, comes from Digital Delivery Group executive director David Kaplan in the Fall Edition of Residential Systems’ Custom Distributor Guide. Kaplan believes that there must be a shift in thinking in how ESCs are using “the vast array” of new technology and emerging platforms for “upside sales” opportunities.

“Our industry seems to be at a tipping point,” he says. “We’ve lived in a world where everything was an ‘attachment to the TV,’ and finally we are actually entering the world where everything is ‘attached to the network.’ Our ability to deliver content from the ‘cloud’ and move it throughout the house seamlessly–our ability to work with network managed devices, wireless devices of all kinds and the exploding growth of streaming content–these are the areas that will have the most impact on our business during the final months of 2010 and into the coming years.”