This Integration Guide was sponsored by Crestron, On Controls, Vantage, Leviton, and RTI as a supplement to Residential Systems, May 2015
Custom Automation and Control has the Edge in the Connected Home Race
A professionally installed custom home automation system like ELAN is designed around a customer’s needs. The idea of the “smart home” is not new, but never have we as a society been closer to achieving the essential qualities inherent in those two words than we are now. To say “smart home” is to utter “IoT” in the same breath. Indeed, the Internet of Things—a concept that has gripped the tech world with its spawn of both useful and useless innovations rooted in a need to have absolutely everything in the home centrally controlled—is seen as the key to mass adoption of home automation and control, a field that has arguably been defined, expanded, and creatively altered by custom integration over the past 30 years.
“IoT is a new moniker for what the home automation industry has been doing for years—connecting and controlling devices remotely,” said Joe Lautner, director of business development at Core Brands. “In the past, integrators have used analog connections like serial and contact closures to accomplish what is done today through digital IP communications. Much like the analog sunset in the video world, the control world is beginning to go through a similar phase.”
As companies like Apple (HomeKit) and Google (Nest) arrive on the scene, bringing with them a new level of awareness from the general public of the attainability of deep-level home automation and control, where does this leave manufacturers who have developed robust, complex, but highly functional systems? How are integrators, who specialize in designing and customizing these systems, to move forward?
RTI’s newest lineup of products are aimed at creating efficient automation installations and control experiences that are intuitive for anyone to use. “The inability of home systems [of the past] to communicate with each other is the foundation of our market,” said Delia Hansen, senior residential marketing manager for Crestron. “But the idea of writing complex code to provide control and integration has given way to the IoT, a much more efficient way to get machine-to-machine integration.”
The custom home automation and control industry has a highly evolved skill set and the advantage of years of experimenting and implementation working in its favor, especially when it comes to distinguishing itself from what Apple, Google, and IP-based control newcomers are offering. Already established and versed in the pitfalls and benefits of residential home control integration, companies including Crestron (Pyng), Vantage Controls (Equinox), Control4 (Control4 app), and RTI (RTiPanel app), can quickly bring to market tools that work within the currently evolving IoT ecosystem, while maintaining a brand identity synonymous with experience and longevity.
MARKS OF DISTINCTION
At a time when everything different still feels the same, including how we talk about the connected home and the catchphrases we use to define it, the ability to stand out from the crowd is the trump card of our channel. Custom integration always has one obvious thing going for it: intelligent, dedicated customization. It is the core ideal behind ELAN Home Systems’ popular g! system, Crestron’s new robust Pyng app that works with the company’s 3-Series control systems, Control4’s three-prong (experience, scalability, and interoperability) open-source platform, Savant’s successful proprietary platform that has evolved and expanded to include the equally popular Savant App, and Gefen’s deep roster of solutions dedicated to the more complex distribution of 4K video and high-quality audio that mass market products are incapable of delivering.
Honeywell’s Lyric system plays to the companty’s focus on the human factor with its smart voice-activated features. “Off-the-shelf systems usually cover the very basic of home automation: security, HVAC, media control; but they often require the customer to adapt to the system,” Lautner said. “A professionally installed custom home automation system like ELAN is designed around a customer’s needs. We provide a level of personalization that is unmatched by the off-the-shelf world. A good analogy would be an off-the-rack suit versus a tailored one. The expanding consumer home automation systems are less expensive, while a custom solution, [like] the ELAN g1 controller, makes the custom home automation experience more accessible than ever.”
This human factor cannot be undervalued. As Ralph Maniscalco, Honeywell Security’s director of marketing said, “What some people forget…is that it’s still human beings who need to benefit from this technology, and it’s still human beings who need to interact with it. The technology needs to be intuitive and easy to use.”
Along with Leviton, which acquired home automation company BitWise in 2014 to attract homeowners looking to add AV solutions to their systems, Honeywell is enjoying and taking full advantage of the growing compatibility between security systems and whole-home systems. The company’s Lyric system plays to Honeywell’s focus on the human factor with its smart voice-activated features, while Leviton’s portfolio has significantly expanded to include a number of new features and products that are hundreds of devices deep, as Greg Rhoades, the company’s marketing manager, noted.
“Basically, being a key player in the automation industry today means building onto existing, known platforms with new solutions at the lowest cost to the end user possible (with room for margin),” Rhoades said, “while determining how you can fit into forthcoming platforms to meet the growing needs of the marketplace.”
This focus on human interactivity also has informed Vantage Controls’ Equinox line of control products, which places the user experience at the center of functionality.
On Controls’ cloud-based control ecosystem provides intuitive control for end users, and design freedom coupled with ease of programming for integrators. “Our touchscreens function very familiarly to the apps people are already comfortable using on their phones, so controlling their automation system is much the same as any other simple functions they perform with their phone,” said Reid Cram, director of marketing for Vantage Controls. “And for more convenience, we’ve added Equinox apps, which allow users to control their system entirely from their tablet or smartphone.
“As a technology company, you expect to evolve with time,” Cram continued. “You wouldn’t develop some innovative product and then fail to advance it while all the surrounding technology is improving. We feel like we’re a little bit ahead of the curve with Equinox. IoT companies are starting to develop similar concepts to Equinox; we’re in the process now of improving what we already have on the market. As the automation market grows, so will Equinox, and Vantage will be attempting to keep ahead of the curve.”
While the terms of IoT call for a universal programming language, many companies currently dedicated to evolving the concept into actuality are concentrating on software platforms that make things easier for both the integrator and the end user. RTI’s Integration Designer software, for example, along with its upcoming APEX programming software, are aimed at making that process more powerful and simple, “creating efficient automation installations and control experiences that are incredibly intuitive for anyone to use,” said Scott Kelley, VP of sales and marketing for the company.
Vantage designed its Equinox system to work much the same as other familiar apps on their phones. Similarly, Pro Control’s Control Studio, Fibaro’s Home Center 2 software platform, and On Controls’ cloud-based control ecosystem are designed to offer integrators design freedom coupled with ease of programming, and ultimately, intuitive control for the end user.
“The versatility and value proposition of our platform differentiates us from competing IoT solutions and gives integrators the tools to deliver what consumers are asking for: the luxury and convenience of connected home functionality tailored to their needs in an affordable package,” said Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of On Controls. “Consumer-based solutions are typically focused on a single application, such as climate or lighting, offer limited scalability, and do little to shine a favorable light on the expertise, creativity, and value of a skilled integrator.”
Leviton’s portfolio has significantly expanded to include a number of new features and products that are hundreds of devices deep Systems like URC’s Total Control compact processor with mobile apps and Clare Controls’ ClareHome system are defined by their goal to have a foot planted in both worlds: recognized in the mainstream, but also appealing to that segment of the population seeking bespoke control.
“We’ve been able to marry the best of several worlds by offering user experiences consumers seek with professional, profit-friendly products that land at the custom market’s best price points,” said Cat Toomey, URC’s marketing manager, mirroring Clare Controls’ president Brett Price, who noted that ClareHome “is a defining presence in the mainstream home automation market where its ‘best of both worlds’ combination of features and benefits distinguishes it handily from the ‘either/or’ decisions imposed by the consumer-based competition, and the sometimes cost-prohibitive pro-level solutions.”
ON THE PITCH
The integrator, especially when it comes to home automation and control, has always worn a consultant’s hat. Now, more than ever, that know-how has become an asset as everyday people try to make sense of this sudden influx of connected home technology. As always, CI manufacturers have continued to support their dedicated dealers with extensive training programs, supporting literature, and demonstration tools to help pitch potential customers the benefits of a custom solution over a DIY one.
“Integrators now will have some edge on the competition the same way any other experienced business does,” Cram said. “You’re automatically going to trust someone with a positive track record the same way you trust sellers on Amazon that have good reviews more than you trust the sellers with bad ones.”
Crestron’s Pyng app works with the company’s 3-Series control systems. But if there is one other thing everyone in the channel agrees on, it’s that the best thing that an integrator can do is to sell the pricelessness of customer care, especially the kind of 24-hour personalized service that remote management provides. Control4 and its Composer Express mobile app for integrators joins Crestron (MyCrestron cloud-based monitoring service), and Vantage Controls (Vantage Sales app) in creating tools that allow integrators to be constant and reliable source of support for clients as they become more familiar with their systems.
“Succeeding in the new home-automation market means building a deeper relationship with customers,” said Maniscalco, in outlining how integrators should redefine their role in the IoT world. “Dealers must: approach each customer by designing true solutions that meet each customer’s unique lifestyle, live the connected lifestyle in their own personal lives, understand the mindset of the connected customer to design successful custom solutions, and strive to build sales and marketing strategies. It’s no longer about selling widgets; it’s about understanding the target audiences/customers and their unique preferences, and offering remote services that drive consumer satisfaction, lower attrition, and give them more opportunities to engage their customers.”
Leveraging customer service is not a foreign concept to integrators by any stretch of the imagination, but to a population used to automated telephone customer service that take as many as 10 button presses to speak to another human being, it might seem revolutionary, making it a potent selling point along with industry experience as the market becomes more crowded with control products targeted at the everyman.
“The first massive change we saw in the industry was the adoption of smartphones just a few years ago,” Rhodes said. “Suddenly everyone had the potential to access their property remotely, but it took a while for end users to latch on. Now that they’ve become familiar with the devices and benefits, they want smart everything, and boy are manufacturers responding in earnest. As more smart devices continue to roll out over the next five years, consumers will desire adopting a comprehensive ecosystem that they can control from one single app without hassle. I see tremendous opportunities for not only comprehensive system installations during this time, but even basic consultations as smart home experts across the board.”
Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.