Heating control is become increasingly central to the concept of the automated home, says Interactive Homes director Justin Wells (pictured), who recently participated in IE Residential's media servers panel (see separate feature). David Davies caught up with him to discuss the history of Interactive Homes, which is based in Berkshire, and its all-bases-covered approach to high-end property installs.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about the early days of Interactive Homes...
A: The company started in August 2002 and was initially focused on offering network/digital services and communications to predominantly residential-only companies. But we soon realised that it wasn't really very compelling for people to just buy telecom services for the home - it was AV that really [grabbed people's attention]. So we wrapped those two things together, revolving around a common communications backbone or product set. Throughout the company's history, we have focused on products that are reliable, easy to use, and can be remotely managed and programmed.
Q: How would you describe the company's USP today?
A: We describe ourselves as being responsible for technology in the home. Rather than specialise in one niche and simply do as many of those projects as we can every year, we try to do smaller quantities of projects but take more on within each one. Typically, we are responsible for the AV, power, electrics, lighting, communications, blind, heating and ventilation control, and the procurement of the alarm systems. To make sure that all systems can knit together seamlessly, we act as a main contractor and then employ other contractors, with everyone working together closely on tight specifications that can be delivered as a single package to the developer or end client. More and more people are getting involved in heating control, so [one of the main priorities] is to ensure that there is no clutter with regards to control panels.
We are not a mass-market, '50 cinemas a year' kind of business; we typically do five projects per year, but they are at the very high end and we try to take them to a very integrated level. And, in fact, 2009 was our best year yet.
Q: Do you find that this approach gives you a commercial edge in what is an increasingly competitive business?
A: In that tier of the sector, yes, I do. If we tried to move the concept down to the £750K to £2 million property market, I don't think it would work because people [there] are much more cost-sensitive and the pay-off is that they would be happier to get seven or eight single point contractors and do a cheaper job to get the property completed on budget.
Q: How do you see your customers' expectations evolving in the next few years?
A: I see a significant increase in the discussion of heating control for future projects. Previously, people were willing or wanted to keep it separate, but with the automation market maturing, we see that people are more willing to have open discussions about what can be done in those areas. The other development to watch is on the AV side, where we have some concerns about margin erosion for hardware.
Q: Finally, did your participation in the IE Residential round table on media servers change your perceptions of this area of technology?
A: Yes - it was great to listen to other people's opinions, and it was interesting to hear how the guys at DF Solutions and other installers view this [part of the market]. I was also struck by the fact that some AV guys are taking commodity products, but are still able to sell them within AV installer margins - that did surprise me.