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Smart homes: how can installers add value?

Previously we considered whether the plethora of consumer technology now available is a threat or an opportunity for the custom install market. Here, Steve Montgomery looks at how installers can add value by turning multiple consumer products into an integrated system.

Customers receive a constant stream of information from gadget websites, TV programmes and magazines and often decide what to ask for by brand name. Consequently they are not always open to switching to another, unfamiliar device. Well-known brands like Nest and Sonos, for example, are frequently specified by architects, interior designers and builders. “These can be considered to be DIY products and it is hard for an installer to make money on them,” thinks David Webster, chief technology officer at RGB Communications. “Yet rather than turn away a determined customer, there is an opportunity to add value by professional installation and extended integration. This do-it-for-me approach is gaining more awareness with customers, who perhaps have discovered that manufacturers are increasingly offering installation services through retailers.”

Some devices have open APIs for third parties to interface with, but often suffer from limitations that make them unsuitable for the professional market. Conversely, manufacturers such as Crestron and Control 4 rapidly identify and leverage products that are suitable for the home integration market, making them available to their architecture and offering installation opportunities for them.

Crestron’s Integrated Partner programme “brings you the best of the best by enabling the world’s leading products to run seamlessly in a Crestron system”, says Stijn Ooms, director of technology for Crestron EMEA. “It allows integrators to access an enormous range of specialised devices that we do not manufacture ourselves and incorporate them into the Crestron environment. We write drivers and macros from the source APIs and integrators have free access to them, allowing them to create systems that respond through triggers to events detected by these peripheral devices.”

“The new generation of discrete home devices and subsystems are interesting and have considerable appeal to the lower end of the market,” says Klaas Arnout, managing director of Basalte.

“In smaller houses with a limited array of possibilities, the home owner can install devices himself, without specifically needing a qualified system integrator. Larger houses require a more extensive integration of lighting, security and control systems. Here, we believe that a professional integrator is necessary to ensure a qualitative system that is simple to control without an abundance of different apps or controls. Therefore, we develop solutions that help the installer to do this with our multifunction switches and motion detectors for KNX-based home automation.”

The downside of using discrete devices is that homeowners end up with a different control or app for each function – which makes it complicated to carry out even the simplest of tasks, like switching on lights or a home entertainment system. Integrating those exciting products onto a common control bus means that a simple interface can be offered to the user.

This gives the best of both worlds: decentralised control using standalone discrete devices within a centralised control environment that can be extended to incorporate whole-house management. It offers great opportunities for installers to extend the original homeowner’s desire to control their environment and allows them to deliver economical solutions that meet their home automation expectations and aspirations.

Far from posing a threat, these new devices offer professional installers opportunities to deliver value-added services beyond the capabilities of many DIY users. With careful selection of devices that can be integrated into larger home management systems, they can create attractive and personalised home automation systems to fit the lifestyle and expectations of the owner, leading inevitably to future work and expanded opportunities.

Crestron control systems
Basalte home automation products
RGB Communications AV distributor