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Smart buildings: integration opportunities

Having previously considered how smart buildings and the Internet of Things are related, before confronting the confusion over what constitutes a true IoT device. Here Ian McMurray looks at the opportunities for integrators presented by this new world of connected devices.

In this brave new world of connected devices – whether we call it the IoT or not – what is the opportunity for the systems integration and custom install industry?

“Of course, it’s an attractive market,” smiles Dave Pedigo, CEDIA’s vice president, emerging technologies. “Our members have been skilled experts at delivering connected experiences to their homeowner clients since the 1980s. The reality is that people are going to continue to buy electronics and put them in their homes at an incredible rate, so demand for the skillsets that custom installers have is only going to increase.”

“This is a market that CEDIA members already understand, and residential is in many ways ahead of commercial smart buildings,” says Bob Snyder. “But there are opportunities at all levels. Commercial AV integrators ignore smart building at their own risk. They work in what’s known as the ‘built environment’. Talking about AV today without knowing what is going on in smart building and smart office is like talking about the airplane industry without talking about airports and air controllers.”

Hague appears to implicitly agree that commercial integrators may not yet be as far advanced as their counterparts in the residential space.

“Once we move into the world of voice control and IoT everywhere, smart buildings will require more devices to be installed and configured,” he thinks. “Installers should start to learn more about cloud computing – web services – and how IoT devices communicate with these services. Also, expertise in securing IoT networks and how IoT devices can interoperate are key skills.”

That there is an attractive market opportunity seems to be universally agreed. What, though, are the secrets of success? How can systems integrators and custom installers turn the opportunity into profitable business?

Catching the waves

“The secret to being successful in technology integration is catching the waves of changing technology at the right time,” believes Snyder. “The companies who will succeed are the ones who look carefully at the trends like smart building now and decide what role they want to play. That’s now – not five years from now when the transition will be crowded with players.

“Not every integrator is the same size, nor do they all target the same size and type of customer,” he goes on. “There are different opportunities. You pick the game and the cards you want to play.

“AV integrators can profit from smart building because as an industry we are familiar with the problems of integration – and that problem-solving is profitable.”

Philip Pini, residential business development manager at Crestron, agrees that it’s necessary to stay abreast of developments in the market.

“The consumer market changes rapidly, and the controls market has to adopt the changes as quickly as possible,” he says. “It’s important to focus on emerging technologies such as voice control, and offer simple, easy-to use control methods for what can be complex systems.”

Mitch Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, however, urges some degree of caution.

“Invest in technologies that work and know them inside and out,” he asserts. “Avoid the newest shiny object that’s not tested or proven in the field, but stay abreast of new developments to stay ahead of customer requests. Help customers understand how to keep their devices or systems secure and develop programmes that give you the chance to go back in and offer assistance with diagnostics, maintenance and support.”

Less expensive, more complex

“The big secret with the IoT is that the devices will eventually become less expensive,” says Hague. “However, the installations will become more complex – not from a wiring standpoint, but from a configuration and management standpoint. This means that installers should learn how IoT devices work. For instance, go out, buy a Nest thermostat, Amazon Echo, Philips Hue lights, and an August door lock to see how the devices work, and how they integrate with the cloud or smartphone.”

Pedigo returns to the topic of off-the-shelf devices, and the opportunity they present.

“There are so many DIY devices available to consumers – but many are still looking for someone to install the products for them,” he considers. “We call this Do It For Me (DIFM). The DIFM approach is not going anywhere, so the secret is for installers to not see the growth of IoT as a threat, but to be prepared to work with a range of products, including those that might be perceived as more entry-level or DIY.”

He has an ally in Klein.

“A 2016 survey from iControl revealed that customers who had their smart home solutions professionally installed had higher levels of satisfaction than those who chose DIY solutions,” he notes. “While the number of DIY devices on the market has certainly been increasing, the majority of customers still fall into the Do it For Me category. This brings new opportunities for the installer to both educate the consumer on smart home technology as well as using systems, such as security, as an entrant to bring more devices into the home.”

In the future, we won’t talk about smart homes – because all homes will be smart. In the future, we won’t talk about intelligent buildings, because all buildings will be intelligent. Whatever the Internet of Things is or becomes, it’s certain that the AV industry will have a significant role to play in turning it into a reality for homes and businesses around the world. And that’s a prediction that can be made with 100% certainty.