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Home automation is sparking new opportunities

Technological advacements mean savvy electrical contractors can grow their businesses
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
By Marilyn Sanford

Why don’t electrical contractors play a bigger role in the home automation industry? They work with electron flow, understand the elements that combine to create automation offerings, and they have established relationships and respect in the construction industry.

Admittedly, home automation has been a problematic industry. Today, however, the automation of home infrastructures and systems is easier and more value rich for the homeowner. Proven technologies have captured primary features, while at the same time simplifying installation. The industry is maturing. If ever there was a time for the electrical contractor to jump in and grow their business, it is now.

Where to begin? No one gains if a good reputation is tarnished by attempting and failing, especially in the face of trusted relationships. Thinking before launching can significantly influence the probability of a positive outcome. For instance, a review of core strengths together with a detailed assessment of the opportunities can more likely lead to success. Many elements need to be evaluated, including the ability to service clients, undertake a well thought out design, remain knowledgeable and on top of technology changes, and the capacity to support programming changes.

There are several disciplines to consider, each requiring degrees of client centricity and technical competency.

Structured wiring: This is the most likely opportunity for the electrical contractor to add value. More often than not, the contractor prefers the electrician because it simplifies scheduling and keeps trade co-ordination in check.

One of the challenges will be learning what structured wiring involves. The fastest way to gain this knowledge is to work with an existing specialist, and to actively market this service to existing automation firms.

Alternatively, electrical contractors should consider pitching the value of extending this service to a trusted general contractor, perhaps under the guidance of a chosen specialist. This builds networks and grows new opportunities. Failing either of these, they should start getting actively involved with the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. The association is courting new relationships and has a broad array of courses, including online webinars and an annual trade exposition.

Network technologies: This is perhaps one of the fastest moving elements of home automation. Inexpensive routers and wireless access points can no longer accommodate a new home’s needs. Smart providers have moved to enterprise-grade solutions, separating home networks from automation and seriously reviewing security exposure. This is a big subject, and without a well-thought-out plan with robust solutions, it will be a constant fail point from both the client’s experience and the overall job profitability.

Integration of subsystems: This is becoming easier as Internet Protocol and cloud-based solutions flood the market. The ‘Internet of things’ is a growing reality with new and innovative devices that report back into the cloud and work behind the scenes to provide a service or benefit to the home. For instance, a morning alarm clock can filter online data, determine if traffic is building on key routes and wake the homeowner earlier if need be.

In addition to the network infrastructure, audio and video can be complicated and problematic to the untrained. To cross this threshold, systems are maturing in the market that simplify and support installations of these more complex systems. Control 4 is a complete end-to-end offering that provides training to help less knowledgeable firms.

Lighting control: Of all the control solutions, lighting control is the most obvious for the electrical contractor. It is a natural extension and provides enormous benefit to the homeowner. Many systems integrate lighting control into their offering, making it easier to offer some or all of the solutions with guidance. Other firms specialize and also offer support and training.

User interface: Some would say that the basket of remote controls that has complicated user experience has birthed the home automation industry. Today, iDevices and Androids are the logical evolution to remote controls, and many downloadable apps meet a large part of the consumer’s needs. In the not-so-distant future, this may be a minor opportunity as plug-and-play strengthens and user acceptance grows.

The home is a dynamic, evolving platform that is becoming a node with multiple connection points through, to and from the property. The technical advancements and consumer expectations are driving some impressive solutions. Electrical contractors are well positioned. However, until this technology settles and becomes as plug-and-play as current electrical services, thinking through core strengths and strategically choosing the best entry point is likely the right first step.

Marilyn Sanford is the president of Pacifitech Media Systems (La Scala) in Vancouver. She has been active in the custom electronics industry for more than 20 years.

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