Uber for Smart Home Arrives, Powered by Tech-Savvy Neighbors
‘Orange Friends’, from one of Europe’s largest telcos, is a new on-demand service for smart-home support, provided by tech-savvy locals through Mila, the Uber of tech support.
The giant European telecom provider Orange is launching on-demand support for the smart home, with service provided by tech-savvy neighbors. These “independent contractors” sign up through Mila, a new crowd-sourcing platform like Uber’s. Except for tech support.
The “Geeks-next-door” service, called Orange Friends, is launching in Poland, with Warsaw as the pilot city.
According to a press release, consumers will enjoy “on-demand tech support service from nearby techies. Orange customers will be able to book value-added services like installations or troubleshooting of routers, smart home systems, tablets or TVs for a fee.”
Fees start at about €18 ($19).
Here's how it works:
“To ensure high quality service, Orange Friends are vetted through an online technology test, profile picture and onboarding process,” according to the news release.
“It is important for our customers to receive technical support very quickly and precisely in response to their needs. With the launch of Orange Friends we are able to offer this kind of flexible on-demand help by tapping into the power of the crowd. On the other hand, the platform offers enthusiasts of new technologies a possibility of making a profit and provide support in cases of hardware problems,” says Remigiusz Franek, Director of Customer Care in Automated and Digital Channels at Orange Polska.
Once a customer has bought an Orange product, he can book an installation or set-up service directly via mila.com/orange or the Mila App. “The customer chooses a suitable service package or uses the Mila Bot assistant in our app to schedule an appointment where and when he needs it”, explains Christian Viatte, CEO at Mila. Mila then sends the request to four Orange Friends nearby. The first one to accept the request is awarded the job. “This way we can ensure a quick and local service”, says Viatte. The customer knows exactly which Friend will provide the service and can follow every step of the way via the App's tracking features.
In the end, the customer can easily pay on-site or cashlessly via Mila and rate the Friend's service quality. The on-demand tech support will be piloted in Warsaw before rolling out nationally.
Today, the Orange Friends web site only allows consumers to select among bread-and-better services such as mounting a TV and installing multiroom audio; however, Orange has been offering home-automation systems for several years and the Polish group promises to add the category to its on-demand services
Orange isn’t Mila’s first win. Swisscom used the service for two years before acquiring a majority stake in the business. Swisscom had 1,500 “Friends” in its network at that time.
Mila went on to power service programs from telecommunications provider Vodafone Germany, and energy companies like IWB and ewz. Mila has also teamed with the Swiss online retailer BRACK.CH, enabling customers to purchase on-demand installation or configuration for products purchased through the store.
Last month, Mila announced a collaboration with the big online retailer Conrad Electronics. Conrad Friends can now be booked in 21 German cities, with fees starting at €39 ($42).
Uberization of the Smart Home
The uberization of smart-home services should be no surprise. Consumers today crave on-demand services, along with simple mechanisms (e.g., an Uber or Mila app) to summon help.
At the same time, the smart-home marketplace is becoming more homogenized than years past, making it unusually easy for tech enthusiasts to master many of the popular IoT devices and platforms out there.
Of course, there are little things to work out – like giving a perfect stranger access to your network and smart devices – but presumably those can be worked out with a decent vetting process, robust platform, and customer feedback.
At the end of the day, mass-market home-automation might be less about technology and more about logistics. Whoever wins on logistics can win the smart-home delivery business.
To be sure, plenty of companies have created large networks of independent contractors for IT and consumer electronics support, but they never went too far.
Of this ilk, InstallerNet is a rare survivor.
It's different this time around. With earlier models, contractors scheduled service calls with customers. The model is inefficient when you never know how long a service call will take. Furthermore, contractors end up spending more time driving between jobs than actually making money on service calls.
A true on-demand service would have contractors responding to calls right away, with the opportunity to accept jobs nearby (Mila doesn't quite work like this ... yet). Like Uber drivers, they can choose to be on call at any given moment, turning idle time into profit.
Meanwhile, like no time before, consumers are embracing on-demand services, letting perfect strangers into their homes and hopping into cars of unknown drivers. New platforms simplify everything from summoning help to paying providers to seeking redress. And there is at least some assurance -- through vetting and customer feedback -- that providers know their trade and don't routinely murder people.
Are there implications for more specialized home-technology professionals? Could a bunch of them team up locally to provide on-demand services in certain cases? Or maybe join a pool like Mila to get their foot in the door during idle times (Mila has opportunities for pro Friends).
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]
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