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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What do you have in common with a hotel concierge? A lot.

By Joseph Kolchinsky

I recently stepped into one of the highest-end luxury hotels in Boston to reconnect with a long-time client.

The concierge was completely on his game when I walked through the door, displaying every inch of the kind of stellar, almost clairvoyant service we all expect from such a high-caliber hotel. He knew every guest by name, had treats prepared for their dogs, and jumped up to take care of a housekeeper coming in with an armful of bags. He was gracious and efficient in making me feel comfortable, handing me a bottle of water I hadn’t even requested while I waited for the client.

And then something happened: I overheard him take a call from another resident who was upset their smoke detector was low on batteries and producing an annoying beep. His response started out perfectly: “Yes, I understand that must be very frustrating,” he said to them. But then it quickly went downhill.

“Our maintenance person isn’t around right now,” he said. “But you can submit a ticket online and he might get to it today. It’s been a busy morning and we don’t have our full staff today.”

Then, hearing the resident was even more unhappy because they’d just changed the batteries in another detector only a few weeks ago, he offered some admonishing advice: “It’s better if you change them all at once, so you don’t have to keep doing it at different times.”

After a few more words it was clear the resident was looking for someone to just come up and help with the batteries, but all the concierge could offer was for the resident to “submit a ticket online.” …

Posted by Joseph Kolchinsky on 09/29 at 07:29 AM
News, Blogs, Business Resources, (2) Comments, Permalink

Thursday, September 17, 2015

By Jason Knott

The one daily constant over the past year in my email inbox and on my phone is that I have been flooded with messages from integrators desperate to find new employees, especially in-the-field installers/technicians. It makes sense ... the smart home/home automation market is on fire and without great employees, it’s hard to grow.

Many integrators have told me their revenue growth is being hampered because they just can’t find quality employees. It’s one of the reasons we upgraded our great new CE Pro Job Board that has hundreds of job postings and resumes by the way.

Also, almost universally, the integrators I speak with don’t have good things to say about their hiring “luck” with millennials. I hear stories about poor work ethic, huge sense of entitlement, etc.

I think one of the problems is that millennials simply don’t want to be called an “installer.” I mean, what young person do you know who would say their ideal job is to be an “installer?” For that matter, who wants to grow up and be a “technician?” No one.

I can relate. I recall years ago starting out working for a contractor and my official job title was “helper.” When you are 16 years old, it was OK. But it certainly wasn’t a job title I wanted to keep for very long.

Related: Get Ready for Millennials-Driven Economic Boom from 2017-2030

So I am proposing that all custom integrators immediately dump the terms “installer” and even “technician” as official job titles in their company. Terms like “specialist,” “engineer,” “network…

Posted by Jason Knott on 09/17 at 10:33 AM
Blogs, Permalink

Monday, September 14, 2015

Former CEDIA chairman and VIA International CEO Randy Stearns (left) with D-Tools founder Adam Stone.

By Julie Jacobson

Just in time for CEDIA Expo 2015, one of the most highly respected execs in custom electronics, Randy Stearns, has been named CEO of D-Tools, maker of popular system design and project management software for integrators and security dealers.

Stearns founded the integration company Engineered Environments in 1993, growing the firm into a perennial leader of the CE Pro 100. He was a key architect of VIA International, which resulted from the 2013 merger of six top integrators, and he served for eight years on the CEDIA board, eventually as chairman.

He left VIA in 2015, and has since been consulting with SupplyStream (product purchasing and proposal platform) and other custom-oriented organizations. Now he’s full-time at D-Tools in a position that founder Adam Stone wasn’t really seeking.

“It didn’t start out with me looking for a CEO,” says Stone, who founded D-Tools in 1998. “I asked Randy to come see what we are doing, to find hidden value in the company.”

The six-week consulting gig went so well, however, that D-Tools hired Stearns to run the company.

D-Tools is already a well-oil machine – profitable, debt-free and growing by double-digits – and has “always done well in residential,” says Stone. “But I wanted opinions on other markets. Our software scales so well. I wanted to be a software company, not just a residential A/V company.”

To do that, Stone notes, “we need more things that a real CEO does, like strategy and finding people to invest in us. That’s an area I don’t really play with, and Randy has a lot of experience in that area.”

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 09/14 at 09:30 AM
Blogs, Product News, Business Resources, Events, CEDIA, (6) Comments, Permalink

Friday, August 21, 2015

By Jason Knott

“The best event I have ever attended.”

“This was fantastic.”

“I learned a lot.”


Those are just a few of the comments I heard from both integrators and vendors in attendance at the just-concluded CE Pro Summit this week at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.

The hosted event had 400 total attendees who networked, discussed business models, sales techniques, software usage, company valuations, competitive factors and more. They also met with more than 100 sponsors who were on hand for boardroom meetings and one-on-one discussions. The group even enjoyed a Potomac River cruise.

Sponsors included: aboutGolf, Ltd., Access Networks, AcousticSmart, Almo, Analog Way, Anthem AV, ATEN Technology, Atlona, AudioControl, Audio-Technica, Autonomic, Avenview, Axis Communications, Azione Unlimited, B3Pro, Belden, Black Box, Bluesound, Bogen Communications, Cose, Bristol ID Technologies, Brivo, BTX Technologies, CasaTunes, Channel Vision, Chief, ClearOne, ConnectWise, CEA, Core Brands, D-Tools, Da-Lite, DISH Network, DisplayNote Technologies, DynaQuip Controls, ELAN Home Systems, ELK Products, Emcore, Epson, Fortress Seating, Future Ready Solutions, Gefen, Herman AV, HTSA, HTSN, IAVI, IC Realtime, Integra, Interlogix, Just Add Power, Klipsch, Legrand, Lenbrook America, Leon Speakers, LG Electronics, Liberty AV Solutions, LILIN Americas, Lutron, Luxul, MartinLogan, Metra Home Theater Group, Middle Atlantic Products, Milestone AV, Mimo Monitors, NAD, NEAR, NEC Display Solutions, Netsertive, Origin Acoustics, Pakedge, Panamax, Paradigm, Pella, Premier Mounts, Pro Co Sound, ProSource, PSB Speakers, QNAP, Revenew, Revolabs, RTI, Sanus, Screen Innovations, Security Central, Security Partners, Sennheiser, Sharp Electronics, SnapAV, Sony, SpeakerCraft, Speco, Stampede, StarLeaf, Stealth Acoustics, Sunfire, SVS, Synnex, T1V, Telguard, Tigerpaw Software, Tightrope Media Systems, Torus Power, TRENDnet,…

Posted by Jason Knott on 08/21 at 07:51 AM
News, Blogs, Videos, Events, CE Pro 100, Permalink

Friday, August 14, 2015

“No respect… no respect at all” describes the custom electronics industry until we have standardized rules for installation, service and pricing. Photo credit: The Comedy Store

By Joseph Kolchinsky

Why the custom electronics industry is the Rodney Dangerfield (“No respect!”) of the design/building sector: The A/V and smart home industry has no regulation and no systems of rules, guidance, or infrastructure.

This problem goes hand-in-hand with my previous two blogs about the eventuality of IT taking over A/V and examples of how some manufacturers and dealers are still way behind the learning curve.

Other trades have all sorts of rules and standards, including requirements for certifications, inspections, and ongoing continuing education. Architects, for example, have an AIA requirement to take several CEUs worth of classes each year (we even teach one!). The accounting/finance industry has the CPA/CFA and GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

Doctors have to go to medical school, participate in a residency, and maintain licensure through their home state. Lawyers have to get through law school and pass the bar based on an accepted set of rules referred to as the United States Code.

Can you imagine what it would be like without these regulations? Sure you can; just look at our industry. There are no such standards demanded of technology. Ask 10 integrators to design a system and the designs will probably have more differences than similarities.

Part 1: Caution: IT Could Eat A/V for Lunch

There is no traditional schooling. There are no pricing standards or expected levels of service. Until the industry bands together, creates standards that run deep, and self implements regulations (or waits for the government to do it), we will never quite be…

Posted by Joseph Kolchinsky on 08/14 at 07:56 AM
Blogs, Business Resources, Permalink

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

3 disturbing conversations exemplified how the mindset of some in the industry could benefit from a change.

By Joseph Kolchinsky

Following up on my opinion piece declaring how the IT industry is taking over the A/V industry, in the past several months I’ve had three momentous interactions that tell me we still have a long way to go. My conclusion is that if we don’t change, we’ll be eviscerated like the taxi industry already has been by Uber and like the big car manufacturers soon may be.

Here are synopses of those conversations: Two were with hardware manufacturers, the third was with an integration company that is stuck in its old ways.

1. The hardware manufacturer that thinks it still sells “boxes”

Last year I had dinner with a regional sales rep of a big brand we all know in this industry. Here’s a snippet of the conversation with John, regional director of sales for [Brand X]:

Me: “You guys really need to own the experience in the home. Your hardware is good, but your brand invokes fits of anger from the homeowners who think that you’re the reason their smart home system is so unreliable.”

John: “But we all know that our hardware is ultra reliable. It’s usually the integrator who’s not setting up our systems correctly.”

Me: “I totally agree. But it’s your name on the product and it’s your name that’s actively being sold. So that means it’s your company the client holds responsible when the system fails. When their friend asks about their smart home system, they say, ‘Call this integrator, but don’t use Brand X.’ You guys need to become an experience company and have more control over that outcome.”

John: “But…

Posted by Joseph Kolchinsky on 08/12 at 11:01 AM
Blogs, Business Resources, Permalink

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Joey Kolchinsky of OneVision Resources believes the A/V industry is resting on its laurels and standing idle while the IT industry reinvents A/V according to its own vision.

By Joseph Kolchinsky

A common theme this past decade has been that IT/Silicon Valley and A/V/smart home technologies are converging, especially because the network, traditionally an IT system, has become a required system in both worlds. But if that’s true, it’s not happening because the A/V industry is meeting IT halfway ... it’s because Silicon Valley is quickly taking over.

For example, Google and Apple both now have dominant products in the smart home space (Nest, Dropcam, AirPlay) which have replaced existing traditional solutions because they have a fantastic understanding of the user experience. But I’ve yet to see an A/V/smart home company successfully make the leap into IT and either become a respected solution or displace anything in that market.

I don’t think this is incidental; it’s indicative of a broader problem in our industry. A/V/smart home brands simply don’t “get it.”

A recent On Point broadcast on NPR discussed the battle between the car industry and Silicon Valley. Tesla has already won—and in the near future Apple and Google will win—the hearts and minds of the car buyer.

The reason is that cars these days are more computers than they are steel and rubber. Silicon Valley companies demonstrating a mastery of the technology user experience can outsource the commoditized aspects of the product (such as rubber, steel, and overall manufacturing).

In Tesla’s case, it outsourced the manufacturing of its original Tesla Roadster while it focused on the technology and batteries. Now Tesla has started to bring manufacturing in-house and will eventually control the entire experience.

A similar…

Posted by Joseph Kolchinsky on 08/11 at 04:28 PM
Blogs, Business Resources, Home Automation and Control, Networking, Permalink

Friday, July 24, 2015

SmartRG shows how a home router integrated with a Vera home automation hub from MiOS can offer Internet providers a window into all connected devices in their customers’ homes for remote diagnostics and management.

By Julie Jacobson

We started EH Publishing in 1994, and for the first dozen years the buzz was all about residential gateways for home automation—or Internet of Things (IoT) if that term had existed back then. There were entire conferences on residential gateways. Residential gateway alliances were formed with committees and subcommittees. Had there been Twitter in those olden days, #ResidentialGateways would be trending.

I never much participated in the residential gateway thing. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

And even though I’m still not sure what a residential gateway is, I know we need it. We’ve gone so far outside the house with the Internet of Things – where things communicate with other things inside the house via cloud servers way outside of the house – that we’ve lost the ability manage, monitor and control those things locally.

And when I say “we” have lost the control, I mean you, me and the service provider of your choice. That might be your Internet provider, some third-party tech-support operator like PlumChoice, or simply the resident geek, perhaps your 12-year-old kid.

Here’s the problem, which I tend to bring up to unwitting keynote presenters like the Connected Home chief at Comcast/Xfinity: When my light switch stops working, who do I call at Comcast? The broadband people or the smart-home people? There’s a disconnect there.

“What? There’s no disconnect here,” he might have responded to an incredulous audience. “It’s all the same number: 1-800-COMCAST.”

True as that may be, you still have to press 2 for Internet support or 5 for smart home services. So you press 5 because it’s a…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 07/24 at 09:55 AM
News, Blogs, Home Automation and Control, Control Systems, Permalink

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It will now cost you $100 to get into CES.

By Jason Knott

Some integrators were a bit shocked and surprised last week when they tried to register for the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has instituted a $100 registration fee for 2016. Registration opened on July 8 for next year’s event, which takes place January 6-9.

You can’t say you weren’t warned, CE Pro reported the new fee back in May, but it was “buried” in a story about the total audited attendance figures. 

As part of its new “enhanced credentialing” program, any new registrants or previous registrants who did not attend the 2014 or 2015 CES will be subject to new enhanced credentialing and tighter qualification criteria. This means that although individuals may have qualified for registration in previous years, they must resubmit credentials to qualify for the 2016 CES.

To qualify, all registrants must provide a brief description of their industry affiliation along with links to their company website with an employee roster, a description of their business engagement at CES or a link to a current publication or article the registrant authored or in which they were quoted or cited as an industry professional. Alternately, registrants may also provide a business card, health insurance card or other proof of employment verification. In addition, in order to expedite affiliated registrants through the verification process, CES will ask registrants to include a business email address.

But it’s still not too late to get a free registration if you have attended the show in the past two years. Those who attended one of the past…

Posted by Jason Knott on 07/23 at 01:31 PM
Blogs, Events, CES, Permalink


Live Webinar, July 29: Nest Labs and the Custom Integrator: Products, Applications and Opportunities. REGISTER HERE

By Julie Jacobson

Integrators are in a unique position to learn more about Nest’s relevance to the custom electronics channel. The maker of the Nest Thermostat, Nest Cam and Nest Protect smoke/CO detectors will be hosting a Webinar next week exclusively through CE Pro.

While there is a set presentation to go over the new Nest product line, the company will also address some of the questions that integrators want answered.

We can’t guarantee that Nest will get to all of them, but there’s no harm in asking, right?

Here’s what I would ask:

~ Why does Nest care about the integrator channel? Isn’t it all about DIY and the mass market?

~ Can third-party home automation ecosystems exploit Nest’s learning capabilities?

~ What are the benefits of using Nest products within a third-party automation ecosystem, rather than using the automation provider’s own products (thermostats, cameras, smokes and whatever comes next)? Are there added benefits of Nest in terms of feature sets that are not provided by integration-specific solutions?

~ Here’s one from “Jason,” commenting on CE Pro: “Why can’t they figure out how to connect the Nest Protect to an actual alarm system? Especially disappointing since it was a promised feature from the very beginning.”

~ Is there a way for integrators to benefit from the recurring revenue on Nest cameras and other fee-based services that Nest might offer in the future?

~ The early success of Amazon Echo tells us voice-control is a very compelling feature. How about some native speech recognition (and voice response) technology in the Nest ecosystem?

~ Is there anything in particular integrators should know…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 07/23 at 10:51 AM
News, Blogs, Product News, Home Automation and Control, Energy Management, Permalink

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