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Wednesday, May 27, 2015
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The Toshiba SCiB Lithium Titanate battery is the energy source behind the RoseWater Energy Group’s Residential Energy Management Hub. To reduce energy loss from DC to AC conversion, future home wiring could be low-voltage based.


By Jason Knott

CE pros might be sitting in the proverbial catbird seat when it comes to the future of wiring homes.

With the solar revolution seemingly in full swing all across the nation, consumers are enamored with “going off the grid.” And many homeowners are counting on home batteries to be the next phase of their off-the-grid plans. Companies likes Tesla and RoseWater Energy Group are leading the way in the development of these new power storage devices for homes.

But if the battery power trend takes off, it must lead to a new paradigm in which homes will be powered more with low voltage wiring than line voltage electrical, according to a blog by CE veteran Paul Self on Buildz.com.

Indeed, will the pure science limitations of AC/DC conversion eventually force a gigantic sea change from builders, electricians and the National Electric Code itself in the way homes are constructed and wired? The answer is “Yes” that might have to happen.

Here is Self’s logic:

“An underlying issue with solar power and the Tesla battery is the fact that they run on DC while the power infrastructure in buildings is AC. Stepping power up and down from AC to DC and vice-versa wastes energy, about 20 percent is lost in the conversion. Some converters do a better job than others, but resolving this 20 percent loss is very important when working on a battery stored energy supply.

Many devices in a home could run on DC. Almost all non-incandescent light bulbs can run on DC and require a transformer to…


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Which one is your burglar alarm?


By Jason Knott

Everyone has heard the argument that electronic alarm signals are a “waste” of law enforcement’s time and resources. The common stat is that 99 percent of alarm signals are false.

Indeed, I don’t know many security integrators that no longer attempt to verify their alarm signals prior to dispatch by calling the client or checking the location’s video surveillance images.

But if a customer should ever question the value of monitoring and verification procedures, this short two-minute video might help.

Radius Security in Vancouver, Canada, created the video to show verified alarms are “1,000 times better” than systems monitored by companies that do not have verification procedures in place.

Posted by Jason Knott on 05/27 at 07:19 AM
Blogs, Videos, Home Automation and Control, Security, Surveillance, (0) Comments, Permalink


Friday, May 22, 2015
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Why buy professional home security monitoring? Because you love Fido. Image: The Meta Picture


By Julie Jacobson

Consumers today have so many options for home security without professional monitoring. For instance, they can buy DIY products that blare upon an alarm event and allow for self-monitoring. Or they can train their dogs to ward off would-be intruders. Or they could just not care because, “By the time the police respond, the thief is already outta there.” Or this: “It’s just stuff. I don’t have anything valuable.”

Let’s put aside the fact that emergency responders increasingly are not responding to unverified break-ins.

What do you say to the prospect who tells you they have a dog and no stuff to steal in any case?

Putting aside the notion that the bad guys could silence Fido for good if they chose to, here’s the No. 1 reason why these reluctant customers need monitored security: Who is going to rescue Fido in the case of a fire?

“Don’t forget about fire,” says Steve Shapiro, VP industry relations for ADT.

Shapiro and I chatted during the recent Connections 2015 conference about the state of professional monitoring. Like many consumers, I too have failed to recognize the value of emergency response for fire and, for that matter, CO detection. How would you like to come home to a house filled with gas, and then set off the flames when static electricity generates a spark?

Shapiro is not terribly concerned about the demise of professional security monitoring. He says new business models are emerging that make the service appealing even to die-hard DIYs with “nothing to steal.”

For example, ADT recently announced aRead entry

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 05/22 at 06:43 AM
News, Blogs, Home Automation and Control, Security, (0) Comments, Permalink


Thursday, May 14, 2015
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Vivint selling security and home automation door to door.


By Julie Jacobson

Every summer, companies like Vivint drop thousands of kids off in targeted locations around the country to sell security and home automation systems door-to-door, mostly smart-home products from UTC’s Interlogix and Nortek’s 2Gig Technologies with SHaaS (smart home as a service) from Alarm.com.

These door-knockers – mostly Mormon students who are fresh off their missions and used to getting doors slammed in their faces – sell some 250,000 systems during the summer season alone.

The “summer sales model,” as it’s known, may have a shady reputation, but generally the larger companies like Vivint (ADT and Protection One dealers also do some door-knocking) are legitimate businesses acting legally in the neighborhoods they visit.

Many of them sell on sheer scare tactics alone, but the best of the lot sell the lifestyle benefits of home automation and remote home monitoring.

RELATED: A Failure to Communicate: How to Lose a Client

So, even if you as an integration company are not offering security (why?!) then you should still fear these firms for the smart-home systems they sell. They are targeting your existing customers and your prospects – especially those in affluent neighborhoods—and make no mistake, they will win them.

How so?

As for prospective customers who have never had home automation – the vast majority of the U.S. population, rich and poor – no one has ever talked to them about it before. Now someone is at the door talking about the technology and all the wondrous things it can…


Friday, May 08, 2015
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Failed DIYers could be your best prospects.


By Julie Jacobson

There was a time when a person who bought a TV at Best Buy or a home automation hub at Radio Shack or loudspeakers through Amazon.com wasn’t your customer.

“Anyone who hires Geek Squad to mount a TV isn’t my customer,” you’d say. “I don’t do business with people who buy ‘security systems’ at Costco. … I have no time for hacks who shop office supply stores for home automation.”

While such sentiments rang true three or five or 10 years ago, they don’t necessarily apply today.

Remember when you used to insist, “Anyone who wants a Sonos system will never be my customer”?

First, a wide range of devices – TVs, speakers, mounts, door locks, security systems, home automation hubs, multiroom audio, smart bulbs, remote controls and so much more – are easier than ever to buy, install and configure.

Second, we’re dealing with a new generation of folks that grew up with technology and either want to get their hands dirty or don’t mind tinkering around. What they definitely do want is some degree of ownership of their technology – the ability to make changes to their systems without being beholden to a professional installer who may or may not be in business next year.

They want to understand how stuff works.

I guarantee a big chunk of DIYs stock up on gear, but never even open the boxes, much less install the products.

Third, home technology is made to look so simple today that “even your grandmother can do it,” when she simply cannot. Neither can many tech-savvy youngens. Most would-be do-it-yourselfers won’t get their devices installed in the promised three minutes,…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 05/08 at 10:40 AM
News, Blogs, Business Resources, (20) Comments, Permalink


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By Jason Knott

New Land Solutions in Portsmouth, England, might just have done the best motorization we have ever seen.

Watch this 90-second video to see the transformation of this living room into a dedicated home theater. Motorized acoustical panels cover the walls, a motorized screen drops down, the coffee table drops down through the floor, the giant Fortress Seating U-shaped couch moves forward toward the screen, a massive projector rotates 90 degrees out of the back wall, and then lastly a full row of five seats rises out of the floor.

All the while, automated lighting control scenes are also activating. Impressive!

New Land Solutions also has a sped-up version of the video that launches automatically on its company website that includes other angles of the motorization.

Posted by Jason Knott on 05/08 at 09:07 AM
Blogs, Slideshow, Videos, Displays, Furniture, Home Theater, Mounts and Lifts, (14) Comments, Permalink


Thursday, April 23, 2015
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Rather than going in so many different directions, what if there were more standard procedures for how CI companies manage their businesses?


By Steve Firszt

A reader recently took issue with my assertion that the CI industry is made up of 10,000 different companies doing the same thing 10,000 different ways. The response was, “I believe the analogy of 10,000 custom integrators doing the same work is false.… I have only done 2 installs that were exactly alike in over 20 years…”

Sorry. I must have been unclear.

This is not about one-offs vs. repeatable installations – or brands, or control systems, or price points. I’m talking about the business of CI and how there is not a single standard for how CI companies manage their businesses. They do not recognize revenues the same way, they do not calculate gross profits the same way, they do not define labor costs the same way. Mainly because, there isn’t a standard “way.”

The three issues just mentioned are part a management fundamental I call “counting the money.” This is the starting point for companies being able to report results in a way that is truly comparable. If we could do that, we could then look at how the companies with the best results, do what they do. Then, we could adopt their practices and measure our improvement, always being able to reference where we succeed, and where we still fall short.

The entire industry would be stronger as a result.

Related: The Evolution of Custom – 30 Years Later, Still No Scale

Consider labor cost. Is it the wages you pay a tech while s/he is working on a project, with non-billable hours being charged to overhead? Or is…

Posted by Steve Firszt on 04/23 at 09:33 AM
Blogs, Business Resources, Permalink


Wednesday, April 08, 2015
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Smart home technology was examined in a recent ABC ‘Nightline’ segment


By Jason Knott

[Updated to reflect the fact that the homeowner is former Gigaom IoT reporter Stacey Higginbotham ... and again to indicate that Nightline is doing the bashing, not Higginbotham. - Julie Jacobson]

It’s tough to swim upstream. Now that the custom electronics industry and smart home technology are gaining momentum and recognition, it is time to spring out the negative press in the general media.

A recent ABC Nightline segment might be the first salvo. In the eight-minute piece, reporter Neal Karlinsky visited a smart home in Austin, Texas and ran it through its paces with the homeowner—Stacey Higginbotham, the preeminent IoT reporter for the now-defunct Website Gigaom.

Oddly, she wears a sweatshirt emblazoned with the GigaOm logo and has a GigaOm mouse pad strategically placed on the kitchen counter, suggesting the segment was filmed before the abrupt closure of that esteemed media company. (Higginbotham continues her able smart-home reporting for Fortune.)

The home has a Roomba, smart bulbs, voice control, automatic locks, touchscreen control, motorized shades and more. Not surprisingly, several of the items don’t seem to work properly—most notably the not-ready-for-primetime devices that have only just launched. Among them, Ubi and Amazon’s Echo for voice control, and Ringly for control via a smart ring, which isn’t so smart in the Nightline segment,.

The report uses terms like “weird,” “rude awakening,” and “requires patience” in describing having a smart home. The homeowner, who is called “abnormally patient,” even admits she spends one hour per week doing nothing but troubleshooting problems. Ugh!

Meanwhile, every time Higginbotham shows off a piece of technology, a giant price tag zooms into the screen,…


Monday, April 06, 2015
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How do you think industry standards can impact businesses? Share in the comments below.


By Steve Firszt

Last week we brought you Part I: The Evolution of Custom – 30 Years Later, Still No Scale. Part II examines factors that could hinder custom installation’s growth prospects and the need for industry standards.

Absent a change to a more scalable CI model and the emergence of branded national distribution, most customers will have no known options beyond the low-cost and/or DIY offerings of non-CI companies such as Apple, ADT, Xfinity, and Sonos (to name just a few).

Standards go far beyond how an installation is performed or a control system programmed. In fact, it is my view that one of the most significant missing standards is how CI companies are organized.

What does a project manager do, exactly? Ask this question of 10 CE pros and you’ll get 10 different answers. Even bigger questions are, ‘What’s it take to become a PM?’ And, ‘What is the next level of advancement beyond project manager?’

The challenge of finding and developing good people has been sited frequently of late, as the smart home market enters what looks to be a boom era over the next five-to-six years. But until our industry begins to define the roles in its organizations, it will continue to be difficult to attract and develop employees.

Likewise, there are no financial standards. Company-to-company differences in revenue recognition, inventory accounting, labor productivity measures, and customer deposit accounting (to name a few) stand as huge barriers to a consistent view of financial health among CIs.

Even the widely-accepted standard of $200,000 annual revenue-per-employee is subject to differences in how revenue is recognized and…

Posted by Steve Firszt on 04/06 at 08:00 AM
News, Blogs, Business Resources, Permalink


Friday, April 03, 2015
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Can you create a “robust production engine” with factory-programmed home automation systems, sold for self-installation?


By Julie Jacobson

There’s an emerging business model in the security industry that is starting to pay big dividends: Systems that are DIY-installed and professionally monitored.

It goes like this: A consumer wants a “real” security system that is monitored by a legitimate central station, but they can’t be bothered to let a security dealer in the home and they’re savvy enough to stick a few sensors on the wall and call it a day.

So they go online to a hybrid DIY/Pro service provider, answer a few questions like how many doors they have and what those doors should be called (front, rear, garage, etc.). They leave a credit card and a few days letter the system arrives, completely pre-programmed and ready for installation.

They take the door contact marked “front door” and install it at the … front door. They take the motion sensor and sticky-tape it high up in family room. They place the flood detector on the floor by the washing machine. And so on and so on. They give the service provider a call. The provider goes, “Yup, we’re seeing the system and all the sensors,” and then the provider collects $20 or $30 or $65 per month for professional security monitoring and interactive home automation services.

LiveWatch Fetches 74x RMR

One company that does this very thing, LiveWatch, was just acquired by the giant central monitoring station Monitronics, a subsidiary of Ascent Capital Group, for $67 million. With $900,000 in recurring monthly revenue (RMR), that puts the valuation of LiveWatch at 74x RMR, which is a huge multiple in the traditional security business. Typically,…

Posted by Julie Jacobson on 04/03 at 12:03 PM
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