Control & Automation

When Will Home Technology Installs be Uberized?

There's Uber for drivers, KallDoc for physicians and Iggbo for phlebotomists. When will home automation and consumer electronics get their play in the on-demand economy?

When Will Home Technology Installs be Uberized?
Will independent contractors serve customers on-demand with home automation, audio, video and other consumer electronics?

Julie Jacobson · April 27, 2016

Consumers are getting awfully used to leaving a credit card on file and pressing a button on an app to get what they want when they want it, whether that’s transportation (Uber, Lyft), dog-walking (Wag) or shelter (Airbnb) … all provided by independent contractors in this new sharing economy of ours.

Heck, there’s even a new service for on-demand blood collection called Iggbo, which taps a “high-quality, on-demand, nationwide phlebotomy workforce.”

Then there’s the startup KallDoc, dispatching M.D.s to your place in as little as 15 minutes. According to the company, “KallDoc’s platform offers patients the ability to provide service feedback, a scoring system and overview of their doctors so patients know they are getting the most experienced physicians at their door.”

If it works for drawing blood and diagnosing illnesses, certainly the on-demand economy can work for a little ol’ Nest installation or Sonos set-up, right?

You might think so, but our industry has been slow to Uberize.

There's a quasi-effort to deliver on-demand installations from companies like Enjoy.com, whose “Experts” will deliver your Sonos music system or Philips Hue bulbs and configure them in a jiffy, providing up to one hour of service in your home … free for the price of the hardware itself.

The current business model seems unsustainable, and it’s not all that Uber-like, for that matter.

For starters, Enjoy uses its own employees, not independent contractors.

The overarching principle for this to work must be a limited product line and deep vendor relationships.

Also, the “free service” model employed by Enjoy seems to make little sense unless labor is cheap, parking is convenient and free, traffic is light, hardware margins are unusually generous, and the customer’s home network is in fine order – all big ifs, especially in the three major metropolitan areas where Enjoy does business: New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Implications for Home Tech Installs

Even so, someone will find the right scalable on-demand business model for home-tech installs. It would probably have to start with the premise that certain home-technology products are impulse buys. I believe some of them are, or at least they can be if marketed properly: security (a break-in next door), networking (darn system is down again), smart door lock (leaving town and the workers need to get in), and Sonos (Super Bowl commercial).

Then of course, there must be a critical mass of installers in any given geographical and technological area, and they must have access to product.


NEXT: Integrator Tries Enjoy.com, the Quasi On-Demand Service for Sonos Installation


One suggestion would be to partner with vocational colleges, train the students in one or two product categories, and teach them skills such as customer service. Equip them with products, tools and an app and let them run wild throughout the city, going “on call” when available and clocking out otherwise. Back the operation up with a technical-support operation back at the school.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a manufacturer or retailer took it upon themselves to launch such an enterprise. Perhaps a Geek Squad member could carry around inventory and make some extra money during off-hours. Or, maybe the next time Sonos runs a big commercial during the Super Bowl, an army of trained installers will be standing by to deliver and install a system by the fourth quarter.

Thinking longer term, if a company like HAUS, which provides home automation training and back-end business services, can saturate a town with trained integrators, might we someday see a day when on-demand integration becomes the next big them in home technology?

The overarching principle for this to work must be a limited product line and deep vendor relationships. This principle isn’t just for high-volume installers either.

Many integrators think that standardizing around a handful of product lines not only improves profitability through cost savings, but also improves customer service in so many ways.

And, I believe we will find that such standardization must be the precursor to anything approaching an on-demand economy for installed home technology.



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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


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Comments

Posted by TotalControlRemotes on May 2, 2016

I think it is important to avoid the comparisons or even mention the term “Uber”.  Anyone with a qualified auto and driver license can be an Uber driver.  I think the technology and infrastructure is already in place for this type of quick turnaround service, and not just for the AV industry.  Sites such as thumbtack.com for example, relay real-time requests for bids/work from people looking for TV mounting, electrical work and other services.  However, I think that it is important for people to qualify the project at hand, and for the technician to qualify the client as well.  I am surprised often how long it takes to get a good idea of the client’s lifestyle and offer them some options and ideas they didn’t consider prior to the call.  In order to build a trust and long term relationship you want to sometimes let some ideas soak in.  There is no doubt that technology is allowing clients to reach out to prospective companies before they hire them.  Let’s just try and see the difference between someone working in your home vs. driving you to the supermarket.

Posted by almostsane on May 1, 2016

It is a bit ironic that I just got a call from a homeowner who used to be a customer before I moved away. He wants to change his remotes and network components. He called me because he liked the way I took care of him and his family when designing the GUI for his remotes. As the remotes are IPADS, I was able to individualize each one for every member of the family. He is left handed, so I made all of his button pushes to emphasize that. I will have to travel almost 200 miles to redo his home, but that is what customer service is all about. He even tried having someone who wasn’t familiar with his home try to just redo the network components. It got so screwed up that he told the UBER type guy to just put it all back the way it was and leave. The Uberization of integration isn’t going to happen. The integration business is all about customer service, not just some Joe Uber showing up to fix automation. I am truly disappointed in this recent push to downgrade the what we do by making it seem that ANYBODY with a screwdriver and a multimeter can do our job just as well as we can.

Posted by Phillyguy on April 29, 2016

Has anyone looked into www.fieldnation.com? I just heard about the website earlier this morning but it seems like they are doing what this article talks about.

Posted by nicholsjh on April 29, 2016

Uber relies on a premise that the service offered is a commodity that a broad audience can do… ie, everybody has a car and can move people from point A to B.  Specialized Uber experiments have already failed where expertise is required or expected.  Consumers are going to have concerns over opening the door to Joe Schmo if they are not 100% confident in his ability to help them.  Yes, the Geek Squad is the closest to this, and probably is about as close as you get to faceless “hang and bang” work.  Inherent consumer psychology and concerns with trust will prevent Home Tech Integration/Installation from going much further into an “Uber-like” economy.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on April 27, 2016

Thank you all for the comments. @Almostsane, we find that many of our readers like to hear broader perspectives about what else is happening in the home-technology sphere, and where it might be headed. As such, we like to expand our coverage to other ideas that may not affect integrators directly ... at least not today.

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on April 27, 2016

Wow, these responses really run the gamut, huh?  I agree that a service like this is helpful in a lot of regards.  Simple Sonos setups for example.  One person can go to a house and setup a zone of Sonos, even with architectural speakers… sometimes.  Network upgrades, universal remotes, all sorts of small jobs can usually be handled by a single, fairly well trained technician… usually.
However… I stress the word usually.  I think this is a business that would do very well as a part of a larger integration business.  There needs to be more technical backup available for the more sticky situations that come up. An “Uber Tech” in my integration business might not be a bad idea.  Although his being employed by me takes the Uber out of it, I still think that’s the only way it would work.
Then there’s the idea of doing this with home automation.  No.  Not any time soon anyway.  Every integrated system right now requires a large amount of design, planning and project management.  Any “Uber Integrator” trained enough to handle all of the different aspects of a mid-tech home automation system, is…. an integrator.  Maybe a low-level one, but with the capability to be more.  If these guys love what they do, they want to be doing something far bigger and better than the equivalent of DIY integrated systems .  What you will be left with are people who don’t want to be doing what they’re doing, and that’s the last guy/girl you want in your house.

Posted by nicko82 on April 27, 2016

I believe that what’s missing to uberise home tech, is something between DIY smart home and professional home automation. DIY is too complex and unreliable, pro installs are too expensive. Something that is priced like DIY but truly easy to install and configure would be killer. I wonder who will manage to make something like that, if ever

Posted by almostsane on April 27, 2016

This is an absurd idea. I used to think Julie knew something about the CUSTOM installation and integration business. With this article, I have to strongly question that belief. It doesn’t take any brains to drive a car, even a doctor has a pretty good idea of what MAY be wrong with a patient, but some of the systems have installed, without accessing the DVD I have supplied with that individual install, are co complicated that a newcomer to the system would make the problem worse. At the very least, it would cost the homeowner, or business owner, a huge amount of money for someone who has never seen the system before just to figure out what and where the problem is, get the right parts to fix it, have the program to redo the mac address, (if it is network related), and so on. The nightmare calls from the owners to me, who have had someone else, who never saw the system before, try to fix it would be worth recording.. It is the reason for remote monitoring from companies like Ihiji, Domotz, Greenlight, and Pakedge. We are professionals who care about our customers. when we do an install, we stand behind what we have done. We use remote monitoring so, if there is a problem, we can see what the problem is before we roll a truck with the needed parts. If the problem is not evident in the monitoring, we already know what the problem is not, so we know where not to look, saving the owner money and ourselves time. In order for Julie’s idea to work, all systems would have to be, at least, very similar, which most systems definitely are not. Isn’t that why we read CE PRO magazine, not CE ANYONE magazine?

Posted by brockhr on April 27, 2016

Funny you should post this!  Hello. I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Peel Tech.  www.peel.tech
We are a seattle based (for now) on-demand, in-home consumer and small business tech support company.  We offer smart home products, installation and training.  We see a huge market opportunity here. We call it the third wave of IT Services.  Great article.

Posted by brockhr on April 27, 2016

Funny you should post this!  Hello. I am the CEO and Co-Founder of Peel Tech.  www.peel.tech
We are a seattle based (for now) on-demand, in-home consumer and small business tech support company.  We offer smart home products, installation and training.  We see a huge market opportunity here. We call it the third wave of IT Services.  Great article.

Posted by almostsane on April 27, 2016

This is an absurd idea. I used to think Julie knew something about the CUSTOM installation and integration business. With this article, I have to strongly question that belief. It doesn’t take any brains to drive a car, even a doctor has a pretty good idea of what MAY be wrong with a patient, but some of the systems have installed, without accessing the DVD I have supplied with that individual install, are co complicated that a newcomer to the system would make the problem worse. At the very least, it would cost the homeowner, or business owner, a huge amount of money for someone who has never seen the system before just to figure out what and where the problem is, get the right parts to fix it, have the program to redo the mac address, (if it is network related), and so on. The nightmare calls from the owners to me, who have had someone else, who never saw the system before, try to fix it would be worth recording.. It is the reason for remote monitoring from companies like Ihiji, Domotz, Greenlight, and Pakedge. We are professionals who care about our customers. when we do an install, we stand behind what we have done. We use remote monitoring so, if there is a problem, we can see what the problem is before we roll a truck with the needed parts. If the problem is not evident in the monitoring, we already know what the problem is not, so we know where not to look, saving the owner money and ourselves time. In order for Julie’s idea to work, all systems would have to be, at least, very similar, which most systems definitely are not. Isn’t that why we read CE PRO magazine, not CE ANYONE magazine?

Posted by nicko82 on April 27, 2016

I believe that what’s missing to uberise home tech, is something between DIY smart home and professional home automation. DIY is too complex and unreliable, pro installs are too expensive. Something that is priced like DIY but truly easy to install and configure would be killer. I wonder who will manage to make something like that, if ever

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on April 27, 2016

Wow, these responses really run the gamut, huh?  I agree that a service like this is helpful in a lot of regards.  Simple Sonos setups for example.  One person can go to a house and setup a zone of Sonos, even with architectural speakers… sometimes.  Network upgrades, universal remotes, all sorts of small jobs can usually be handled by a single, fairly well trained technician… usually.
However… I stress the word usually.  I think this is a business that would do very well as a part of a larger integration business.  There needs to be more technical backup available for the more sticky situations that come up. An “Uber Tech” in my integration business might not be a bad idea.  Although his being employed by me takes the Uber out of it, I still think that’s the only way it would work.
Then there’s the idea of doing this with home automation.  No.  Not any time soon anyway.  Every integrated system right now requires a large amount of design, planning and project management.  Any “Uber Integrator” trained enough to handle all of the different aspects of a mid-tech home automation system, is…. an integrator.  Maybe a low-level one, but with the capability to be more.  If these guys love what they do, they want to be doing something far bigger and better than the equivalent of DIY integrated systems .  What you will be left with are people who don’t want to be doing what they’re doing, and that’s the last guy/girl you want in your house.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on April 27, 2016

Thank you all for the comments. @Almostsane, we find that many of our readers like to hear broader perspectives about what else is happening in the home-technology sphere, and where it might be headed. As such, we like to expand our coverage to other ideas that may not affect integrators directly ... at least not today.

Posted by nicholsjh on April 29, 2016

Uber relies on a premise that the service offered is a commodity that a broad audience can do… ie, everybody has a car and can move people from point A to B.  Specialized Uber experiments have already failed where expertise is required or expected.  Consumers are going to have concerns over opening the door to Joe Schmo if they are not 100% confident in his ability to help them.  Yes, the Geek Squad is the closest to this, and probably is about as close as you get to faceless “hang and bang” work.  Inherent consumer psychology and concerns with trust will prevent Home Tech Integration/Installation from going much further into an “Uber-like” economy.

Posted by Phillyguy on April 29, 2016

Has anyone looked into www.fieldnation.com? I just heard about the website earlier this morning but it seems like they are doing what this article talks about.

Posted by almostsane on May 1, 2016

It is a bit ironic that I just got a call from a homeowner who used to be a customer before I moved away. He wants to change his remotes and network components. He called me because he liked the way I took care of him and his family when designing the GUI for his remotes. As the remotes are IPADS, I was able to individualize each one for every member of the family. He is left handed, so I made all of his button pushes to emphasize that. I will have to travel almost 200 miles to redo his home, but that is what customer service is all about. He even tried having someone who wasn’t familiar with his home try to just redo the network components. It got so screwed up that he told the UBER type guy to just put it all back the way it was and leave. The Uberization of integration isn’t going to happen. The integration business is all about customer service, not just some Joe Uber showing up to fix automation. I am truly disappointed in this recent push to downgrade the what we do by making it seem that ANYBODY with a screwdriver and a multimeter can do our job just as well as we can.

Posted by TotalControlRemotes on May 2, 2016

I think it is important to avoid the comparisons or even mention the term “Uber”.  Anyone with a qualified auto and driver license can be an Uber driver.  I think the technology and infrastructure is already in place for this type of quick turnaround service, and not just for the AV industry.  Sites such as thumbtack.com for example, relay real-time requests for bids/work from people looking for TV mounting, electrical work and other services.  However, I think that it is important for people to qualify the project at hand, and for the technician to qualify the client as well.  I am surprised often how long it takes to get a good idea of the client’s lifestyle and offer them some options and ideas they didn’t consider prior to the call.  In order to build a trust and long term relationship you want to sometimes let some ideas soak in.  There is no doubt that technology is allowing clients to reach out to prospective companies before they hire them.  Let’s just try and see the difference between someone working in your home vs. driving you to the supermarket.