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?
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.
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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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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