When I began my career in retail technology, the industry was struggling to convince businesses to invest in computer-based systems to replace standard cash registers. Inevitably, some prospective clients understood the value and opportunity that adaptable and upgradeable systems presented, while others could only see the price tag. The same might be said of a concept I’d like to introduce you to, which is custom integration as a service (CIaaS).
Cash register technology critics were correct that a smarter system can be more expensive and even incur future costs to keep pace with competition and consumer needs, but they failed to see that the systems’ benefits far outweigh any potential maintenance costs. Fast-forward a couple decades, and now the only place you’re likely to find a non-computerized checkout register is an antique store.
The custom electronics industry has evolved in much the same way, largely relying on revenues from one-time transactions, which are then followed by impromptu service calls and truck rolls. While that may have made sense 20 years ago, today’s always-on, always-connected systems offer a better CIaaS solution that improves client experiences, builds trust with their integrator and enhances overall system capabilities.
Every smart home or smart workspace requires a backbone of robust software that can deliver ongoing enhancements during the lifetime of ownership. Cloud-based software provides extra flexibility by empowering integrators to service their installations remotely, which reduces costs and can dramatically increase service speed and customer satisfaction.
As new devices enter the home over the lifetime of ownership, new integrations must be developed, and as customers demand more of their systems, new functionality must be created. Systems that do not adopt new services, protocols or functions can seem less and less ‘smart’ over time, and even become a burden for users compared to contemporary tools.
When integrators evolve from the ‘sell it and forget it’ business model and begin pitching custom integration as a service, they can ensure long-term revenue streams that promote business growth and offer regularly scheduled upsell opportunities with existing clients. It’s up to us as manufacturers to develop the tools and solutions they need to make this change and catapult industry growth.
In fact, as smart system owners increasingly witness the critical nature of remote service and software improvements, they will demand it of the custom integration industry just as retailers did with the cash register industry.
CIaaS Ensures Smart Systems Grow & Improve Over Time
The wonderful thing about the solutions the CEDIA channel is delivering today is they will get better over time. There are a few ways we can make this happen:
- We can identify new ways to enhance experiences for the customer through software upgrades, such as a new process to make scene creation simpler. In areas like surveillance, we can keep improving video analytics. New components are constantly creating new ways to use smart systems, and the core system software must keep pace with third-party development to maintain relevance and deliver optimal performance.
- We can ensure that systems installed today will remain compatible with new devices and protocols. As the proliferation of new devices accelerates and diversifies, both integrators and end users will benefit from software that enables integration with a wide variety of hardware and software.
- We can improve the security and reliability of the system over time. The ability to track and identify software bugs across millions of sites allows manufacturers to rapidly issue patches and improve user experiences. In today’s world of network intrusions, identity theft and other technology vulnerabilities, software must be constantly enhanced to protect users’ privacy and system reliability.
You Don’t Have to Be Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
There are several ways to structure a custom integration service contract, usually consisting of a prescribed set of remote monitoring, troubleshooting and software upgrade services for a contracted monthly fee. After all, the last thing we want is unsatisfied customers that look down on smart systems and integration firms because of bad experiences with either the technology or the people. So what is keeping our industry from moving to a service model?
Until recently, the manufacturer, integrator and end user had limited ability to quickly identify or solve problems because of product limitations that required clients to report issues to integrators, who would then send techs to the site to diagnose and perform any necessary maintenance. Today, platforms such as Snap One’s OvrC and Parasol or Panamax’s BlueBOLT, for example, have made it possible for technicians to access and control many devices and systems remotely, providing a powerful benefit for customers who want their systems to always work, and for integrators to ensure their clients are satisfied.
Remote managed systems enable users and integrators to program automatic text messages or email alerts so they are immediately notified of unusual activity or device malfunctions. Depending on the severity of the problem and complexity of the proposed solution, an integrator can even get help from a manufacturer’s tech support team and allow them to remotely access the troubled system to expedite resolution.
Custom Integration as a Service Contracts Can Leverage Urgency
The key is aligning the skills and availability of manufacturers and integrators with the needs of end users. If a nearby client calls their integrator on a Saturday evening because their home theater won’t function, they are unlikely to be satisfied getting an answer back on Monday morning. If service contracts were in place for all of the firm’s clients, they could have the revenue required to keep someone available seven days a week to respond to urgent off-hours requests.
Innovators such as Parasol, which was launched by three savvy CE Pro 100 integrators, are also building resources to help integrators support clients by developing around-the-clock service models that can produce profits and better service. Plus, clients who don’t want a service contract could be informed that service is only guaranteed during regular business hours, and leverage that to encourage signups.
Integrators can even use today’s technology to make proactive product recommendations based on remote insights, such as suggesting network upgrades to deliver newly available speed rates, adding smart lighting to reduce energy consumption, and improving safety and security through innovations in video surveillance.
By turning the custom integration industry into a service industry that supports installer revenue beyond one-time transactions, I firmly believe that the potential growth for the industry at large is unlimited. By investing in infrastructure that goes beyond the one-time transaction, we can ensure that integrators adopt new revenue streams and that end-user customers are more satisfied because their issues are addressed.
As manufacturers, our investment in software is critical. It’s up to us to support integration businesses by developing the platforms and support services they need to benefit beyond one-time transactions, and ultimately take this industry into the future. Our time is now.
Author John Heyman is CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Snap One.
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