GAFA and the Future of Smart-Home Pros: Big IoT Will Make Us Different, Not Worse

IoT initiatives by Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon will forever change the smart-home landscape, providing new and different opportunities for professional installers serving the 99 percenters.


In a widely read doom-and-gloom piece about “end times” for traditional home-technology integrators, Krika’s Bruno Napoli declares, “A good part of A/V and the home-automation business is about to switch from the hands of home technologists to the hands of big companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple (GAFA).”

In so many words – many, many words – Napoli makes the following claims. We counter (in italics) with observations of our own.

PRICES: Solutions in the traditional custom industry are necessarily expensive because they are “produced for a very small market of Home Technologists and their equally small number of clients.”

Prices are dropping in our channel, and it’s becoming simpler to integrate inexpensive mass-market products to decrease the overall cost of system ownership. Furthermore, custom products are becoming simpler to configure, diminishing the need for expensive programmers. Finally, these products now empower consumers to troubleshoot and configure on their own, reducing the need for costly interventions.

The key is for integrators to explain why their solutions – products and services alike – will provide a “less expensive” option over the long term, saving both money and heartache.

SIMPLICITY: “Just as there is no need to hire an expert to install a computer, there will no longer be a need for specialists to install all those new A/V and smart-home systems GAFA are about to produce.”

Much of the specialist’s job will move offsite, monitoring clients’ homes from afar and troubleshooting systems over the phone, via email and through online chat services. 

There will always be a need for installation “specialists.” It’s just that the nature of these specialists will change – maybe not at the high-end, but certainly the mid- and mass-market. These new specialists won’t necessarily need the level of skill as prior generations, as systems become self-configurable and easier to program. The high-skilled technicians might come in the form of network and cybersecurity experts.

In addition, much of the specialist’s job will move offsite, monitoring clients’ homes from afar and troubleshooting systems over the phone, via email and through online chat services. Much of the job will move to preemptive support, “fixing” clients’ systems before something breaks.

Commenting on Napoli’s piece, a reader responds, “You obviously don’t understand the CEDIA model. Most if not all serve the 1%ers.”

That simply is not true. While most of the 1%ers might be served by the CEDIA channel, most CEDIA dealers don’t cater to that market. It’s too small … only 1% of households.

BIG MONEY: GAFA can invest 10 times as much money in R&D than the whole A/V and home automation industry has in the last 30 years.”

Ain’t that the truth! Those investments – in technology, marketing, e-commerce and logistics – can benefit the integrator channel, but only if we exploit them. That means, for example, incorporating native Alexa in custom products, marketing your services around Apple HomeKit, and emulating the processes that make GAFA so easy to do business with.

GENERATION TECH: For years, we’ve heard doom-and-gloom prophesies for the home-tech channel, but we’re still here, stronger than ever; however, as Napoli notes, “The big difference now is the fact that people are used to technology and the UI provided by GAFA for several years.”

Most of our work over the past two decades has been educating consumers on the virtue of home technology and how to use a system.

Today, everyone knows how to navigate a touchscreen, where to find menus and options, how to get tech support, how to order products and enroll them into a smart-home system, and generally what to expect from connected devices.

Your job now is to exploit what consumers are already know and love about technology – as well as the things that make them crazy – and continue to evolve your business to provide solutions that GAFA can’t … or won’t.

RELATEDGAFA Spells Doom for Traditional A/V and Smart-Home Specialists

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

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