The new Home Technology Association (HTA) has launched, with the ultimate goal of generating consumer awareness for qualified custom integrators. The group, led by 22-year industry veteran Josh Christian, aims to elevate the industry by certifying and promoting integrators who meet a list of criteria and abide by a code of conduct.
“Our industry lacks any type of regulation, oversight or company certification standard, so we decided to build it,” he says.
The HTA likens its operation to the GIA Diamond certification program in the diamond industry. Most consumers have never heard of GIA until they go to buy a diamond. That certification, which is only given internally by professionals in the jewelry industry, gives buyers confidence when they are purchasing something they know little about. The HTA aims to achieve a similar sense of confidence to smart-home clients, as well as the building and design trades.
Integrators that meet the criteria will be HTA Certified in one of three tiers: Estate, Luxury and Foundation. The goal is to help consumers find the right fit for their project and not make the mistake of hiring an inexperienced firm based on price alone, according to the company.
In vetting integration companies, the HTA looks at three key metrics: technical competence, customer service capabilities and company reputation.
“Due to a low barrier of entry, our $14.3 billion industry is plagued with unqualified installation firms,” says Christian, who serves as director of certification for HTA. “These firms have been creating a black mark on our industry by delivering subpar customer experiences.”
He suggests some $4 billion of projects are “in the wrong hands” and it's time to “shift that business to the most qualified installation firms by creating a meaningful certification process that helps consumers choose the right firm for their project.”
Starting in California
HTA began the rollout in July starting with five major markets in California then across the U.S. to over 72 of the largest markets. After the certification has taken hold in the U.S., the plan is to take it international. A widespread public relations campaign is planned, leveraging both the integrator and manufacturer communities.
“As soon as we launch certified integrators in a city or region, we begin educating local architects, builders, and interior designers about the HTA and why they should only hire a firm from the vetted list,” Christian says. “They have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by doing so. The design-and-build communities have a very low opinion of the CI industry due to many botched installations. They will welcome the HTA as a resource for their clients; as a filter to find vetted firms.
“The HTA will raise this industry’s reputation, market by market,” he continues. “Plus, the HTA website includes an industry-first, high-level Budget Calculator that the design-and-build communities will love. Not only will the Budget Calculator give them realistic technology budgets in just a few minutes, it will also lead them to the best qualified integrators for that size project in their area.”
Elevating Consumer Awareness
While the HTA has the goal of bringing leads to HTA Certified integrators, Christian notes the HTA’s highest value is established when an integrator’s profile is listed.
“Statistics prove clients hate making the wrong choice, and also show that people look for third-party validation when making expensive buying decisions. For the first time, an integrator will have a tool, their HTA Certification status, to point prospective clients and design/build professionals to,” explains Christian. “Once a homeowner or design/build professional sees the site and understands that HTA firms are vetted and verified, they’d be crazy to gamble on using non-certified companies. They have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by sticking with HTA Certified firms.
Christian says members should not expect HTA to become a household name because “our industry is too niche.”
At the same time, he believes the designation will be meaningful when customers seek qualified home-technology pros, just as GIA becomes a trusted resource and certification when a consumer is in the market for a diamond.
Vendor, Integrator Community Weighs In
Several manufacturers have weighed in and the consensus is that the CI industry desperately needs a system like this, according to Christian.
“I am pleasantly surprised at how dealers, reps and manufacturers are embracing the concept of an industry certification,” he says. “Most of the companies I have reached out to readily understand the need for a real certification such as we have created.”
John Clancy, vice president, residential for Crestron says HTA's mission “aligns exactly with the high-end, professional focus we have at Crestron Residential. As a manufacturer and former integrator, I look forward to a future where consumers choose the right integrator the first time and the ‘takeover’ project is a thing of the past.”
Bryce Judd, senior vice president of sales at Control4, comments, “We are passionate about continued education and formal certifications, and we fully support HTA. … Customers will reap the benefits from the high-quality installations and experiences that they deserve — from start to finish.”
Dozens of integrators have already applied and their applications are in the vetting process, according to Christian.
Cantara in Orange County, Calif., has already been approved. Jason Voorhees, CEO, says, “Our industry is badly in need of a third-party system that differentiates companies and I was eager to be first on board.”
Travis Leo, CEO of CE Pro 100 integration company Residential Systems, Inc. in Lakewood, Colo., notes, “As a business owner, I’m excited about the HTA Certification. In our market, our clients struggle with understanding which company is truly capable of taking care of their electronic systems. If you look across the service industry, almost every other industry has some sort of designation that separates the best from the rest. The home technology industry has never really had that distinction and I’m looking forward to it.”
How to Earn HTA Certification
There is a cost for certification: $400 is the initial fee with an ongoing $150 monthly charge or a discounted yearly charge. However, HTA certification “cannot be bought.” Christian notes that in order for the program to work, certification must be “unimpeachable” with no amount of influence that can be exerted to achieve certification. Monthly fees fund such initiatives as industry partner awareness campaigns, advertising, yearly recertification, design-focused tradeshow expenses, and policing the marketplace and handling complaints/mediation.
“Yes, we will be making a lot of unqualified companies upset, but that is OK,” he notes.
After all, HTA hopes to elevate the reputation of the custom integrator trade, and they hope that integrators that may not initially qualify will qualify in the future if they fix deficiencies. To that end, HTA has organized a board of advisors, which includes CE Pro. Other members represent Sony, Crestron, Savant, Lutron, Control4, Leon Speakers, Sonance and Azione Unlimited.
HTA’s Membership Criteria
The exact criteria for earning a Home Technology Association (HTA) Certification is a “closely guarded secret” so companies cannot “game” the system. The 60+ points of criteria were carefully thought out by over 25 industry veterans including the board of advisors, which had final say on the criteria. The board was adamant about creating a fair and objective system to measure the qualifications of integrators. The plan calls for tiers of certification based on average project size and complexity so consumers will be able to select the best installer for the scope, size and difficulty of their project.
Here are some of the basic criteria for HTA certification:
- A 3-year-minimum level of successful business performance in the local market for the owner/management team.
- A history of technical competence and positive industry partner relations.
- Must have solid customer service and aftercare support policies.
- Must be licensed and bonded (if mandated by the state/municipality).
- Minimum $1 million or greater liability insurance coverage and proof of workers’ compensation insurance.
- Integrators must have a minimal litigation history and no tax liens.
- Must not have filed for bankruptcy within the past 5 years
- Integrators must agree to perform background checks on all new employees and provide programming code to client upon completion of project.
- Must supply project photos to demonstrate quality of workmanship.
- Must be endorsed by manufacturers and local industry professionals and/or local competitors.
- Must be endorsed by architects, interior designers and general contractors for the higher tiers of certification.
- The ability to produce engineering documents/as-built drawings for the higher tiers.
Any firm that meets these basic requirements is invited to apply from the “Get Certified” links on the HTA website. After the application is completed, it is vetted by HTA staff. Approved firms are notified, and HTA marketing collateral is shared including HTA logos and stickers for use on a dealer’s website, vans, office/showroom doors, proposals, invoices, business cards, and advertising.
“We encourage HTA Certified dealers to get the word out locally, and the HTA will get the word out alongside the integrator. Our strategy for marketing to the design-and-build trades in each market are simple yet extremely effective,” Christian says. “Expect some of the forward-thinking manufacturers to include HTA Certified logos on their dealer finders, too. The manufacturers we have discussed this with so far see the benefit of having the most qualified firms install their products. After all, manufacturers are keenly aware of how their brand’s reputation is dogged by poor installation and implementation.”