The opening question was simple on its face: “What technology will affect our businesses in the next one to three years?”
The importance of the question wasn’t lost on Eric Bodley, the man behind Future Ready Solutions and a CEDIA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. Bodley, moderating a panel on recent advances at CEDIA’s Fort Lauderdale Tech Summit, noted that “The most valuable thing you produce is a customer. Why not use those technological leaps to circle back and reconnect with that homeowner you worked with a while back?”
That panel discussion served as the opening keynote for the Tech Summit, which included several breakout sessions that covered topics from job-costing to designing great outdoor spaces along with offering home tech pros one-on-one meetups with the manufacturers at the Marriott Coral Springs.
And the notion of that “circling back,” that ongoing relationship, became the driving topic of discussion among Bodley and his fellow panelists, which included CEDIA’s Giles Sutton, LeGrand’s Chris Kovacek, Access Networks’ Bryce Nordstrand, and IC Realtime’s Dean Morgan.
Kovacek narrowed the conversation to the shift in the custom integration business: “We’ve gone from ‘automated’ to ‘smart’ home. What had we done for years? Automation – it was timers, setting schedules, scenes. Now, we’ve seen the proliferation of voice starting to anticipate events: ‘The voice assistant sees I have a flight at 8 am. It knows I’ll need coffee at, say, 5:30’ …”
“An educated customer is my favorite customer."
This brought Giles Sutton to a pretty interesting premise. Sutton, who’d been a successful high-end residential integrator in London before coming to CEDIA, proffered that he expected the industry to split into two. “Everything – all those devices -- will eventually self-configure. As a result, you’ll have a category of jobs that have some kind of fixed labor costs – and above that, you’ll have the mid-to-high-end custom design projects.”
“And you’ll have to decide where you’ll want to live,” noted Bodley.
Kovacek noted that the upshot here was one that has been discussed for a while in the CEDIA universe: while most integrators run what’s essentially a “hybrid” business – half retail, half service and design – the margins on hardware have been steadily vanishing. “It’s forcing the integrator to become someone who curates a lifestyle experience,” as he put it.
But panelist Bryce Nordstrand (Access Newtorks) noted that the inherent problem here was the constant headache of the “endless service call.” “A single firmware update could perhaps foul up the whole job – it’s not your fault, but the client holds you accountable.” The solution, according to Nordstrand: “Documentation and agreements that include what’s NOT covered as well as what is covered by your firm.”
Having that conversation with a customer should be easier now, thanks to everything from Netflix to HVAC service contracts – “Do you know when the Netflix charge comes out of your checking account?” asked Kovacek. (Only a few attendees murmured in the positive.) “You keep enough money in there to cover those charges,” he noted.
And ironically, that concept of “big player creating awareness,” extends to the role that the “Amazon product” plays in the space now, too: “Before Eero, we always heard about clients pushing back on the idea of having multiple access points. Now hardly anyone questions it. That’s the power of their marketing money,” said Kovacek. Dean Morgan concurred: “The ‘name-brand’ video doorbells can have done great things for consumer awareness – but they also have limitations that everyone in this room can overcome.”
“And an educated customer is my favorite customer,” added Bodley. “The person who installs the Ring doorbell himself, and goes to the trouble of figuring it out – he knows he’s going to need help when he wants to step up.”