Brand Focus: Mitchell Klein of The Z-Wave Alliance
Mitchell Klein joined the Z-Wave Alliance as executive director in September 2015 with more than 30 years of experience in the CE and smart home industries. As the director of business development for Universal Remote Control for eight years, Klein was a key member of the senior team that grew URC from a remote control company to a smart home integration system supplier to the CEDIA channel. He transformed the company into a dealer-focused system supplier by developing multi-level strategies for new products and dealer training.
The CEO at the award-winning integration firm Media Systems for 14 years, Klein also co-founded industry consulting firm StayTuned LLC and launched CEDIA’s certification program, it’s first regional events and media tours as its two-term president. A CEDIA Fellow and committee chair, Klein talks with HiddenWires about his goals for the Z-Wave Alliance and what members can expect under his leadership.
You joined The Z-Wave Alliance last September as executive director. What are your main goals in taking the Alliance into the next five years?
Things are changing incredibly fast and technology is advancing rapidly; the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT) has garnered enormous visibility in the media and in all technologies from homes, cars, businesses and wearables. This has led to massive confusion among all stakeholders, which is compounded by a barrage of “wishful thinking” press releases making promises that are quite simply nothing more than wish lists. Z-Wave has been delivering products for the smart home for 15 years, and has the only interoperable ecosystem. Given this combination of promise and confusion, I have established a “three-legged stool” of goals for the coming years: Promotion, Resources and Partnering.
First and foremost for us is promotion. Growing brand awareness is, and will continue to be, a major focus of ours. We are striving to provide content for media, retailers, and consumers so that buyers can become educated buyers, and once they are aware of Z-Wave, they can make informed decisions when building their smart homes.
We’re also working on a concentrated effort to provide resources for dealers, retailers and consumers, as well as our members. We want to provide the means to educate them; for retailers to best educate their customers, and for consumers to have a place to go to get information they’re looking for and find the answers to their questions. Part of that effort is the recent launch of ZWave.com, a new consumer portal that offers tips, best practices, FAQs, and the ability to chat live with an expert to lessen the confusion surrounding the smart home; even to find an installer to do it for them. For our members, we offer training, marketing materials, tools that they need to be successful in this space, and a community to work together.
Our third major initiative is partnering with other groups. One of my missions as the new Executive Director of the Z-Wave Alliance to have open conversations with potential new partners about what those partnerships would entail and how we could better work together to create interoperable choices. At the end of the day, the Z-Wave Alliance is dedicated to creating a better experience for the end-user and understand the importance of working with other organizations.
There are several standards competing to be the market leader in the smart home evolution that is currently underway. With that have come several calls from various corners of the AV channel for a centralized networking standard. What about Z-Wave technology makes it the ideal standard? Why should integrators make it a part of their toolkit?
To start, there is a lot of confusion out there surrounding what comprises a “standard” and so it’s critical we have an understanding of what, in fact, makes a standard a standard. The most visible and known – HomeKit, Thread, AllJoyn, are all standards that focus on transmission. These dictate how a device will send and receive messages, but not what they will do with that information once it is received, or the application layer. The application layer is a major ingredient in establishing the holy grail of interoperability; yet that detail is being left to others. Thus, a key point to understand is that supporting a standard is not the same thing as interoperability. A somewhat simplistic comparison can be made to the email standard. Email determines how messages will be sent and received. I receive lots of emails in Chinese and Japanese – which I cannot read; thus I cannot do anything even though I have received it.
Z-Wave is built on definable blocks, which include, among others, transmission and application layers. It is a stand-alone solution that can run an entire home of devices & subsystems. We also recognize that Z-Wave needs to be compatible with these other standards. As an application layer, Z-Wave has the ability to be compatible with all, regardless of which transmission layer is being used (Z-Wave over IP is already available to developers). One good reason integrators should be paying attention to Z-Wave is we’re the only standard with a 1,500 certified product ecosystem with 50 million devices currently in the marketplace.
Last October, the Alliance launched integrator membership and training. What is the significance of implementing this programming? What has the response been like among integrators? What are the benefits? What questions are they asking about the technology that can have an impact on future integration standards?
The integrator membership and training is available today and is extremely beneficial for installers. One of its main functions is to ensure that integrators have the expertise to deploy and consumers have a positive experience with the Z-Wave devices and systems that are installed in their homes. As the status of the smart home stands right now, the Z-Wave Alliance and our members recognize that it is not a large-scale DIY project. What I mean by that is, integrators and installers will continue to play an essential role in the deployment and growth of the smart home. Even as the DIY retail market expands, consumers will always be looking for support. It’s a goal of the Z-Wave Alliance to ensure that integrators have access to the necessary training, background, resources, and know they can turn to the Alliance for additional information and support should they need it.
We are the only technology alliance that has opened this membership category; we see the value of the integrator channel in creating happy customers. This membership gives installers the edge and includes benefits such as access to integrator forums and working groups, as well as technical resources for deployment, troubleshooting, design and testing of Z-Wave products. Going forward, the Z-Wave Alliance plans to enhance this program by offering even more benefits to help integrators determine the health of a Z-Wave system in a customer’s home and find places where additional devices can strengthen the system.
Standards often undergo changes when imported into different regions with various laws governing technology implementation. What have been some of the challenges for Z-Wave in the EMEA market? How has the Alliance responded to these challenges?
As a global group of manufacturers, one specific challenge we have faced is frequency ranges variation across countries. Z-Wave devices operate in 900 MHz range and are capable of broadcasting in frequencies found throughout the world however, different countries require different frequency ranges.
We have also found adoption of the smart home to be much slower in the European market. In the U.S., security companies are leading the adoption of smart home tech because safety and security are the top features most desired by customers. The same has not been true in the European market; companies are not leading with security because customers are not demanding it.
The three aforementioned goals of the Z-Wave Alliance over the next year are, in a way, our response to these challenges. By promoting Z-Wave and increasing brand awareness to retailers and consumers, we expect to increase adoption and penetration in new markets. Our consumer portal is a go-to resource for anyone to learn about home automation and how Z-Wave can enhance their lives regardless of where they live. An additional approach to solving this problem is the steps we’ve have taken to create and strengthen partnerships with other standards and groups to create a positive experience for the user.
ISE 2016 is underway. What will The Z-Wave Alliance have on offer for integrators looking to learn about the standard?
We’re offering integrators a 50% discount on their first year of membership to the Z-Wave Alliance. Our goal is to make the decision to join a no-brainer. Once a firm joins, the entire team has access to our training, integrator forums and technical resources for the deployment of Z-Wave products.
The Z-Wave standard has been put together specifically for the smart home, and has done a phenomenal job with 1,500 certified Z-Wave products and 50 million devices shipped worldwide. No one else can claim that. Well-known control companies in the integration space are deploying Z-Wave and the Alliance continues to strengthen relationships with other organizations, provide resources to dealers, retailers, and consumers and strengthen security.
At ISE, we will be in the Z-Wave Pavilion in hall 12 at booth A74 with staff and members available to provide information about the Z-Wave standard, as well as what products are available. I will be in the Pavilion, so stop by to ask any questions or and just say hello!
Llanor Alleyne is the Editor of HiddenWires. Follow here on twitter: @LlanorTech