SmartBuilding Conference Overview: The Future of Smart Home Integration


The ISE 2015 Smart Building Conference, a day-long preamble to the ISE Show that was held on Monday 9 February, featured a dual-track focus on smart home automation in the commercial and residential sector—an even split this year that reflected the growing presence of residential integration manufacturers and installers at ISE.

Over the course of the day, several talks were given by a diverse group of presenters, including Paul Fletcher, an architect who’s address, Smart Building Myths: The Architect’s View, challenged integrators of both stripes to think about how people will use the technology integrated into their buildings rather than just focusing on installed products alone; and moderator’s Bob Snyder’s panel, The Internet of Building Things: Where is the Opportunity?, which focused on the networking aspects of smart-building integration and featured insights from Emrik Giorgetti of Cisco, Dale Parkinson of Samsung Electronics, Avi Rosenthal of Z-Wave Alliance and Nortek Security and Control, Indi Sall of NG Bailey, and Heine van Wieren of ICT Automatisering.

Of particular note on the residential side was the late-morning industry panel, The Future of Smart Home, which was moderated by Iain Gordon, President of KNX, UK, and featured Control4’s VP of Lighting & Comfort Products, Paul Williams, Chris Schlaffer of Berlin-based Yetu AG, Marco Dorjee of CentraLite Systems International, and Stephen Woolridge of Barrett Homes, a UK-based home building firm. In choosing a diverse panel the expectation that all aspects that go into creating a model smart home would be explored, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, the panel was often faced with questions from the floor about the lack of a single protocol or language that would allow the current, generous proliferation of smart home apps playing in the IOT sandbox to work together. The question of a unified smart-home language has been an on-going concern for professional system integrators as a number of protocols both public and proprietary are available to build a unique smart ecosystem, though interoperability issues continue to plague and even stymie widespread acceptance of the smart-home concept.

lla_ISE_SmartBuild_SignThis babel of platforms, too, have allowed major telcos and Silicon Valley players to get into custom home automation, their already large customer base a ready-made network of end-users whose gestural familiarity with apps from the likes of Apple and Android makes using an overarching platform from a popular consumer brand a no-brainer. This was a major point for Schlaffer, who rightly noted that telcos and Silicon Valley giants getting in on the smart-home push means that customer data, used to send commands and operational data back to the system, will more than likely be compromised because these companies work on an advertising model which forces the data-mining of customer profiles. Schlaffer’s solution? Have the telecos subsidise the Internet as the main access point to home automation, eliminating the protocol battle currently underway. The suggestion was met with some resistance from attendees who thought it a contradiction on Schlaffer’s part and a conflict of interest on the part of the telecos. Williams, staying above the gentle fray, shifted talk back to the customer experience, noting that ultimately the protocol fight is a private one among the manufacturers and content providers—the customer experience is all the end-user needs to be aware of and concerned with.

This line was taken up and carried on by Marco Dorjee, who earlier in the panel noted that manufacturers need to work together to develop one standard. Nick Graves’ What’s on Apple’s “Home Page”? also brought out the phone cameras and the murmurs during the afternoon session, when the Aquilla Europe Principal attempted to predict how the computing and smartphone giant will utilise its HomeKit solution, announced last year and not heard about since. Graves, a former Apple employee six years out from his role at the company, applied his knowledge of the company’s inner workings to forecast that Apple has a good chance of snatching a large share of the consumer-level home automation market based on the sheer number of units it moves quarterly—a staggering 74 million iphones sold in the last three months, according to Graves. Careful to also note the cons of an Apple HomeKit system as a central smart home interface—Apple’s notoriously closed architecture, no real push of this concept since it’s announcement last June, and other players in the field (Google Nest)—Graves still gives the company a good chance of extending its ecosystem via HomeKit, which he predicts will focus more on the security aspects of the system while using Apple’s strong App Store to centralise and share data.

At the end of the day, the SmartBuilding Conference highlighted the shifts in thinking underway in the commercial and residential integration space—which is more toward a better understanding and utilisation of the networking aspects of integration as “IoT” begins to creep into client conversations—but also showed that as industry there are still a lot of kinks to work out before we realise the true, functioning vision of the smart home.

Llanor Alleyne has reported on the custom integration market for more than 10 years and is the Editor of HiddenWires.