Who will you take to the prom?

After what, for many, has been a long winter, spring is finally here. The flowers are blooming, you no longer need to wear heavy coats or gloves, and the snow is now soothing rain. After all, as the old cliché goes, “April showers bring May flowers”. Thankfully here in California, a winter of heavy rain has ended the drought and brought the amazing “Super Bloom” you may have seen pictures of.

Yes, it’s spring, and particularly for those in high school, there is another thing the season brings. Teenagers are perhaps more concerned with the following questions than they are with final exams, senior projects or maybe even college admittance. It’s the age-old questions: “Who are you taking to the prom?” or, from the other side of the fence, “Who is taking you to the prom?”.

I suspect that most readers here are long since out of high school, and the only worry in this regard could possibly who will take your child to the prom. What has this to do with our business and why am I talking about it here? 

Good question. Some call a “prom” a dance. Some call an American college basketball team’s getting a spot in the NCAA “March Madness” tournament “going to the dance”. Here, the dance we’re talking about is your regular schedule of jobs, but the question to consider is who are you taking to THAT dance?


Attending the spring meeting of a major American buying group, along with the discussions on new products, services and technologies, there were frequent questions about how to facilitate parts of projects where your firm can’t partake in the work. You want to include these things in your spec, but who can do them?

Conversely, who do you approach to get the job in the first place. Yes, a grown-up way of asking who you will bring to the dance and who will ask you to the dance.

This started a few years ago when automated blinds hit the market. Clearly, our community knows how to wire, connect, control and automate the controllers, and more recently, to integrate them with app- and voice-based ecosystems. But, blinds?

Some of us learned the tricks of the trade needed to specify, measure, and install blinds; others didn’t. If your job queue has a constant call for this type of work it may make sense to hire someone to do this full time, or to train a current member of staff. If the use is less frequent, doesn’t it make sense to get someone who knows that trade inside out and invite them to dance when needed? The flip side is that is a bit of an insurance for them that will lead them to call or recommend you when needed rather than train one of their staff to do work that should otherwise go to you.

Window Install

Another good example is plumbers. After all, one of the most talked about product categories at CEDIA Expo, CES and ISE was water monitoring and control. Remember, the most frequent cause of homeowner insurance claims is water damage. IoT devices can warn of leaks and with some devices, turn off the water supply. You can provide the devices and link them to the residential network, but is anyone in you firm a licensed plumber? I doubt it. 

Here’s another group you may want to take to the prom: solar power contractors. You might think of solar as belonging to electricians but, at least here in the US, they are licensed as contractors and are often aligned as roofers. 

What’s in it for you to take them to the dance? Solar power is becoming more pervasive, and in California it is mandated for all residential new home builds after 2020. Taking that to the next step, many systems are now sold with battery storage. I’ve already seen solar/battery combination systems installed that are woven into a home ecosystem to determine when the batteries are charged from solar, or, when the skies are dark too long, charged off the grid at off peak hours.

Solar Panel Installation

With time-of-day power bills becoming increasingly common, that level of integration will be essential. You probably don’t know how to do roofing or want to make the investment in the knowledge, training or kit needed to get into solar, but taking the contractors who do solar and batteries to the dance is another date you should make.

Of course, that brings us to our old friends the electricians. Yes, some of you may have licensed journeymen on staff, but others may not. Sometimes it will be for solar integration, power related equipment that requires license you don’t have, or any aspect of low voltage where you play. Regardless, don’t let our industry’s occasional tussles with “sparkies” turn into the fight scene at the prom in a B-Movie. Each trade has its own turn; learn how to meet them in the middle at the dance.

Take these examples and see who else you may want to take to the prom. What are the trades that involve products or services that you are best suited to integrate and control in conjunction with their specific subject knowledge?

How about landscape architects? They will plan the irrigation and low voltage lighting, but can they integrate it into the home ecosystem? When they spec an outdoor video or audio system do they really know how to do it for optimal performance and integration. They likely do not; you do. Why not seek them out so you can go to the dance together?

Security Camera Install

How about contractors specialising in gates and access control? Take them to your dance before they go it alone. Look at the contributors to home design the obvious architects and interior designers. Kitchen designers are a growing separate design trade and that area is ripe for system integration. Do you know who the top people are for that here you trade? Seek them out so that you may dance together. 

Look at roofers beyond their connection to solar. Next time we do our house there will likely be a new skylight. Do I really want the roofer to integrate it into the home system? Do your clients? There is even a growing sub-specialty trade for professionals advising on energy conservation, particularly towards meeting certifications such as LEED. You can play in the band for that dance if only you know when and where the prom is, and who to take there.

By now I suspect you get the idea. For all the great things you do it is simply impossible to master every trade. A key to future success for you is to find out where your skills, licenses, training and access to products complements another trade. Dance with them, take them to the prom. If you don’t they will get another “date” and you may miss a very profitable party.

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group, follow him on Twitter @captnvid, or comment on his article, below.