Letter from America: Getting the most out of CEDIA 2017

Depending on when you see this, sometime in the next two weeks or so, the global residential systems community will gather in San Diego for what is undoubtedly the largest educational event and trade show devoted to our industry. Of course, I’ll be there – just look for “The Guy in the Test Pattern Jacket” – and if you venture over please be sure to say hello.

Since my crystal ball is out to get new firmware and a software update it is hard to detail exactly the brand, model and price of what you might expect to see at the show. You’ll either find that out in our post-CEDIA reporting if you don’t see it yourself – that’s the easy part.

The hard part is not to see what products will be there, but to evaluate them for their applicability to your business and client base. Yes, there will be new networking products, updated management software, gate and entry products, audio and video and a plethora of “connected this and connected that”, these days more frequently controlled through a voice interface. What we will commend you to do with what is on your shopping list as well as the hidden treasures you might uncover is to not think about what the product does, but how exactly it does this and how well it performs.

Even more important, always remember that we are in the “custom” business. Look beyond the features and capabilities of products, particularly in respect to “actions”, “skills” and how a task is initiated. Some of you have been doing that for years, but the explosion of products out of the consumer and DIY world make some past skills, well, a thing of the past. Think about it: If a consumer can buy some kit, load the necessary apps and connect it to the network, they might ask what they need you for.

“If a consumer can buy some kit, load the necessary apps and connect it to the network, they might ask what they need you for.”

THAT is exactly the point. That is where the “how it does it”, “how it performs”, and most importantly, “how can you make it do something different and unique” comes into play for every product you see, hear about or read about.

“How well will it do what it does?”

My editor may wince at that type of American English sentence structure, but hopefully you get the point. An example of something to be attuned to as you walk the aisles at CEDIA, or just examine any new product would be to not only make certain that it is wireless, but to be sure that the great device will work within the home’s infrastructure plan without the need for further upgrades. 

With almost everything going wireless, it isn’t a stretch to end up with more devices on the system and active than can be handled. Think about the number of connected devices in the den, lounge or family room: the TV, two or three streamers such as a Roku, FireTV or AppleTV, one or two games, a disc player, the AVR or processor, a “Sonos-like substance”, a remote-control hub, connected thermostats and smoke alarms, security sensors or cameras, a voice control box, connected lighting, blinds and such. That’s fifteen devices already, and we haven’t added in the phone four or so family members might have in their pockets and the occasional tablet or laptop.

The count could easily be more than twenty, and that’s before all the other devices within range of the access point. Particularly when consumer, or even “prosumer” access points are in play, things may slow down, if not whack out entirely. The answer, of course, is to do what CEDIA courses have been educating about for years: use “enterprise grade networking products”. To our first point, that allows all parts of the system to “do it well”. What does this point you towards at CEDIA? For starters, refresh your line card of component vendors for routers, access points and switchers.

There is another “what to look for” aspect of this. Here, we ask that you look for the things that “do what they do well” out of the box, but continue to do it well through the life of the installation. Even better, do that remotely and in a way that provides the coveted “RMR”, or recurring monthly revenue. Of course, that is one of the remote-managed systems combined with network hardware that is compatible with them.

Three or four years ago this category was almost exclusively for the corporate IT pro. However, there are now a variety of managed ecosystem paths to take. You’ll read about them here on HiddenWires post-CEDIA, but their ability to offer better, more reliable service, do it in many cases without a truck roll is a gift that keeps on giving. Indeed, they let you make money on the product and service every month, not just once, makes this a “must look at”. You can’t pass that up.

“What can the products do that they don’t do when you take them out of the box?”

Again, apologies to my English professors for the tortured sentence structure, but this guidance for your CEDIA trip is even more important. We are in a market environment where we all face competition from products such as Voice-controlled user interface hubs (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home, the forthcoming Apple HomePod and more to follow) that are sold through retail and ecommerce channels as well as through our efforts. That, along with the other “connected devices” also sold everywhere from big box stores in a range of markets, targeted retailers such as office supply and home-centric stores may make this problematic.

GE Connected products

Yes, within ten miles of my home you can get a Nest, Echo, Home and more at everything from Best Buy and Frys to Staples and Bed, Bath and Beyond. So just how do we compete with the DIY channel?

We’ve already suggested that being able to know what networking infrastructure is needed, let alone be able to provision it. Then what?

“Within ten miles of my home you can get a Nest, Echo, Home and more at everything from Best Buy and Frys to Staples and Bed, Bath and Beyond. So just how do we compete with the DIY channel?”

Let’s set the stage: At a major buying group’s buy-fair last week we saw previews of the forthcoming explosion of “connected kitchen” products. Yes, the range, washer/dryer, dishwasher, fridge, microwave, range hood, air filter/purifier and even the robot floor cleaner are billed as able to “talk to one another”. Yikes, if all of those products do that out of the carton, what is left for us to do?

The answer to that is not found in the trade show stands but rather in your own view. You need to only install and connect, you need to make everything talk to each other AND do things that are created by “skills” and programming you alone can deliver.

An example? Picture a connected range or stove top in the same room as a connected smoke detector and a connected range hood. As delivered, if the smoke detector activates, you can’t always turn off the range, start the exhaust fan and initiate a phone alert at the same time. Well, your customers will be able to do that if you create the skill. Why a connected laundry set or dishwasher? If you have a leak detector “skilled up” with the dishwasher, why can’t you trigger the washer to turn off? At the very least, if the homeowner manually sees a leak, the voice controller can be instructed to turn off the appliance.

Some of us grew up in the industry in the age of remote control macros. Today’s products take that to another level. Personalisation means that individual household members can be provided with their own command sets; with some devices, you can even use everyone’s own voice to set things going.

Final thoughts

How do you compete in a DIY or big-box driven market? Whilst at CEDIA, of course you want to pick the right devices, but to make money from them you need to first put some imagination and vision into what you, not your competition, can make them do. Then, get a seat in the CEDIA and manufacturer training courses needed to gain the skills required to deliver on the vision.

It doesn’t matter if it is CEDIA or IFA, CES or ISE, finding the “hot new products” is no longer enough. To succeed in the long term you need to first make certain that they are able to perform reliably, be remotely managed and have sufficient bandwidth without compromising the performance of any single device.

Then, once all is selected and connected, what “new tricks can you teach the dog”? That is something for which you have to attend show, or at least read about, a show to see what the ingredients are. To turn those observations you then have to create the recipe on your own. That is the recipe that will lead you to success.

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.

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