The future-proof smart home: How Lowes, Vivint and iControl build business for tomorrow

home office deskThe Internet of Things (IoT) continues to gain steam in Japan, Korea, and the U.S. as wearable and mobile device usage grows every day. As a result of the benefits of smart home products, which include increased efficiency, cost savings, and even saving lives, the technology looks to explode over the next few years. In fact, according to research from Intel Corp., the IoT market is expected to grow from 2 billion objects in 2006 to 200 billion by 2020.

That’s a lot of gadgets expected to hit the market, and even in 2014 we got a glimpse of how popular IoT has become. Kickstarter, Inc. and Indiegogo, Inc. put out dozens of IoT-related projects daily, supporting a startup community of crowd-funded business opportunities. Traditional technology providers are also making the shift to IoT services, with smart home security offerings from AT&T, remote control appliance management from Samsung and a dedicated storefront for smart home gadgets at top retailers like Amazon and Best Buy.

As we’ve seen with the smartphone market, gadget trends are fleeting as manufacturers fight to differentiate their products in a consumer-driven market. We can expect that IoT devices will face the same plight – just over the past two years we’ve seen dozens of types of object trackers launched, including 8.3 million wearable trackers bought by consumers in 2012 alone, and over 97,000 applications for monitoring health were recorded in 2013.

How can an IoT business devise a plan to factor fickle consumer trends while also curbing competition from industry stalwarts that can bundle services to existing customers, as well as disruptive startups crafting breakthrough products?

Today we hear from a handful of executives facing the challenges of excelling in the rapidly evolving world of IoT.  Products like AOptix Technologies, Inc.’s wireless fiber is literally laying the groundwork to support an IoT industry far into the future. And retailer Staples Inc. has made future-proofing a selling point with its Staples Connect platform powered by Zonoff Inc. software. Hewlett-Packard Co. sees new opportunity in providing the backend for businesses looking to prepare for future consumer demand, offering Unified Information Access technology that integrates the old and the new instantiations of machine-to-machine communications required for a profitable IoT market.

Future-proofing through open platforms


Kevin Meagher, VP and GM, Lowe’s Companies, Inc. Smart Home Division

Lowes IrisWe are working to make sure our retail strategy is future proof by providing an open platform that will scale to meet our customer’s needs over time. Lowe’s Companies, Inc. was the first to target the mass consumer market with a broad home automation solution, Iris, which makes smart homes easily accessible and affordable. We took technology that is perceived as expensive and difficult to install and made it available and easy-to-use by creating simple Do-it-Yourself (DIY) kits at affordable price points.

Getting new technology to work with old is a challenge. For example, some homes have the old type security systems with wired sensors that have limited functionality. We can connect these to Iris, but it’s old technology that would need a professional to rewire. An Iris Safe and Secure system has so much more functionality; it’s simple to install, and at $179 for a complete kit, it is cheaper than trying to rework the old security systems.

In the future, everything in the home will be connected to the Internet. Common home improvement products will offer connectivity to better provide consumers with safety, convenience, and overall peace of mind. Smart devices in-store today, such as door locks, thermostats, and even garage door openers, work and operate like traditional components of home improvement, but they bring the consumer-added functionality and ease to make managing their home simpler and more affordable. They give consumers the ability to remotely monitor and control their home so they have greater peace of mind.

Collaborating on industry standards


Omer Faiyaz, CEO, Remo Software Private Limited

CSR plc, a company based in the UK, is opening up avenues for low-power products-connected IoT to be networked with other IoT products. In order to enable this and encourage things further, CSR recently launched an SDK for developers for its disruptive CSRMesh protocol, which will enable developers to make useful applications for connecting and controlling various devices using the mesh.

As of late, standardization of IoT has been increasingly addressed in a formal way with the recent coming together of Dell Inc., Intel Corp., and Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. to form the Open Interconnect Consortium. Before this formation, we saw AllSeen Alliance, Inc. formed and supported by other big names. The industry is making a push to do similar things that were done when the Internet first gained importance; they made rules so everyone could utilize the same standards and protocols. The IoT needs are the same, and we currently need common protocols to communicate and control devices. The urgency and need for standards to be set for IoT can be easily seen, and efforts are moving in the right direction to create a framework for the industry.

Reducing market fragmentation through security


Jeff Edlund, CTO, Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Communications, Media, and Entertainment

Jeff Edlund of HP

Jeff Edlund of HP

There are some actions that manufacturers of these devices can take now to secure devices:

  • Conduct a security review of the device and all associated components.
  • Implement security standards that all devices must meet before production.
  • Ensure security is a consideration throughout the product lifecycle.

Standards are critical to reducing fragmentation, as well as creating a framework to maximize revenue potential in an IoT ecosystem. The industry needs to go beyond standards, however, and ensure that the standards produce specifications.

We use technology that we acquired from Hewlett-Packard Co. Autonomy called Unified Information Access that allows the integration of over 400 different data source interfaces into a single, restfully accessible data model. This allows not only transformation but integration of the old and new instantiations of M2M/IoT.

Supporting startups and developers


Jason Domangue, VP of Ecosystem Development, iControl Networks, Inc.

The open ecosystem program for devices, developers, etc., continues to gain steam in the marketplace. But even though the market demand is there, early stage connected home developers face an uphill battle in making their product vision a reality. To help start-ups break through the clutter, iControl Networks, Inc. is launching OpenHome Labs, which lets start-ups bridge the divide between failure and success by accelerating the development and go-to-market process. The program provides technical assistance, direct market exposure to leading connected home service providers, and branded differentiation.

We want to make sure our channel partners (we don’t sell to consumers) are successful, and the way we make them successful is to fill the pipeline with innovation.

iControl Networks, Inc. is announcing an exclusive partnership with Indiegogo Inc., where connected device companies that launch on Indiegogo are given the option to join the OpenHome Labs program for next to nothing. This means these start-ups will have locked down access to funding, the credibility of a major player behind them, resources to help them on the path to launch, and a potential base of millions of smart homes customers via access to the world’s most powerful OpenHome service providers.

Create platforms with endless retrofitting possibilities


Jeremy Warren, VP of Innovation, Vivint, Inc.

Vivint Zero Home

Vivint Zero Home

There’s no such thing as future-proofing a business. The world changes so quickly. What really matters is making sure you’re giving customers a product they want. And what customers want may change. For example, they keep saying they want a faster horse until the car is good enough. And then they don’t want the horse. It’s not just about listening to what customers want … we do a significant amount of research. We sit with consumers in their homes and watch and learn, see what causes challenges, and what they’re happy and unhappy with. From there we understand “jobs to be done.”

Regarding product relevancy, it’s our business to retrofit new tech into the home. We have to understand the home environment — there are things that work in the lab that don’t work the same in the real world.

In the future, we’re going to more often find customers that already have some smart home devices, and it will be more important to be interoperable. You see Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and standards to get that done, but it’s premature with less than 1 percent market adoption.

Supporting multiple devices


Andrew Tauhert, Executive VP of Marketing and Business Development, Prodea Systems

Whether it be through a portal on an iPad, through my Web browser, or through my TV, I will have the ability to control these different services in my home. As it relates to the devices themselves, we don’t want to tell the consumer that you must buy this one sensor or thermostat. We want to allow the consumer to engage on multiple types of devices.

We have enabled that use case by giving the providers the tool they need to reach into the home, configure things for you, debug things for you, and diagnose them — not too different than your phone service, TV service, or Internet service today.

So our approach with all of our customers has been one of “don’t try to sell the connected home in all of its glory today.” It’s difficult, and if you can, there are a few early adopters who will take it, but the mass market is not necessarily ready for it. Rather, sell what’s meaningful to them — simple use cases.

Focusing on the real need


Mike Harris, CEO, Zonoff, Inc.

Mike Harris, Zonoff CEO

Mike Harris, Zonoff CEO

When you’re adding this type of technology to your home, it’s more important to focus on the real need. What are you trying to accomplish as opposed to what the underlining technology is or what the devices are. It’s around what am I trying to solve. Is this a peace-of-mind application, understanding when my kids are safely home off the bus? Or, making sure I feel that my house is safe and secure when I’m away at work? Another big part of it is going with brands that you trust. That’s a big part of bringing technology into your house, knowing it’s going to be there for a long time.

Three main themes that drive people to embrace this type of technology are convenience, security, and savings through controlling energy use in the house. People like Minority Report because you’ve got these new cutting-edge user interfaces. People are waving their hands around and controlling things. It’s this connected lifestyle. Everybody’s used to being connected all the time. They have their smartphones, their tablets, their cars are connected. Nobody wants to manage or control their home, but when you get it to a point where now it’s making your life easier or you’re feeling safer, more secure, in your home, that’s when it really ends up being meaningful.

What’s interesting about the use case for the smart home is everybody’s different. We get asked all the time: What’s the killer app? What’s the killer use case? I always answer, “There is a killer use case. It’s just different for everyone.” I know, for me, it’s about convenience. I love it when I come home and I want to watch TV. I push one button, and the lights dim and the shades go down. It’s all about getting comfortable. But, for my wife, it’s around feeling safe and secure. So, entry access is big. Having control of our garage door openers and our smart door locks so she knows when people come and go. The devices that matter are very personal. Sometimes it’s about entry access; sometimes it’s about monitoring. Cameras are a big use case. Me, I like the lighting and the shades.

Cheryl Knight contributed to this piece.


feature image by wili_hybrid via photopin cc
Jeff Edlund image via HP Deutschland