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Integrated Intelligence

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The booming market of home automation is largely being driven by consumers’ desires for simplicity, convenience and personalised technological experiences. HOUSING talks to integrated automation expert Mark West from HomeSYS about how understanding the technology your clients are asking for can put you in the forefront of this emerging global trend in home building.

Anne-Maree Brown and Sarah O'Donovan

General Manager of Content & Content + Marketing Officer

Automation, AI, smart homes, smart builds – The ‘Internet of Things’. All words on every tech-ready homeowner’s hit list. In theory, the dream is a solution that controls lighting, climate, entertainment, access and security. But with retail gadgetry on the rise, homeowners are increasingly opting to try one feature at a time, only to find their lighting control system isn’t compatible with the security system they want to install next.

Consumers today are filling their homes with more products, their phones with more apps and their calendars with more time-wasting manual automation operation. With multiple systems and mechanisms, the abundant options of automation inside a single home are running the risk of overcomplicating or – worse – dumbing down smart technology. In its essence, surely the idea was to spend less time pulling levers and pressing buttons, and more time living and enjoying down time?

Integrated automation expert Mark West from HomeSYS says smart homes have been getting a lot of attention thanks to voice control devices, so the level of awareness about this technology is becoming more prevalent, but he has seen many homeowners get stuck in a tangle of incompatible systems.

‘There are plenty of devices out there at the moment that allow you to individually control certain aspects of the home, but the integration of those devices is poor and then you end up with multiple systems,’ Mark explains. ‘It doesn’t take long before those systems become orphan systems, and you’ve purchased something that has limited use and no future scalability.’

The answer might just be sophisticated integration, a personalised solution that can be adjusted to suit the group living under one unified roof and change as that home’s needs change. Mark says if builders are specifying smart home automation to their clients they should consider a system that has integration both for today and for the future.

‘This may be difficult at first [to wrap your head around], and if you were to start with a smart front door lock it’s very easy to pick the wrong product and end up with a dead end,’ he says. ‘But if you pick a door lock that’s integrated or part of an integrated system, then you [or the client] can later add security cameras, lighting, blinds, window controls and so on.’

Should new home buyers, however, expect their builder to be an expert in this aspect of the home’s function? Perhaps, perhaps not, but savvy business owners will recognise there’s an advantage in getting at the forefront of the emerging technology as it becomes the norm in new and renovated builds.

‘New home buyers, and certainly apartment buyers, are looking for smart automation and are willing to pay extra for it,’ Mark says. ‘That is of direct benefit to builders if they are able to sell it on as a feature.

‘The cost has also come down significantly, so while traditional automation systems were wired – meaning they weren’t retrospective and they were capital-intensive for new builds – that’s no longer the case.’

There’s an advantage in getting at the forefront of the emerging technology as it becomes the norm in new and renovated builds

Part of the challenge for builders will be in explaining home automation in a way that their clients can comprehend to make informed choices. Mark suggests breaking down the messaging into bite-sized pieces that people will understand. A more convenient lifestyle, increased security and savings on energy bills will all be powerful selling factors.

‘Everybody has a preconceived idea of what home automation is, but the only thing people will understand is situational effects,’ he says. ‘It’s no good talking about wireless protocols or how the program can pair devices – technology should all disappear into the background.

‘Instead, you say you’ll wake up in the morning and the blinds will open, or you’re leaving the house with your hands full with bags, keys and a coffee and you can’t turn the light off with your elbow but you can tell the system to turn them off. If you build enough of those up you will connect with your end customer and hopefully convert them.’

Mark acknowledges that builders are busy people and home automation is a complex topic, so specifying the best system for the needs of their clients may be unrealistic at first. Businesses like HomeSYS however offer integration packages that are nimble and may include audit, supply and install. Mark says HomeSYS has been created to package up one agnostic solution that isn’t locked into a specific brand, so as the technology evolves so can the potential solutions.

‘HomeSYS as an integrated system can be built into existing or new properties and it already has the platform to enable you to start with lights and airconditioning, and then in the future add security or blinds, for example,’ Mark says. ‘The ability to add on is feasible with an integrated system. But if you start out with lighting and airconditioning with a proprietary system that is locked you have to buy devices that are linked to that.’

He adds that with an integrated system you need a framework and structure in place before buying devices, so there is an upfront expense to consider but future upgrades are then simplified.

‘I would say most of our orders see people start small, and of those customers, about 80 per cent come back and add more’

‘You need a roadmap to move forward and the first thing to ask is, is this an open protocol system that I can add to later? Irrespective of whether you use HomeSYS, check if there is a path to upgrade.

‘I would say most of our orders see people start small, and of those customers, about 80 per cent come back and add more. We’ve got clients that are on phase seven or eight of their home now.’

Mark adds that it’s the possibilities of home automation that is exciting for homeowners, especially the level of independence it can provide. The plethora of smart features available today are making life much easier for those who struggle with daily tasks.

‘If the homeowner is elderly or is living with disability [smart technology] is able to make the home easier to use and therefore allow a homeowner to stay and live at home longer. Living at home opportunities are quite large.’

Some smart home features might also be subsidised by the NDIS if the consumer has a plan, including home modifications, making it easier for the homeowner to access this type of technology on a limited budget. It may turn out to be an untapped market for builders.

‘Whatever the motivation for home automation, it is worthwhile to pause and ensure you’re using the right system,’ Mark says.