Is there money in Smart Home consulting?

iotfuture
iotindustry

#1

This is not a post asking about how to make money with this stuff. It’s because I’m curious of your opinions.

People ask me almost every day why I don’t start consulting for Smart Home setups. Tons of people at work ask me questions about my setup, how to do this, or how to do that. I’m actually working on a project for our CEO for a sort of IoT system for his horse stable.

I work in the tech industry, I’m a software developer, used to be a helpdesk technician. So I know how things go in the industry. I used to do consulting all the time.

My personal opinion? It’s not worth it, and wouldn’t pay enough unless you were hitting the clients with deep pockets and charging them a ton for your time…and even then…After a few homes, I could already picture the headaches…constant phone calls, troubleshooting, etc…not worth it to me.

What are your thoughts, I myself, will stick with software development. lol.


(John Crighton) #2

I’ve considered this, and what people would pay. My opinion is that your smarts would probably be better used elsewhere.

There are more expensive, comprehensive systems out there which can be put in by less skilled people.

If someone paid your going rate (at a guess) to install ST, they probably could have opted for a more expensive system at the same installed price.

Then there are the ‘niggles’…


#3

There are a few community members who are doing this. And if you buy your equipment from Amazon, there’s often an installation option where you can get a local person to come install it. It’s really no different than becoming a home theater installer except right now the potential customer base is smaller.

At the low end, you’re always going to be competing against Comcast and Time Warner and the cable companies that offer home automation as a service combined with a monitored security system for $40 a month.

And of course at the high-end there’s control4 and Crestron.

I’d say if you’re already in the business of installing home theater equipment then adding on home automation services makes sense, although you’d want to go for the most stable system you could find.

If you’re not already in the business, there’s plenty of competition at various levels, so I don’t think there’s a lot of space for a one person operation.


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #4

Ask @ashutosh1982 of http://Smart-Dots.com


(Patrick Stuart [@pstuart]) #5

I can share my personal story.

I’ve been providing consulting services for decades. In the last 2 years I attempted to use SmartThings as a new low cost platform for some clients.

It failed miserably.

Why? SmartThings is a broken platform. When it “hiccups”, its on you as a consultant. SmartThings is so up and down, you simply can’t depend on it.

I’ve lost 3 big customers this year and have completely stopped recommending SmartThings without significant back coding and backups to the broken parts of this system. Along with a huge asterisk around their choice of SmartThings, being cloud based and their track record, that I simply can not guarantee anything to work.

I have also spent dozens and dozens of hours trying to troubleshoot issues that are clearly things I can’t fix, and then the customer isn’t keen to pay me for my time, when the answer is, its SmartThings.

Bottom line, in my opinion, stay away from providing consulting services as it relates to consumers using SmartThings without setting very clear expectations of failures beyond your control.

Contact a home automation dealer, Crestron, Control4, Savant, etc. See if they need help, learn their systems, as these are the real, stable and complete home automation and smart home providers with proven track records of making money for the dealers and consultants.

DIY is no place for consultants. There is no margin in it. Just my two cents.


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #6

Thanks for sharing your experience, Patrick!

@ashutosh1982 experience is hopefully a counterpoint…


(Patrick Stuart [@pstuart]) #7

Consultants and Dealers depend on margin, I doubt @ashutosh1982 will have much to say counter to the obviousness that there is no margin in it.

Having a separate product to sell alongside SmartThings might be a different story.

Providing technical services supporting SmartThings isn’t a bad business model, if you can endure the pain.

Dealers for custom installed HA and AV equipment rely on margin points on equipment sales to supplement their hourly rates for install, programming and training.

Since ST has only a retail channel, and a $99 price point, this leaves absolutely no margin, period.

So consulting costs are strictly absorbed by the consumer with no support from ST for the consultant, no training, no additional support access, etc. You are essentially charging someone to be their proxy to deal with ST as any other customer would.

The frustration will ultimately shift back to you, The customer has a trust relationship with the consultant, ST in the middle will ultimately make you have to decide is it worth the continued fight to charge the customer for your time for things that you can’t fix, or ST won’t fix (in a timely manner)…

This has lead me to steer these customers to working platforms, that have a proven track record of stability and reliability. Any features specific to ST became integration opportunities with again, a giant asterisk next to them, given their reliability track record.

I’m just sharing my personal experience, others might have differing experiences, but in my 2 decades of providing consulting services for high end customers, I have never had this much trouble with a single vendor, yet some how I keep coming back, hoping it will get fixed…


#8

All of you have pretty much said all the things I’ve been thinking…headaches, reliability, etc.

I remember from my consulting days…even if I set up the most reliable system in the world (networking, network security, network monitoring, etc), I would still get constant phone calls from my clients for questions, how-to’s, etc. Even with basic things like geek squad type of work which I did when I was first out of high school…things as simple as setting up a printer, I would still get phone calls and complaints…because people think that when something goes wrong, the fault is put on the last nerd to work on your system.

I never ever considered doing it as a full time job, just as a side hobby to make some small bits of cash here and there. But It just isn’t worth it. I’ll stick with doing it for friends and family, and even then, I generally just give them in depth advice, and occasionally help with installs and try to be very clear…I’m not your support guy lol.


#9

Well, despite all the problems we face with SmartThings, we all keep coming back because of it’s global support. You can link just about anything and everything. Which puts it ahead of just about every other smart home solution.

Even if it’s not a partnered integration…there’s always some genius coder writing a smart app to get it linked up.


#10

SmartThings was one of the first to offer a low-cost DIY zigbee home automation Coordinator combined with a Z wave controller. But other than that, it actually has fewer protocols than many of its competitors. There’s no 433 support, no Lutron support, no IR support, Bluetooth isn’t enabled… there’s no LAN connectivity except for a few specific integrations, so no UDP or telnet or even local Wi-Fi. And of course it’s certified for neither HomeKit nor works with nest.

Wink, Homeseer, and Vera all support more protocols than SmartThings. Even Xfinity home supports the August lock and lutron lights.

So even at the low-end as far as cost goes, SmartThings is not ahead of other smart home solutions based on protocols.

What is unique about it is the openness of the platform, which allows customers to create their own device type handlers for zigbee, Z wave, and web services devices. That’s why you can buy a CO2 sensor from Taiwan and have a chance of getting it to work with SmartThings. Or you can build your own device using the zigbee home automation profile.

That openness is valuable, but there are a lot of devices that people request every month that don’t work with SmartThings.


#11

I think that’s kind of what I was trying to say. Like when I bought my Nest…I knew it wasn’t directly supported by SmartThings but I wanted it anyways. But after buying it, I found the nest manager smart app, which allowed me to get it connected and now I can run rules and monitor my nest from my SmartThings app.

Same goes for my basic Amcrest security cameras I grabbed off of Amazon. Someone on here wrote a pretty robust device manager for it and it works great.

So that’s kinda what I meant. They might not have support for a lot of other protocols like you mentioned. But as far as networked devices that have API’s…it can connect to just about anything.


(Christopher Masiello) #12

I used to build websites for people on the side. It didn’t pay well and the constant calls with every little thing after install were crippling. I had to beg people to stop giving my name out.
Also, I like SmartThings as a tinkering home owner. However, it is not nearly ready for prime time on that kind of level. Nobody with the amount of money and lack of tech savvy that would pay, will accept the flakiness and hassles of this platform.
Your gut is right.


(Never Trust @bamarayne) #13

Well said.

I get frustrated with it as a hobby due to the reliability issues. I cannot imagine dealing with them on an industrial scale in a situation where I had no additional control as a end user, and making it a job instead of a hobby.


(Ash (www.smart-dots.com) / Ashutosh Jaiswal) #14

While most of you have all valid points, I think the opportunity always lies in not the obvious places. Yes, it is a pain to provide support, yes it is a challenge at times etc etc. But applying the same business model as what is used typically for installations and consulting services may not work all the time. The first opportunity is in making margin in the products you sell and in the labor involved (installation, configuration etc) - Ex: Switches, Motion Sensors, Door Locks, etc… There is typically somewhere between 20 points to 60 points of margin depending on the product . So one needs to choose the product offering and devise a solution carefully to maximize profitability. Partnering with certain reliable start ups has also proven to be a good strategy, in providing new solutions while getting some level of exclusivity in solution offering. Another opportunity is if you are offering your own product to add significant value to the set up - For example we have couple of products - dotAlarm and dotBell that integrate the existing hardwired alarm system and door bell with SmartThings. The third opportunity is in offering service based models - Ex: Calibration Services, Battery Management services, etc or even provide solution for cellular based internet connectivity . Another opportunity would to offer software solutions that help solve challenges such as accessibility (Like: SmartTiles, SmartRules etc), with a reasonable monthly fee or annual subscription (ofcourse it needs to be worth the money). The service based models can also be made a annual subscription with a deductible type model for service calls, which encourages customers to try to resolve simple issues on their own.

With all this being said, the over all system reliability still depends on SmartThings…for sure. In my experience more than 40% of issues people face on this community can be solved by having a technically sound install - Ex: Placing a hub next to a WiFi router is a big mistake or having one switch that bridges two big group of switches causes what is called as an hour glass effect impacting performance on z-wave network drastically etc etc. To ensure proper installs, the design of the system using proper tools plays a big role. What about the remaining 60% of issues - I would say about half of them come from the way configurations are made - how triggers are set up, implementing some redundancies for key triggers like routines (which only kick in if original fails) and a lot of other configuration related items. Issues that come from SmartThings platform itself are usually less than 20% of the time. And they can definitely be a pain in the neck . So what’s needed is consumer education. Set expectations with the client that it is a free platform and self management with some level of service impact is inevitable. They can choose to reach out to ST directly for support in case of issues.

Another thing to consider is to not have 100% reliance on ST platform for everything. Design the set up such that individual systems can still work when ST is down. For example - Harmony, SONOS, Remote controlled shades , Stand alone Camera solution etc, still work when ST is down . The integration and solution development needs to be modular. In a perfect world ST as a platform would bring everything together, but should not be the bottle neck in terms of causing a total havoc when things go South.

So far we’ve got more than 30 clients , all on ST platform. In the initial 6 months the support we had to provide was crazy, as we were still developing and refining the business model. But since last 4-6 months, we’ve hardly received any support requests as we have a strong implementation strategy, which helps us design the system such that ST is not the only bottle neck - This is despite ST having issues so many times. We have also revised the products we use over time - In fact some of the products we use are not even officially on “works with ST” list, but we find them more reliable than others. GE Switches are the worst switches we have seen in terms of reliability. So far we must have installed over 600 switches totally. The configuration mechanism we implement on ST also has improved since we started. We also have our own documentation for troubleshooting which we provide access to our customers (in case they want to resolve things on their own), With all this and a lot of other things ongoing, I think we are confident that providing Smart Home Services can be a strong business. The business model however has to be adapted to fit the way the smart home industry is currently shaping - its very dynamic and a lot different from some previous standard solution providers.

Over all I dont think we are at a level where we can expand drastically, but we sure can do that eventually. May be some day ST will have a model to support businesses like ours (call is ST PRO :slight_smile: ), but may be that will never happen. Moreover, we dont think we will be limiting ourselves to just ST. Just set the right expectations with your client, educate them as much as possible and get PAID! … while thinking of ways to get recurring revenue.

As a note, more than 60% of my clients have given us repeat business by adding new solutions or expanding their existing smart home etc. Its now getting a little difficult for me to handle the workload , especially with my full time job … so i am working on finding some help.


(Ben W) #15

What switches do you use? My GE switches (mostly dimmers) work flawlessly.


(Ash (www.smart-dots.com) / Ashutosh Jaiswal) #16

We use Dragon Tech switches, which are standard z-wave swtiches and they are Z-Wave Plus. Their dimmers are actually pretty cool, with a LED indicator on the side. I am not saying 100% of GE switches are bad. We have seen roughly 5-8% failure rate on them compared to less than 1% failure rate on Dragon Tech .One thing I am big about is quantitative data…and I track a lot of data, because it helps me use it towards making things efficient…


(Someday my dog will be automated) #17

Interesting. I actualli removed my only Dragon Tech because it was slow to respond and sometimes wouldn’t even come on. Maybe I got a bad one.


(Ash (www.smart-dots.com) / Ashutosh Jaiswal) #18

That could also be due to the way your Zwave mesh is set up. Slow response generally points to a imbalance in your mesh lay out.


#19

Hi @ashutosh1982 , I’m intrigued to know how things are going for you 1 year on from your original post.

Have you found the evolution of the smart home sector over the last year has created space for a sustainable smart home installation business?

Through my eyes I feel that as more and more cost effective products become commonplace the key blocker to the mainstream adoption of “smart homes” as a genuine low cost alternative to high end systems like crestron has to be the technical capability of the average diy installer and the learning curve they face. There seems to me to be a cavernous opportunity for smart home installers who can offer an appropriate level of home control/automation installation services using these DIY solutions…


(Ash (www.smart-dots.com) / Ashutosh Jaiswal) #20

Things are going pretty well actually. We are trying new ways of providing services in order to make the business scalable. But you are right as more and more cost effective and reliable devices come in the market, customers will still need help to get them installed and configured correctly.