Is there money in Smart Home consulting?

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#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.


#21

First time poster over here!

Just my .02 but…

There are some folks like myself, whom are technologically save that just don’t have the time to install, configure and setup a trick system while utilizing ST. I’ve installed a ST system and Alexa commands in the past but i just used it for lights and i didn’t have a chance to integrate anything else. I’d like someone to help me build a system, ground up, while utilizing ST but not on a shoe string budget. i think ST can certainly bridge the gap with consumer such as myself that have touched and played with control 4 (my roomates old house had control 4 and i thinks it’s not all that). My brother who has crestron. Spent a fortune and i feel like the system is already outdated. As for ST, it can evolve with new gadgets especially when programers are opening up the capabilities of products that are “not” compatible. An open source platform that allows jo blow to customize is sweet.

I’m looking for someone to help me in the Los Angles area, any suggestions?
@ashutosh1982 do you travel out to southern california? TIA


(Kevin [Yorkshire UK]) #22

Most of the ‘Pro’ systems have evolved from a wired control background like serial or some wired protocol and failing that infra red control. Then they’ve embraced IP / Ethernet which is pretty reliable, even WiFi. Probably most installers still favour these as… well they just work.

The later retrofit wireless systems like Z-Wave and ZigBee are intrinsically problematic unless very well managed, which means contained product and coverage really. They are the Achilles heel in local control and reliability.

Add on top of that Internet / Cloud services and you’re definitely not in control anymore. Their services go down and yours do. Customers sort of understand this when music or TV doesn’t stream but not when their lights don’t switch on when scheduled , or when the switch is pressed.

I feel ST by design is so exposed on all these issues that it could never make a satisfactory platform for a business but it is fascinating for those prepared to commit their own time and learning as a hobby.


#23

The problem with SmartThings isn’t the knowledge and effort needed to set it up in the first place. It’s all the “This has been working great for a year and a half and this morning it just stopped working right” stuff.

The forum is full of posts like this. Sometimes it’s a device going bad, but more often it’s a platform change which may or may not have been announced.

The customer didn’t change anything, but now stuff works differently. Or doesn’t work. :scream:

I think that’s what reduces most pro installer interest in the system. It’s very expensive to handle stuff like that, particularly since it’s likely that multiple customers will all have the same emergency problem at the same time.

http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=Bug:_First_Reports


(John Shaw) #24

It seems there’s a lot of agreement that Smartthings just isn’t reliable enough on the whole.
I wonder if Samsung would be willing to address this if they actually charged for the service (along the lines of a subscription model) and then this money could be used to make the Smartthings platform so much more reliable?


#25

You never know, but that would be a very different business model, and there are already lots of competitors in that space, from the local cable company to Vivint to Control4.

Interestingly, that is exactly the model they have chosen for expansion into continental Europe and Australia, through partnerships with local ADT-type companies. So we’ll have to see what wins out.

V-Home by Vodafone

SmartThings global roll out

But my own guess would be that their longterm trajectory in the US is towards stability through simplicity, aiming at the market that has a Samsung Smart TV, a Bixby-enabled phone, plus what they have said is already the vast majority of SmartThings customers: a home automation customer with fewer than 15 devices who never uses any custom code.

That could probably be handled by the same pro installers who hang the TV on the wall.

It wouldn’t meet the needs of most of the power users who frequent this forum, but we are a tiny percentage of their customers even now.

So…the answer to your question is they are trying that model in other countries, but with a very different feature set than what we have now.


(Ash (www.smart-dots.com) / Ashutosh Jaiswal) #26

Traveling from Texas to California is a stretch for an install, however, we are working on some remote options that you may find useful. We have helped some customers in other states using this process and it has been great. If interested, then please send me a PM and we can talk.


(John Shaw) #27

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
It seems Samsung have a number of strategies already in place then. It’ll be interesting if one strategy will become the one dominant one and we do end up with a subscription model after all.
I guess they are still working this out themselves and hence the multiple strategy approach.
In the space of ‘fewer than 15 devices…etc’…with no custom code, it seems Google and Amazon are starting to dominate this space already.


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #28

Samsung isn’t worried about competition in one space or another - They are in this for the “big picture”.

The future belongs to AI (Artificial Intelligence). “Smart Home consulting” won’t be needed because the AI will be smarter than any human consultant … at least for the vast majority of “average consumers”.

And there’s room in this world for multiple consumer-AI platforms to exist and co-exist.

Sure - Google and Alexa are currently the top consumer-AI platforms. But as we know from many past examples, the first or current leaders do not necessarily predict who the future leader(s) will be.


(MacTechGenius) #29

I did some consulting after high school during the early days of ST. The guy who did our landscaping was impressed with the smart sprinkler, lights, fountain etc… control and wanted to provide a similar service to his clients. I didn’t do the actual install but I did the setup and planned/purchased the system. It paid well because these folks were spending a minimum of $100k on landscaping and were willing to pay for smart home convenience.
My services became popular and I did server/network installs/builds.

I stopped consulting last year since I am back in school getting my degree in CS. Still not sure what to specialize in…debating between artificial intelligence or network systems. A.I is cooler but I have always enjoyed working with networks.
But consulting did pay…I bought a Tesla!