I’m sorry - I’ve been holding this post back a long time and you are the happy individual where I finally get to post these thoughts. Grab a frosty beverage - I’m writing a thesis here…
So first - everyone has to do what is best for them - and if you change I hope it works. For me I’m staying - for now. (no I’m not even going to entertain those who’re about to slam my inbox to try to convince me “Hubitat’s better - come over here” or ‘you’re just a ST apologist.’ If you think that - great, have fun - I’m not trying to convince anyone to stay - use what’s best for you.
So what if I told you, you’re going to have a platform that has local control, major brand support from the top players in the industry and both be able to have ‘just works’ AND heavy customization capabilities? Sure, sign me up!
Ok NOW, let me add you’re going to have to put up with about 12 months of COMPLETE and TOTAL SUCKAGE to get there. Wait… uh, not so fast.
That’s basically where we’re at now.
I can very easily see a future now where I have local control of all of my devices (Local device control / automation - in beta now), and have an API for complex scripting (Rules API), Wide device support, major brands backing, all good stuff! BUT… (ominous music)
I think the cardinal sin SmartThings has committed here is piss poor expectations setting. They treated the migration to the new platform as ‘no big deal,’ ‘it’s going to be fine’, ‘don’t worry, we got this’ and (in perception at least) seemed to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the reports coming in from users about difficulties. (I completely put that one at the foot of the SmartThings ‘support’ and as a person with over 25 years in IT support, most of that inside IT support orgs, it’s as bad as it gets. Bar none - worst support experience I’ve ever experienced. And I don’t take what I put there lightly, if the Support VP/Director whatever for ST wants to call me - I’ll talk his/her ear off - DM me and I’ll give you a phone number and a two hour appointment with no interruptions.)
That’s not how you win the hearts and minds of your user base.
If instead they had come in say October 2019 and said (VERY PUBLICALLY) that, “Hey, you know what? We have some big plans for the platform but all this stuff over here (Groovy API - I’m looking at you) is REALLY holding us back so we have to phase it out. It’s going to HURT (A LOT), and a lot of stuff is going to feel VERY broken for 6-8 months in the middle of it so we’re telling you NOW and we’ll help you through it. We have a year before we even start the process so let’s all roll up our sleeves and start prepping…”
Imagine how user sentiment would have been different. Yes I know hindsight is 20/20. I also know how hard that version would be to sell to Execs. But this is basic IT modernization 101 here. My firm has a saying: “avoid a technically successful failure” What this means is you can implement all of your systems 100% to the letter but if the end user doesn’t like / adopt / use it. You were better off putting your money elsewhere - it was a technically successful failure. What prevents these? Organization change management (OCM) or also known as the art of how you prepare and communicate with your end users to ensure you’re working on the right thing at the right time and making sure the right people have the right resources to adapt to change.
The wrong way:
‘We analyzed the top 100 smartapps and we have a handle on how you’re using the platform so when we send out the notice to move you can rest assured you’re ready to go.’ (Yes that’s almost a direct quote out of one of the early notice emails… We all know how that one worked out.)
OK here’s the new platform, we’ve set it up where you can play in both without damaging your install. PLEASE PLEEEEASE USE both and give feedback here (to this special channel we setup for just this) when stuff doesn’t work. We’ve hired these extra developers/engineers here to tackle these requests as they come in.
Here’s our new integration with Alexa / Google isn’t it great? We made it easier for you so you don’t have to make installation decisions.
End user feedback / requirements gathering sessions that highlight the use cases. We learned we need to UPDATE the existing skill instead of replacing it with a new one because otherwise we cause havoc in an Alexa install, AND we need to keep the ability to filter devices for privacy and safety concerns.
(I’m THOROUGHLY convinced the ability to filter devices would have been in the top 2 requirements)
Here’s how we present devices in the new app. See and it shows your old stuff too! The UI is pretty right?
No - you can’t customize that yet. Well ok yes I agree that one of the reasons you came to SmartThings was the ability to customize - That’s coming in a beta feature sometime next year.
But - see? Dark mode!
Our end users rely on customization of the platform. If many devices stop working day 1 because they rely on custom UI elements, we need to accelerate the feature that provides that and it is now CRITICAL PATH to production deployment.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s not the what. Heck , the what (if it turns out as I expect in a year or so) looks pretty darned attractive. It was TOTALLY the how. There’s a way to deal with difficult migrations, there’s a right way to set expectations with end users. Frankly - most of it was flat out missed, so now we have a few really solid individuals like Blake and others - I’m going to forget people so I’m not naming them all) left trying to do damage control. They do their best, but it’s really difficult to put Pandora back in her box. I take my hat off to them all - it’s NOT a fun job. Trust me, imagine working for Microsoft support management, dealing with security and patch management in the mid 2000’s I feel their pain, VERY deeply.
Each platform has its warts. Hubitat has a horrid UI, Hass.io needs an engineering degree to operate, HomeKit is a walled garden, etc. For me ST was and still is the best flex between ease of use and ability to customize. Choice is good, right, JD? Through careful selection of mainstream devices that I can force to run somewhat locally and configure to work outside of outages. Because of this MOST of my stuff keeps trucking through most outages. I’ve never had my alarm go off in the middle of the night and not be able to disarm it because I do not use STHM as a primary alarm system. I used SmartLighting for most of my base automations (especially if there was a safety element involved) because I generally use default DTHs and can therefore do local control. Everything that goes out to the Internet is usually ‘nice to have’ and not mission critical. So I haven’t had the painful experience a lot of folks have had, so I haven’t hit my pain threshold yet. (Don’t worry, it’s very close)
Here’s what has to happen to keep me: (This is my MUST HAVE list)
- The Alexa / Google integrations need to be updated to allow device filtering - this one’s not negotiable.
- SERIOUS effort needs to go into the Custom Capability/Presentations feature - it needs to just work and it needs to do so 6 months ago. Various issues, especially with this caching issue where new DTHs don’t show all the customizations right off, make device customization still very much feel ‘Alpha’ or proof of concept - not even beta. (This would let devs be able to rely on building stuff for ST again. The number of DTH devs I’ve spoken with who are 'not currently writing / updating devices right now because the tools don’t work and they don’t have a clear understanding of how things look after Groovy leaves the picture" is sickening. If Microsoft taught the Tech community anything - SUPPORT DEVELOPERS FIRST, if you don’t have people building for your platform, you don’t have a platform anymore. So sayeth my old trusty Windows Phone…)
- PUBLICLY document the big blocks of the platform systems architecture with notes about which piece is responsible for what so when something breaks I can at least tell if it was me or not, we’re lost out here troubleshooting because we don’t know what the platform looks like anymore. Heck, people are still giving advice on how to do stuff as if Groovy is still in charge (guess what, it’s not.)
- Disclose the future of Zwave / Zigbee device handlers. We know Groovy is going away , how are we handling device handlers. Uhhh really? Why do we not already know? A year out from retirement is too late. 6 months is criminal. If how the custom capability feature has been handled is any indication we’re going to need a FULL YEAR to stabilize whatever comes next.
FIX THE DAMN MISSING SCENES / BROKEN AUTOMATIONS with RULES API already. (FULL STOP)
When I was in support orgs for the companies I worked with - this would have been a Sev 1 issue, round the clock until the hotfix is in the app OR it would have been rolled back.
MOST of all… ST support needs to remember with smart home tech, all of this is very personal. When you break something - you’re messing with someone’s home. It gets personal very quickly. The next support agent that tells me to ‘uninstall the app’ ‘clear the device cache’ or ‘just reset your hub’ on the first contact needs to lose their job. Destructive intervention needs to be moved to the last resort branches of the decision / call tree - not the beginning. (I’d also feed a public knowledgebase with up to date issues and bug /feature requests, but that’s nice to have.) I didn’t include this one in the MUST have list because honestly it would mean completely restarting the service desk at this point - but it’s right up there.
How much more patience do I (still) have?
I’m looking at my next hub now. I’m on a v.2. (2015) Now that it’s the oldest supported hub, I need to look at being on a supported platform for the future. I will never run smarthome tech in my home that’s not supported by the vendor and can’t take security updates. I want a plan in place before they stop sending firmware to v.2 hubs. So is it a shiny new v.3 cough Aeotec or something else? Don’t know yet. I do know I’m probably moving my ~190 Zwave /Zigbee devices and countless cloud devices, integrations, automations, etc. to something later this year and before I do I’m looking at traction against that list above.
Finally on to the
Sorry - you probably still have at least 5 more years of that. Same syndrome that’s causing everyone and their uncle to try to build a streaming platform. Owning the consolidation portion of the smart home is key to monetizing it. (Yes monetization, publicly traded companies don’t do things to be kind.) Why do you think Amazon is in there?