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7.3.23 – SSI – Ed Wenck

Security represents a significant portion of the home automation market, but in many ways operates outside the smart home ecosystem.

Although they both deal with aspects of a home’s low-voltage systems, residential security pros and custom home technology integrators work in two separate, distinct disciplines.

“There are two big reasons for that,” says John Yohanna, vice president of residential sales at Crestron. “One, because it requires a special security license to install security systems in many locations.” (As you may know, security alarm installers are required to be licensed in 37 U.S. states and D.C.) The other reason: There’s often a monitoring component that’s an integral part of any security system.  

While more and more technology integrators offer service contracts that allow access to (and overview of) a client’s home network, it’s a different animal.

“Security is a life-safety system, so [custom] integrators typically don’t want the liability of having full responsibility for the security system,” Yohanna says. Home integration was traditionally about entertainment, and it’s only relatively recently that the segment grew into a much broader range of solutions, from lighting and shading to automated “scenes” and more. 

That growth has, however, meant that there’s been overlap — and more interaction than just technicians running into each other on a big jobsite. The introduction of smart home technologies has created a bigger intersection in the Venn diagram that represents the knowledge of — and potential collaboration between — the two segments. 

Beyond Access Control and Alarms 

The introduction of “smart” technology into the home began to take off in the early 2010s as thermostats capable of machine learning became a viable, reliable option for most consumers. This was followed in short order by the introduction of the video doorbell and the “smart lock,” and suddenly, security devices also “lived” on the home network.

(Those latter developments represented something of a paradigm shift for the homeowner, too: Security was no longer just about keeping the wrong people out, it was also about letting the right people in.) 

Even though some of these products had a distinctly DIY flavor, there was a benefit for both the security and home automation markets: They drove awareness of the technology — and desire, too.

The most recent numbers tell the story: In the U.S., 97% of home control system owners and 90% of smart security system owners have added additional smart home devices after their initial purchases. Those purchases go well beyond access control — they include motion detection, surveillance/security cameras, video recording systems, and lighting. 

Yohanna’s seen the anecdotal evidence of that aspirational homeowner. “Typically, our customers are the clients that ask, ‘Hey, I’ve heard of this video doorbell device, but is there a higher-end version, a more professional version, or a more scalable version that isn’t a $99 plastic box built by the lowest bidder?” he says. “Most clients don’t want to trust their family’s security to that particular product — they understand the value of something more professional.” 

Supplementing Security 

In fact, the universe of products that could complement a traditional security system is extremely robust. Yohanna gives an example that’s elegant in its simplicity: “In my home, I have my security system integrated into my Crestron Home system, and if the security system were to alarm — from a broken window, from a motion sensor, what have you — the system does a number of things.

Sure, the alarm’s going off, and there’s a notification that’s being handled by the security firm, but I’ve also programmed the system to turn on all the lights.” Any intruder no longer has the cover of darkness, and the homeowner’s in a much better position to assess the situation. Yohanna’s system also brings up the security camera feed on his bedroom TV when the alarm’s tripped — giving him a look at what’s happening before he even gets out of bed. 

“All that lighting and surveillance control is on the smart home side, supplementing the security system,” Yohanna adds. “By tying the two together, you have a very meaningful benefit to those subsystems being connected.”

(Some homeowners have even added a potentially frightening feature to their distributed home audio: When an alarm’s triggered, the sound of a large barking dog is piped through multiple speakers of the sound system.) 

Home automation also provides preventive measures. Many smart home clients ask for preprogrammed, one-touch “scenes” that mimic activity in the home with lights and motorized shades when the occupants are away — and like a smart thermostat, these functions aren’t random. The devices mirror the activity they’ve “observed” when the residence is occupied.  

Geo-fencing is another clever aspect of smart home functions. In some systems, a user’s phone can trigger certain operations as soon as the smart home picks up the user’s “ping” from the device. Gates open, doors unlock — and that automation can extend to lighting and even starting the user’s favorite playlist so that music welcomes them home. The inverse is true as well — a system can automatically arm itself when the client’s out of a certain range. 

From Aesthetics to Broader Knowledge 

Another aspect of the offerings provided by all of this technology is its look. Smart home integrators have long been tasked by their clients to make their systems as unobtrusive as possible — to the point of near invisibility.

“We try and reduce ‘wall acne’ as much as we can,” says Yohanna, referring to the number of switches and keypads that can appear in a home when a system’s been installed without an overarching plan. “A solution such as the Crestron Home platform can offer really elegant, single touchscreens that can include everything from security to lighting control to that pop-up video image of the person at the door.

“Combining everything into one device with a really simple, intuitive interface — which is what we do — is a much better experience for the user,” he adds. 

There are also those in the residential technology field who specialize in other aspects of security solutions. An excellent example of that kind of cross-pollination is the kind of work that’s been done by Michael Cogbill of REV2 Consulting in Palm Beach, Fla.

Cogbill knows a thing or two about surveillance systems — from finding the right camera for a specific job to explaining frame rates to understanding how the AI in video recording systems can separate animals from bad actors. (He’s quoted extensively on the subject in the 2020 Q1 issue of CEDIA Communicates, pages 38-39, the house publication for the smart home industry association.) 

Smart home technology integrators — especially those that cater to higher-end clients — are also realizing the need for cybersecurity. The home network needs as much attention from intrusion as a residence’s physical space, and that demands integrators need an ever-evolving skillset to ensure client data remains uncompromised.

Case in point: Mike Maniscalco. Maniscalco started out as a home technology integrator but soon shifted to remote monitoring solutions for home networks. (He’s since moved into remote healthcare solutions.) He’s also a volunteer, however, teaching home technology professionals the fundamentals (and eventually intricacies) of residential cybersecurity. 

Putting a Bow on It 

While some security pros have expanded their businesses to include smart home technology integrations, most are successfully occupied with focusing on security and security alone. But given all the available smart home options, it makes sense for security pros to form an alliance with a reputable technology integrator. 

“It adds value to what the security professional is offering,” explains Yohanna. “When you bring in these other systems, when your security system can do more things for your end user, that experience is going to translate into repeat business and the strongest form of advertising we know of; word-of-mouth.”

Yohanna notes that he’s spoken with home tech and security pros alike who both insist that they do very little traditional advertising, if any — their businesses thrive on personal referrals. 

“If you create a really cool experience or really great functionality for the end user, they’re going to show their friends. They’re going to say, ‘Hey, check this out. When my security system alarms, all the lights come on.’ The response is almost always: ‘Mine doesn’t do that — who are you working with?’” 

Yohanna explains that the best home automation companies will help you find the right dealer/installer nearby if a security firm is interested in this kind of outreach. “We have a searchable database for all of our dealers and partners in both the residential and commercial fields,” he notes. 

 Ultimately, the relationship is bound to be beneficial — for both parties involved, says Yohanna. “Whenever you give the customer a better experience, it means more business for the installation professional, whether it’s security or home automation.” 

Ed Wenck is senior content writer for Crestron Electronics.