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1: It's going to be complicated and difficult to use.

2: I cant make simple changes myself

3: I did not get what I was promised and it's still not finished

4: I installed a system and now that brand is not manufactured anymore and I cant get parts.

5: Who owns the code? Can you update my system as I cant get hold of the crowd who originally installed the system?

Unfortunately, these points are all very valid I am afraid to say I come across this fairly regularly in my day to day meetings with potential clients. 

While there are no magic bullets, fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to help minimise this happening to you. 

What criteria have you set down for selecting your home automation integrator? Who are you going to use? Or are you using your brother-in-law, your office IT guy or some nice guy who set up your mother's TV aerial once?

Now it seems to me that selecting who the home automation technology company will be can get put in the "to hard basket", and let's move on quickly and select the tiles for the bathroom as I understand this a lot better.  So anyone will do, who seems to know more about TV's than me gets the job. AKA the mirror test their breathing lets hire them.

Then once the house is all finished and you are all settled in the dissatisfaction starts, The TV only turns on sometimes, there is no WiFi in the room you wanted to use as an office. Oh, and I can't even hear the doorbell ring. 

Now you call the guy back who put the system in place and they have tried lots of ways to fix the problems but they still persist.  

This is all too often the sad story we hear time and time again. We get called as a last resort because all else has failed and the conversation normally goes something like this. "I have spent thousands on this system with this other crowd and I don't want to spend any more money on it and what can you do to fix it"? And we reply if only you had done.......... Or call us at the start. But its all too late and now we have to try and put band-aids on broken designs.

So what things do we need to look out for?  I will try and answer all the common challenges I have received over the years.

1: It's going to be complicated and difficult to use.
This might seem obvious but my advice is to actually pick a home automation integrator who has invested in their own experience centre or showroom and they encourage you to actually use a system in a working environment. Don't go to a suppliers showroom that was set up by someone else. How are you going to tell if they can reproduce this solution?

And test all the functions. Like answering the intercom, opening the gates, setting and unsetting the alarm. Use the smart door lock, navigating to your favourite Netflix programme, or play your favourite music track from your favourite streaming service and get it to play in a few rooms. This way you can now make an informed decision. Was it that easy? How many different steps did you need to remember? Will it pass the visitor/babysitter/grandparent test? Or will I still need to leave written instructions on how to turn on the TV? Don't buy a solution or system from someone who can't actually demonstrate it working and you have experienced it first hand. 

2: I cant make simple changes to my system my self. 
This one is a tough one, on one hand, I am all for locking down the system so settings don't get messed with and then all of a sudden what was working well is now a shambles.  But the reality is over time your needs change, and you don't want to be calling your home automation integrator every time you need a new door code or you change cleaning firms and can't remember how to remove the door lock and alarm codes and give out new ones. Ask your integrator if you can make changes to your system yourself, get them to show you how and what you will be able to do. Now some systems will do this to a limited extent and others won't at all. The reality is most systems won't let you swap out major components like change TV manufactures and programme the system yourself and that's for your own benefit,  and not the home automation integrators. But for most home automation systems, this should be a very quick job. (but word of warning always check with your home automation integrator if the new TV is a good fit for your system) I have seen this de-stabilise perfectly good working systems before especially if you have an HDMI signal distribution system in place and you are sharing a number of video sources (Sky Decoders or BluRay players) to multiple TV screens with different resolutions and screen sizes.  

3: I did not get what I was promised and it's not finished. 
This old chestnut, and its all to common. I thought we were going to be able to do............ Without going into great detail about who said what to who how do you make sure it's doesn't happen to you? So you have completed all the above steps in your due diligence process? Now you have the proposal and its just a parts list or worse a few product brochures and some pictures.

Stop right there. Don't proceed.

Jump on google and look for a few more home automation companies in your area.

The good guys the ones who have been doing it a while will be giving you a document that will outline what you will be getting or able to do in a room by room basis. They will be taking the time to set accurate expectations with you. They will give you a reverse brief summation of what you wanted to be able to do and where you wanted to be able to do it from and it will be a document written in plain English not technical geek speak. It might be called lots of different things we call ours our "project foundation document".  You may even be asked to sign this off. Why? Well, it sets some expectations on what success looks like not some vague undefined outcome that changes with the weather.  And you know what it protects both parties from the dreaded I thought I was getting conversation.  So, in the end, you know what you are getting and the home automation integrator now has a success target to work towards. 

4: I installed a home automation system and now that brand is not manufactured anymore. 
This one sux. And its common and a few past Kiwi manufactured brands springs to the front of my mind. This problem can be expensive to remedy especially if it involves lighting control in 90% of the house. There is currently a major boom in venture capital funded startups all vying for a slice of the home automation market. All these guys are trying to get to mass market scale as quickly as they can so they can have some hope of being profitable and sustainable for the long term before they need to do another VC fundraising round. Unfortunately, the DIY market is riddled with these brands. Would I want to trust a brand that is fresh out of the box in my house the answer is only on a limited scale and only if its easily able to be changed and something more traditional can be put in its place without major costs or risks of damage implications? How do I tell? We break technology down into a few distinct areas.

1: Infrastructure this is the stuff that will last 20 - 30 plus years, this is mostly the cabling used and how its run, and in some situations what it connects to. Think TV aerials, power cables, power circuit boards, phone and data cabling, alarm cabling. Not the shiny bits that sit on the ends of the wires, just the wires and importantly how it's wired. 

My advice is keep this stuff traditional, or if you want to branch out have a fallback position. This is especially true for electrical wiring. I am not saying don't do it but make sure you wire for a traditional light switch or socket for a just in case scenario.  There is nothing worse than 10 or 15 years later when multiple light switches have failed and your smart lighting system manufacturer is out of business and the lights won't work and the only solution is a $15,000 + upgrade, or a major rewire and replaster and paint. Both options end up on the expensive side. There were some audio brands that had non-traditional wiring, or worse proprietary cables that connect essential parts together that are no longer current. All useless. 

2: Upgradable bits, with a shorter life expectancy under 7 years.  These are the phones, TV's amplifiers, home automation brains etc. This is the stuff you want to be able to change and some areas you can take some risks here but be warned. 

My advice is to stick to well-known brands with major international footprints. They are well funded and well supported locally by lots of companies like mine. So if you get sick of me or a company like me someone else can take over supporting the project. 

5: Who owns the code? Can you update my system as I cant get hold of the crowd who originally installed the system?
This one is a bit of a hangover from the early 2000's but it is still very common even today. You invest in a home automation system and the installer then finishes the job after a week or more of programming the system, making all the equipment work together, customising all the user interfaces for remotes, touchscreens and iPads, but they take all the programming files with them. This is innocent enough as the system may require tweaking here and there, and of course, any requested changes will also require the files. A couple of years go by and something breaks or changes and you now need to get hold of the company who installed the system. Guess what you cant get hold of them, oh well never mind let's find another company who also does the brand of home automation system you have. You call them and they now they drop the bombshell question "do you have the original programming file otherwise I will have to start programming from scratch"?  The penny drops, the $$$$ flash in front of your eyes, do I pay them to rebuild the system? Or do I cut my losses and rip it all out? 

This is a very crappy position to be in and its common. You have paid for the system so you own the code. Some companies think differently so you will need to check with your home automation integrator. But whatever you do get a copy of the file. Even if its a few revisions old at least you can get your system serviced. Rather than a full rebuild.

We don't use home automation systems anymore that lock the client out of being able to access the system files. Some modern systems allow the new home automation programmer to contact the home automation brand manufacture and request full access to the system. 

I hope you have found a few takeaways and some important questions to ask when you are trying to decide on who to use for your home automation project. 

 

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