Our transition to IP/IT technologies was not graceful! In the spirit of cooperation, we tried to utilize our client's existing networks. We were losing a lot of money and time trying to get our equipment to work on consumer grade networks! Like many other integrators, we did not have a dedicated IT engineer on staff.
The week that the iPad was released, we were designing a new Crestron system for a sports celebrity. Their IT consultant, who unfortunately was in charge of our project, requested that their entire system be controlled by iPads and laptops as a cost-saving measure.
After numerous attempts to dissuade failed, we reluctantly accepted the project on the condition we could pre-wire for wired controls. Of course, the IT consultant insisted on providing the network for the home. You can guess the outcome: Our WiFi dependent iPads failed to consistently control the system due to weak network performance. The client became angry. The IT consultant threw us under the bus. We finally convinced them to replace the entire network. We did and it worked!
First lesson: Always take charge of the network your equipment works on. "Own the network, own the client!" BTW, this can be very lucrative if done correctly. Most of our clients work in or own businesses and understand IT support is not cheap.
Second lesson: If you are not an expert on IP/IT, find one! Three years ago, we began working with a popular industry partner that designs, programs, and ships a complete managed network solution for our larger automation projects. Our partner also supplies remote support. We look like a hero and actually make money. We have recently added an IT engineer to our staff, and our vendor is still there for the most challenging projects.
Third lesson: Learn how to make money for service on your integrated automation projects. Many custom audio/video integrators have installed large complex systems for clients who feel they should be serviced forever – for free – because they spent a large amount of money! How many of you cringe every time a client calls to say they bought a new BluRay player and need their custom control software reprogrammed?
We aggressively started selling remote diagnostics and maintenance plans for our home automation projects. We partner with a vendor who supplies the monitoring solution allowing diagnostics and remote control. We found that packaging the remote service into one complete contract for preventive maintenance visits, inclusive of service labor, and discounted parts/labor for new work, to be the most effective solution. We are resetting cable/sat boxes and network-enabled components without rolling a truck. Since we are not billing the client for every service call and showing them a discount on new add-on work, our clients are much happier, and we are increasing our recurring monthly revenue (RMR). Take a lesson from the security industry, RMR dramatically increases the market value of your company and adds revenue to the bottom line.
Conclusion: You can accept the IP/IT world we live in as the opportunity it is by adding it to your offerings or face the challenges of working on someone else's!