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Latching onto the Smart and Connected Revolution

Originally published
Originally published: 2/1/2024

Revenue Opportunity for HVAC and Plumbing Contractors with a Growing and Familiar Set of Products.

Alexa, turn on the lights. “OK, lights on.” 

Alexa, open Garage Door. “OK.”

Alexa, play the band Rush. “Playing now.” 

It was only a few years ago that our family didn’t have a single smart and connected device. Our household, likely just like yours, became a quick adopter of these new gadgets. Our path to becoming “smart” started with Amazon’s Alexa. We started purchasing garage door openers, smart plugs, cameras, smart TVs, a front doorbell, and a brand-new thermostat. We also purchased an Amazon Alexa Show to act as the hub for these products that could be voice commanded. Playing music and turning off lights was  tedious before. Now, it has never been more invigorating - not at least since The Clapper1.  

Current Smart and Connected Landscape

 Since the beginning of time, innovations have made life easier. Think of the wheel, the Industrial Revolution, or the new smart and connected gadgets in buildings today. Products with smart and connected features are not just growing, they are exploding. Product shipments with smart and connected features eclipsed 22 million in 2016 and were predicted to hit 96 million by 2026 - with many journalists in the tech space predicting a 20% CAGR being possible for the entire category. Today, artificial intelligence and deep learning, the next wave of “smart” have the capability to revolutionize by anticipating a building’s service needs and its occupants’ behaviors – and it all starts with turning on these smart and connected features embedded within the products. 

There’s Money in Them ‘Thar Products

As consumer recognition and adoption of smart and connected features evolve, it has begun to erode a troublesome perception problem. Are these products with smart and connected features safe? Certainly, there are instances of bad actors breaching home security cameras, in-vehicle computer systems, and Wi-Fi routers. Now, manufacturers of these products, including those in the HVAC and plumbing industry, build protective barriers against malicious commands. The government has begun writing and implementing rules to protect privacy and security, too. 

Security concerns shouldn’t deter your adoption of smart and connected product setup and support for your customers. This is because the consumer is more willing to share data by turning on these smart and connected features to monitor and detect, or report their behaviors, such as energy usage patterns. Consumers want the convenience these products offer and need support from the in-building services professional. Smart and connected features illuminate the health of mechanical equipment that is normally hidden while bringing insights straight into the hands of the end-user. 

As contractors, a top job priority on the job site is to professionally install equipment that solves customer comfort. That doesn’t change in this new paradigm. Your reputation and the potential for repeat customer opportunities will remain. But with the growth of smart and connected features, you have a chance to increase the value of your professional installation – specifically by learning how the product can be set up for monitoring and maintenance reporting. We all admit that working in a crawlspace isn’t the same set of skills as networking computer hardware. And this means contracting companies might have to think of their employees more like cable internet technicians and grow their smart and connected setup skills. Investing into your employees can open a new revenue source – such as a monitoring and maintenance subscription agreement. In theory, this could eliminate the need to go onsite while still helping your customer from afar. 

End-Consumers Are Smarter, It’s Time to Deliver

 As we know, the success of contracting businesses depends on how to extend or grow lines of revenue and maintain the business you already have. There are new revenue models that have emerged from meeting end-consumer demands for smart and connected features. Learning how to use, set up, and teach these features on the familiar products you install provides an incremental revenue source and higher level of customer satisfaction. Manufacturers realizing this as an opportunity have continued to make setup easier. It starts with the supplemental documentation, usually available inside the package, and manufacturers investing in easier ways for customers to understand how to handle in-field connection challenges. If you are ready to meet your consumer’s requests for smart and connected features, start with manufacturers’ websites. These have incredible training opportunities for technical setup – or use the manufacturer’s customer support line. 

Products with smart and connected features are here. We shouldn’t be surprised that before the end of the 2020s, we will be kowtowing to Alexa, Siri, or an app on our smart phones, or interacting with generative AI tools such as ChatGPT more. These technologies eliminate pain points for end-consumers that they didn’t know they had, and they are fun. 

 My question for HVAC and plumbing contractors; “Are you ready to learn and implement something new for your customer’s growth?” Or should I ask Alexa about this?

Ryan Kiscaden is an author and an HVACR and plumbing marketer. His career includes working for an HVACR and plumbing wholesaler, running a nonprofit focused on recycling thermostats and working for major plumbing equipment and plumbing category manufacturers. More information on his professional background is available on LinkedIn. 

1Anyone remember The Clapper? It is undisputable that The Clapper was the first home automation device. As you clapped, the device switched power from on to off. Voice commands have now replaced the clap.

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