Home Technology–The Workplace of the Future
Industry leaders and technology companies are working together to create a connected lifestyle in the home that goes far beyond simple high-speed Internet connection and surround sound. Consumers are already able to link their computer, audio and video to other home systems, such as security, lighting and environmental controls, and the advances in home technology integration are exploding with leaps and bounds. However, many of these integrated technologies are expensive and require many skill sets to implement.
So how will home technology further reach the masses, and how can this boom create a workplace of the future?
Career Opportunities and Outlook
Home technology is rapidly becoming a major influence in IT, in turn opening new and exciting opportunities for IT professionals. This industry used to be dominated by non-IT workers, such as electricians and home-builders, and now IT professionals are in an excellent position to dive in and blaze a trail. They are ideal candidates when you consider the need for technically savvy personnel who understand the setup, installation and support of technology in the home.
Traditionally, PC guys work specifically on the PCs, consumer electronics guys work on the consumer electronics products and so forth. With this new phenomenon, your computer plays music through your receiver, and your home network monitors your HVAC. There is a need for this baseline of cross knowledge and skill sets to understand a little bit about each of these areas.
For those thinking about a career in technology, this segment is an exciting and dynamic field. Instead of dealing with the traditional IT scenarios, home technology provides an intriguing avenue into other areas. “If you are interested in IT, think how exciting it would be to couple that with entertainment and consumer electronics components,” said John Doherty, director of home integration, Best Buy. “Instead of working on servers or mainframes, or being at a help desk waiting to troubleshoot a question about an application, home technology can be more interesting and adventurous.”
If you are already in IT, you are in an excellent place to move into this industry. Many of the skills and the expertise you already possess can be transferred to this career path. If you are new to the field, this is definitely an area to explore. Getting on board and becoming an early adopter can help you excel in this field.
Key Areas of the Industry
The size of the home technology industry is huge, estimated at $32.6 billion in wholesale value and growing, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. In fact, as of December 2002, 66 million households have one PC, 25 million households have multiple PCs, and 10 million households have a home network. The outlook for this market segment is impressive.
So what exactly are the areas of home technology? The key emerging components are:
- Computer networking
- Structured wiring
- Security and surveillance
- Lighting management
- Water controls
Driven by Consumer Demand
Consumers drive the existence and advancement of technology, and the networked home is an obvious progression. Structured wiring in new home builds is drastically speeding the adoption of home technology, and wireless Internet access has helped alleviate previously held limits in existing homes.
“Best Buy recently jumped into this segment by providing structured wiring to new home builders,” said Doherty. “We sell lifestyle solutions based on consumer needs around music, video and computers. We are focusing on what consumers are really asking for—economical solutions, which are fun and easy to use.”
Retail businesses have seen the spike in consumer purchasing of these products and services. “Consumers do not walk into CompUSA and say they want a home network,” said Sammy Saloum, director of business development, CompUSA. “They come in with a problem, and a home network is often the solution. Instead of buying another printer for their second or third computer, they find out more about the possibilities of a home network and decide to go with that option. Aside from surround sound, home networks are our fastest-growing segment.”
This is largely because people want to work and function in their homes just as they do in the office. This is true of those who work exclusively from home as well as those who want to occasionally access their e-mail or files. “Huge numbers of people work at home at least part-time and expect the same type of service from their data communications as they do at work,” said Dave Dusthimer, manager of publishing services, Cisco Learning Institute. “The need to have your video, voice and data all tied together has become something well beyond that of a luxury home. There are a lot of medium-priced homes now being built with a structured wiring infrastructure.”
Other technologies of the home, such as smart appliances, are not seeing such high demand. While it would make great sense to have your coffeemaker as part of a network instead of as a stand-alone, there are too many disparate systems for all to function together. Consumers love the idea, but it is still expensive. As the technology advances and consumer acceptance volume grows, the prices will come down. In the meantime, the other areas of home technology are already becoming permanent fixtures.
“When customers realize they can put their CDs on a hard drive and distribute them into any speaker in the house instead of having four or five different sets in various rooms, it is an attractive proposition,” said Saloum, CompUSA. “It is great to be able to listen to your mp3s through surround sound, watch your videos in any room in the house and view digital pictures on your television.”
Obstacles to Overcome
The challenge that home technology faces is in connecting all of these technologies into a user-friendly and functional environment. That is where integrators come into the picture. These are the companies and individuals that go into the homes, identify what the homeowner wants and needs and work to create the connected lifestyle.
The obstacles to integration and disbursement to the masses largely exist because there were not any standards in place as home technology began to emerge. As a result, the industry was hindered from expanding quickly and easily. When you start talking about these advanced systems with new and existing residential structures, it brings you to the question of who is going to install, implement and maintain? Up until this point, there has been a lack of consistency and standards.
This is precisely why the Internet Home Alliance (IHA) was developed—an open, nonprofit association of leading companies working together to advance the home technology industry. Currently, 30 companies participate in the IHA and come from various industry sectors, including retailers such as Best Buy, Sears and CompUSA, manufacturers such as Panasonic, Sears and General Motors, and IT entities such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Learning Institute. CompTIA, a leader in vendor-neutral certifications, joined forces with the IHA to create the Home Technology Integrator (HTI+) certification.
Setting the Standards
The CompTIA/IHA HTI+ certification appears to be emerging as the standard in home technology. As an entry-level certification, it serves as an access point for people from different trades and backgrounds to become involved in the industry. HTI+ certified professionals integrate electro-mechanical systems within the home to enhance the comfort, safety and convenience of the consumer. This certification demonstrates the working knowledge and skill sets to support the installation and support tasks of the automated home.
The IHA and its pa