A March 20, 2012 report in TOI had an article titled “Technology per square foot” that gave a rosy picture of the home automation sector in India. But is the real picture so rosy?
27% of people in India live below the poverty line. How many of the elite actually subscribe to home automation services? While there is nothing wrong in embracing technology, technology is not without its associated challenges. Builders in Bangalore like Mantri &Total Environment are charging Rs 250 to Rs 300 sq ft and this translates to Rs 12.5-15 lakh for a 5000 sq ft apartment.
Mantri Espana, the luxury residential complex at Outer ring road, Bangalore is highly technology intensive. Lighting, curtains, blinds, geysers all can be controlled wirelessly by smart phone, video phone or tablet. No switches. Wireless centralized music control.
Technology controls security. Balconies have motion detectors. The periphery of the building is controlled by electronic sensors that detect intrusion. Videophones in each apartment screen visitors. Proximity ID cards issued to drivers and maids track their movement within the apartment complex.
Mantri’s claim is that the complex has a telemedicine facility and will have qualified nurses and paramedic staff who will connect with doctors at Apollo hospital. A good sales pitch. A good strategy. But how will the situation be 5 years afterwards? Setting up anything new is by far the simplest thing to do. Maintaining the efforts over the years is crucial.
There are signs that home automation is moving from concept to adoption. Technologies have proved themselves to be stable and resilient and also prices have dropped so that they prove to be useful in high-end residential complexes. Total Environment’s “windmills of your mind” complex uses Ipad for home automation for unlocking doors, preset mood lighting for every room, turn on garden sprinklers and open and close curtains.
Sobha Developers project Habitech in Whitefield has technology that can customize lighting, fan speed and AC through a touch pad or smartphone. Soft panic buttons for the elderly in case of an emergency.
The boom barrier will sense an incoming car automatically using RFD technology and the gates will open automatically (Remember the Bollywood thriller Woh Kaun Thi?). If Raj Khosla would have made “Who Kaun Thi” today, it would have been simpler to show gates automatically opening to an incoming car.
Some developers are thinking of developing talking gadgets but these are far too premature for Indian market and can at best be compared to innovations like electric cars, Hydrogen/fuel cell car technologies, which still have a long way to go before they are implemented.
Technology partners have mushroomed so much that it has become a difficult process to choose the right one. You have someone called “Channel partners” who act as interface between technology solution providers and vendors/suppliers. They hold conferences, exhibitions and publish magazines. In these security magazines, 2/3 articles are written by industry personnel themselves as a marketing promotion tool (they mostly make self serving statements). Interestingly, in these magazines, it appears as if the articles are carried between the advertisements.
The ability of a technology solution provider to customize design and use local engineering talent to provide a best optimal solution is important. Even if technology is cheaper, the cost of maintaining the technology is not going to be cheaper. IBM and Ingersoll Rand have joined hands to share their expertise to assess energy requirement and usage in buildings. Cisco is another player in building technologies.
Despite all the so called comforts, the one thing that technology is surely going to do is make people more and more lazy. The balance between technology for security and technology for comfort is conspicuous by its absence. All the time saved in not getting upto pull curtains or switch on the lights will be spent in gym trying to burn the calories.
One is not sure how these technologies will work if there are frequent power outages. Even if they are having UPS backup orgenerator back up it only means that these technologies are not as energy intensive as they claim to be. More importantly it is not necessary that each and every member in a family will be technically savvy. In a country like ours, where people don’t know how to use fire extinguishers, expecting all of them to adapt to sophisticated surveillance technologies is no easy job.
As things stand today, all this talk of home automation still looks to be a rhetoric - all style without substance.
I conclude this article by highlighting the following concern areas
1. Sophisticated systems will need that level of training too.
2. How are we going to deal with technological obsolescence ?
3. The cost of maintenance – costly as compared to Capex cost.
If customers are allowed to select the services that are most essential for them, it makes sense but will it enable technology solutions providers to make a decent margin? Considering the miniscule share of business how will home automation solution providers really look at business growth?
As such there are no clear cut standards for such security systems or even ratings. So what stops unorganized players to play spoilsport, encroach the market space and provide substandard stuff at cut throat prices. We all know how CCTVs installed in Mumbai Zaveri Bazaar could not be of help during the bomb blast. Half of them were not in working condition. The HDFC bank heist in Borivili happened despite the surveillance cameras as the cameras were not serviced properly. If this is the plight of security systems installed in business premises what will be the plight in residential premises? Your guess is as good as mine.
The home automation solution providers need to get more realistic. Rather than constantly target a niche audience it will be worthwhile to have a widespread spectrum of such solutions in public places where the need for security is high. Technology solutions for residential towers eventually end up having more of a snob value than utilitarian view. A strategic mindset is therefore vital for business growth.