This article recently appeared in HomeToys eMagazine in April 2012.
Break fix is perhaps the worst service model a custom installer can employ. An inexpensive pro-active monitoring system can be an installer’s best friend.
ihiji, a company based in Austin, TX produces a product, named “invision”, which could easily be described as a custom installer’s best friend. ihiji invision, which launched in 2009, is a cloud-based remote monitoring and support solution that is typically sold by integrators to end-users as part of an annual service agreement. With reducing margins and increasing costs, it’s more important than ever to reduce operating costs while maintaining (or, better yet, improving) customer service. The system allows custom integrators to receive alerts for equipment malfunctions, diagnose issues, and repair problems remotely, making it easier than ever to manage their customers’ installations and maintain the most reliable systems possible.
Picture this. You installed a $100K AV and Home Automation system in a client’s house. It’s his wife’s birthday and he has a big party planned: a great opportunity to show off his new toys. He turns on the projector…nothing. Not only are his guests disappointed, but he’s embarrassed and neither you nor the manufacturer (or both) are being particularly highly spoken of at this juncture.
Picture the alternative. It’s a few days before the party; you call the client and tell him there’s a fault with a component. You’ve power cycled it, but it still seems to be problematic. From its on-board diagnostics, you’ve narrowed it down to a few possible things. You call him, roll a truck and fix the problem. Everything goes great at his wife’s party. You’re his hero for averting disaster and you’ve got referrals from him for three guests at his party.
Break-Fix is Broken
Break fix is perhaps the worst service model a custom installer can employ. Let’s face it, you haven’t got a bunch of techs and parts sitting around just waiting for something to break, so what happens? You get a call “my so-and-so isn’t working. I paid a fortune for this system. I need someone here today”. You’ve no idea what the problem is. The client is upset and not that willing to help at this stage. You pull a tech off another job and roll a truck to try and fix the problem. After a few hours of wasted time, turns out something just needed power cycling. Now you’ve incurred the cost of an unnecessary truck roll and you’re behind schedule on the job you pulled the tech off.
Being proactive, is not only good for business, it’s good for the bottom line. If you know your client’s projector bulb is on its last legs, you can call the client, tell them, order the part and schedule a visit for the following week when someone’s working in the same neighborhood. Given this, any tool that lets you be more proactive is certainly a boon.
The invision system comprises a single appliance and a cloud-based monitoring tool. There are two versions of the appliance: the INV-APP-1000 and newer INV-APP-500 (shown below). Both are Linux based (small footprint and robust) solid state (no moving parts) appliances. The former can monitor and unlimited number of devices, whereas the latter can monitor 50.
The service department has a dashboard (as well as notifications) that shows the status of all your clients’ connected devices and any warnings in yellow and failures in red.
From the dashboard, which also runs on a Smartphone, a user can drill down to a system map and see the state of all devices:
Any node can be double-clicked to obtain node-specific information.
The system also tracks historical activity, which can be a real asset when trying to solve intermittent faults.
What can be Managed?
In a nutshell, anything connected via IP or Zigbee. Devices connected to a Home Automation system, such as Crestron, Control4, AMX, etc. can also be managed indirectly. For example a non-IP projector can report its bulb status to a Crestron system, which in turn reports that to ihiji.
Now you may be thinking that many of these components already have some kind of management/notification, so why would you need invision? The key is that invision functions as a universal portal to report on all equipment: it saves the need to have to connect to a bunch of different systems.
Two of ihiji’s real strong points are very tight Control4 integration and power management systems integration. The latter allows all major systems to be monitored and rebooted via the cloud. APC recently signed a contract with ihiji to sell and support their appliances.
Two of the original founders of the company, Stuart Rench and Michael Maniscalco, are both graduates of Georgia Tech who, with third co-founder David Rench, ran and sold a successful integration firm. Coming from an integration background gives the company a unique insight into product requirements and the life of the custom installer. To that end, they have created an extensive training and education package (including a boilerplate service contract) to help dealers learn how to sell service.
Currently, ihiji has several hundred dealers. Interested parties can find out more here.
Proof of the Pudding
I spoke to Jonathan Stovall from Bethesda Systems, who started using ihiji in January 2012. So far, he has installed about 20 appliances and expects to install a total of 100-150 this year. Jonathan said he has tried much more expensive systems, but none are as good as ihiji. When there is an alert on the dashboards, his service department (on-call 24/7) is notified by e-mail and text message. Being able to access the dashboard allows them to see what the issue is and take the appropriate course of action instantly.
He commented that the notifications from ihiji are much clearer than the native data he would get from various systems, as ihiji is “translating” them to something more meaningful. Even though they’ve only been using the system for a few months, it’s paying dividends: there have been several occasions where detecting the problem and remotely power cycling the equipment has prevented truck rolls. When truck rolls are required, know-before-you-go is always a great advantage.
For a low signup fee (contact ihiji for pricing), which includes three appliances, custom installers can offer their clients an unparalleled level of service while simultaneously reducing operating costs. Typically, ihiji appliances are sold as part of a comprehensive service agreement and can generate more additional profit with each sale.
Thanks to HomeToys eMagazine for permission to use this article.
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