Fast growing IT firm leads the pack in home automation
By Catherine Kuria
“By wisdom, a house is built and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with beautiful treasures.” Well, King Solomon in the book of Proverbs could not have penned it any better. Being a fundamental need, many people greatly value their shelter. They therefore invest heavily in putting up of well designed, secure and comfortable homes. A trend has emerged in the market whereby people are automating various functions in their homes (mainly security). It is popularly known as the smart home technology.
Smart home is a very broad term, covering a huge number of connected gadgets, systems and appliances that perform a wide variety of functions. The possibilities are immense, ranging from lights and locks to cameras and coffee makers. The common denominator is automation, and a promise that these devices can save you time, money or make your life a little easier.
An automated lamp might turn on by itself as soon as you walk into the room. An automated thermostat on the other hand might turn the heat down when it detects you’ve left for the day, then goes on when it detects you’re on your way back. A recent boom in smart home technology has thrust it straight into the spotlight. Smart home kits, sensors and gadgets have been with big names like Apple, Google and Microsoft right there in the thick of it. That’s not surprising, given that market experts predict that the smart homes’ market share will be worth billions of shillings within the next few years. Right here at home, we have our own “Apple”, Pro Av East Africa Limited.
Pro Av East Africa Limited was started in 2009 and its target market was homes. When they were starting out, the concept of smart home was something that was unheard of locally. It was difficult to convince people to get their homes automated. They target the middle and high income home owners that would want to fuse technology into their homes. They have a sister company, Avtech Systems Limited which has been in business since 2002 targeting commercial projects from office automations to hotels. Pro Av deals with residential automation.
“We started off with Avtech mostly targeting the corporate world. Our corporate clients wanted the same technology fused into their homes. That is what prompted us to start Pro Av to serve the residential homes,” says Mr. Ahmed Ben Bella the Managing Director Pro Av East Africa Limited.
Why go the smart home way?
With the popularity of the smart devices, home automation is unlimited. From any sphere of the globe using your smart phone, one can basically control their home. To control most of these smart appliances, a hub which serves as the central equipment is installed at the home. Anon, one downloads an app on their mobile gadget that enables them to control everything that is automated around the home.
Through home automation, you have the ability to control the small appliances and lighting, with the simple tap of your finger on your favourite technological device. Your home and family also enjoy an added measure of safety through your ability to control the lights. Not only does this allow you to make sure lights are off when you are gone to save electricity, it also enables you to turn them on at specific times if you would like it to look like you are home. This also helps increase the safety and security of your home.
Through an automated system, you can lock your doors with the tap of your finger. This quickly eases your mind, so you can focus on your day’s work rather than who may or may not be entering your home. The fact that you can be alerted each time someone enters your home also allows you to monitor who is entering your home at all times, even when you are not there.
A home automation system saves money. The most beneficial impact the system will have is on your monthly utility bill. No longer will you be spending money for household appliances left on in your family’s absence. You will also save on gas costs, as you will never need to stop by the house in order to turn something off or on. This is certainly convenient. You will have complete control to make sure costs are low without exerting any additional effort.
Mr. Bella further discloses that, “Smart home is not limited to security. You can have distributed music in different rooms in the house, set the type of lighting depending on your mood and one can even remotely water their garden using their gadget. It is unlimited; it can only be limited by your imagination.” Key pads are also installed at home. Worry not, if you lose your smart phone you can still control your home using the key pads on the walls. Contrary to popular belief, home automation is not expensive. You can start small and progress slowly.
In developing countries like ours, people are yet to buy the idea of home automation. Selling the idea is difficult especially to the older generation. People often associate technology with huge monetary expenses which is true in some cases but in home automation, you can start small and progress slowly according to your financial means. “We take people to residences where we have done home automation so that they can see and hear from the home owners,” says Mr. Bella.
No one really knows the market size. Without knowing how big or small a market really is, it can get difficult to identify where the opportunities really are. Depending on how you define the smart home market, you will get very different results when trying to measure its size. The consumer needs coordination and not just integration. There is already a race going on to see who can come up with the best hub.
The challenge goes beyond lack of consumer interest, though. When it comes down to it, none of these hubs are unique from the other: each claim to do the best job of connecting smart devices together. Once the devices are connected, then what? Sure, it is nice to be able to sit on my bed and turn off all the lights in the house with one tap, but that novelty only goes so far. A truly smart house should be unique to each person living in it. For a smart device hub to really add value, it should make life easier on consumers in ways that they never even considered.
In our country, home automation is yet to ignite the fire but elsewhere like in South Africa, Europe and the United States, at least every quarter of the year there are shows specifically held for home automation. These shows provide a broader view of how home automation works.
Road ahead for Pro Av
In the next five years, Mr. Bella has a vision that the company will have a foot print not only in the urban areas, but also in the rural areas. They have done close to 10 rural homes and they are looking forward to growing this number. Gradually, people are embracing this unique technology. “Pro Av has become a household name when it comes to smart homes,” Mr. Bella remarks. According to Mr. Bella, a smart home is an interesting kind of business in the sense that it keeps you well informed about the current technological advancements.
At a Glimpse
Mr. Ben Bella is a lawyer by profession but he is very passionate about technology. He is married with three kids. In addition, he loves playing golf and is a member of the Karen Country Club.