Small Business, Big Opportunity

Having watched the development of smart home technology over the past decade, both from a personal and professional perspective, I’ve been encouraged to see how popular it has become.

Consumers typically start with one or two products, for example a smart doorbell or connected camera, and expand their collection over time. This is reflected in CCS Insight’s Connected Consumer Radar research, which shows that 37% of households in advanced economies such as Germany, Spain, the UK and the US now own at least one smart home device.

What’s also struck me is how the quality of consumer-grade smart home products has improved. The likes of Amazon through its Ring brand, Google, Samsung and others have invested in several areas, be that simpler set-up, higher-resolution cameras, improved cloud storage, robust security or the ability for products to work more seamlessly with each other.

In many markets you only have to take a short walk around a residential area to quickly realize that a huge proportion of households have invested in smart home tech. This trend is also going beyond individual consumers and households, extending its reach into neighbourhoods, with residents sharing information on a variety of apps to help keep their community secure.

This is all very encouraging, but I’ve spotted a new trend that sees smart home tech, which was initially targeted at the consumer market, starting to make its way into small and medium businesses. I’m not sure why I’m so surprised by this. When you think about it, it’s a pretty logical step. Small business owners are consumers too, and it’s natural that they will want to replicate the positive experiences they’ve had with gadgets in their personal lives in their workplaces as well.

Historically, a small business would normally opt for a security installation that’s tailored to their business premises, which often meant getting a professional installer, proprietary equipment, and spending big sums on installation, ongoing maintenance and service-level agreements. Intimidated by the idea of implementing their own security solutions, business owners turned to professionals for help.

These days, things are starting to change. Smart home technology has reached a point where business owners can take the products they’ve become familiar with at home and deploy them in a business environment, be that a retail unit, offices or somewhere else. This is typically a far more cost-effective approach and offers greater flexibility. If you want to add another camera, door sensor or doorbell to your existing security set-up, it’s just a case of buying the product and following the simple installation instructions.

Gone are the days of worrying about security patches and upgrades — this has become a slick process on consumer-focussed smart home devices, so the issue also goes away in a business context.

Other capabilities can also be easily supported. Taking Ring as an example, its Alarm products can add other elements that most businesses would expect to install by default, such as contact sensors, motion detectors and glass-break sensors. These then integrate into one app and the business owner can even integrate their home and business systems in a single place. The same applies for the growing range of smart devices from other brands.

Of course, this isn’t particularly good news for small security installers who had found a rich seam of work supporting small businesses. However, I’ve noticed that even smaller, independent security companies have started to deploy consumer smart home technology as they become aware of its benefits.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this emerging opportunity develops. Amazon has already started piloting its innovative Astro robot with small and medium businesses, whose premises will typically spend longer and more predictable periods vacant than the home environment originally envisioned for robots. Combined with other features such as Ring’s Virtual Security Guard subscription service, which allows trained, third-party agents to monitor enrolled cameras on behalf of the business owner, the capabilities in what started as consumer-centric products have the potential to expand quickly.

My bet is that all smart home device-makers will up their game as they pursue small and medium businesses. It’s a natural extension to the target market and the technology has reached a point of maturity where moves like this are starting to make good sense.