Home Automation Podcast Episode #139: An Industry Q&A With Michael Cogbill
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Michael Cogbill of REV2 Consulting, shares on the early days of custom integration in the 80’s and early 90’s.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Michael Cogbill. Recorded live on Wednesday, October 7th at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Michael Cogbill
Michael Cogbill got his start in the custom integration industry in the ‘80s after reading an Electronic House article he found while traveling for work in the Defense and Aerospace industry.
Throughout his career, Michael has been involved in several startups, maintained a private consultancy for high net-worth homeowners, and was proudly involved in CEDIA since its founding.
Today, Michael is also on the CEDIA Board of Director and a new member of NEC’s Code Panel 3.
- The early days of custom integration in the 80’s and early 90’s
- His experience working on a project for Bill Gates’ Seattle home
- CEDIA initiatives Michael is most excited about
- Michael’s predictions for the future of our industry
Ron: Michael, how are you sir?
Michael: I'm good. I'm really good.
Ron: You look good. Your camera looks great. Your camera is crystal clear. Yeah. It looks better than mine. I'm here on my Mac. What do you call it iMac Pro. But I can't get any other third-party cameras to work and not break my computer. And so I'm using the native camera but yours looks great. Michael where are you coming to us from?
Michael: I am in the Palm Beach area actually specifically North Palm Beach.
Ron: Are you from North Palm Beach? Oh gosh no.
Michael: I bet with the cowboy hat maybe you're from somewhere other than Florida.
Ron: And with the accent. You think? Maybe?
Michael: Maybe just maybe. Yeah I grew up in Arkansas Texas, that area when I grew up. People ask me well did you always wear a cowboy hat well kinda. But it really started kicking him when I lost my hair. You know everywhere you get when you lose hair. Nothing's worse than a sunburn on that head. You've got a choice you're going to put cover on what is it going to be? Well, it was a natural for me to go over the cowboy hat. It's been my ID if you will. Everywhere I go and I've been to some pretty fancy places with a cowboy hat on.
Ron: I can always count on in any industry event. When I look across the sea of people if I see the cowboy hat I know it's you. It's certainly part of your identity these days. Now for those that may not know you Michael you are currently running a consultancy so let's just talk about that real quickly here. You left ETC I think you told me offline you were planning to retire and you left ETC the beginning of the year and but it looks like you've spun up your consultancy so can you tell us what that business is? Then I actually want to go back and kind of talk about your beginnings in the industry.
Michael: Yeah I always saw this niche. Yeah. Originally it was like I'll just do a few jobs here and there and I'll do that. And it's kind of working that way I'm kind of able to pick and choose now. But realistically the niche is this, if you guys work with your mechanical electrical and plumbing engineers that design the electrical systems and the HVAC systems and stuff like that. The missing element really has been that independent unbiased low voltage . You see it in commercial a lot the technology section of commercial specifications but you don't really see it in our industry. And I felt there was a big need and I talked a little bit to some builders and some old homeowners still call me. They just say well can you tell me what I should do? It's that guide to that major technology and I'm not selling product I'm not installing the product. I'm actually just trying to show you OK. This is what I think. Given what you've told. This is what I think you need and also I think what I do that's maybe a little unique in that I think I really have a skill set at, is I'm able to take something that's really really complicated and translate that into something that application or meaningful and why that's important to you homeowners to know and communicate that to. They don't care about the wiring in the wall stuff like that but it's the result of that.
Really what I'm doing is just finished a project, I'm still working on the project but the initial output that went out to bidders was a full set of drawings CAD drawings showing our device locations showing learning tables all that stuff. And then I wrote a 30-page specification that literally taught them basically these are the things I wanted to program to do. This is the equipment that I recommend you need to supply that or equivalent. It gave them an extremely tight specification and for the builder you know who said wow this is really great because now I can get an apples to apples bid. The specs type I can get a real bid now that I don't have to try to say well this guy is you know he's this much higher than this guy. Why is that? Is it really that much difference? I said yeah and I can look at that and find out if the existing thing or whatever. He said oh well certainly obviously. I've got stuff that I do later into the project.
Ron: To show in that model. Mike does the builder hire you or is it the homeowner that's hiring you?
Michael: In this case that particular job it was a homeowner. In another case it's actually been the builder because the homeowner wanted that contract under way. It's just a matter where they play. But at the end of the day , I'm really serving that homeowner to make sure they get what they want. What's important to them.
Ron: How common are you seeing this role of this system designer specifier or really this customer advocate. You're playing a customer advocate role in this capacity really looking out for their best interest to design or create the specification that meets their needs and you're helping them navigate this set of unknowns as to how do I go from this lifestyle I want or this experience I want in my home how do I go from that want or need to having a system that I love and that I'm happy I hired the right contractor or the right home technology professional. How often is this done?
Michael: How many times do you use a lighting designer? It's the bigger jobs it's the jobs where not every job has the engineering firms come on, mechanical electrical and plumbing engineers. But when you have the larger jobs where there's a need for those level of consultancy, you've got professionals in interior design, you've got the architects, you've got that caderie of players which is a place that a lot of us play in the higher end market. There's a place for that and it's been missing because what you have is, you have a dealer and nothing bad about this but they've had to fill the gap of design because no other party in that in that land knew what to do. They didn't have the knowledge and they really didn't have the knowledge to evaluate A versus B to send it out to bid. It's almost a futile effort.
What I found was that even though our guys in this industry typically do design-build that the idea of having somebody come in as an independent designer independent evaluator an independent guide on this thing with real experience that understood the installation process, understood the dealers needs, understood what was going on there. I'm really a good advocate for the dealer if he's delivering what he's supposed to deliver. It's not an adversarial situation but at the end of the day , I've got to make sure the owners get what he wants. Now my process is I start with something called a little system information guide and I go through each subsystem asking very practical questions. Are you interested in having surveillance cameras? Do you want to cover every inch of the property or do you want to do selective areas? Here's a list to give me an idea. Where and what do you think you want to see with these cameras? What are you looking to see? Watch the kids in the pool. Are you looking for recruiters? I'm trying to get an idea how high security what level that the customer wants and I'll take each subsystem and go through that with them to help them understand.
It's educational as well as it's informative for me. I'm not so interested that they get everything filled out and the answers are perfect but I'll figure out real quick what they have the most interest in. If the most interest is in, I've got to have my music then I'll know that and I'll be able to interpret that we need to do a little higher grade in audio here. We need to make sure we do that if they're video people we need to know that, if they're not I need to know that too. The idea is to get a good evaluation that's where I start. And then I'll have an initial set of drawings I'm doing because people are better editors than they are. I'll do what I think that needs. I'll put that on paper.
Ron: It's easier to edit than to have to create from scratch.
Michael: Yeah I mean look I mean if I ask you what do you want. People say I don't know what will I need?
"I have that happen to me all the time with marketing plans. If I were to ask them what do they want me to do? They're going to be like I don't even know how to answer that question."
Ron: I have that happen to me all the time with marketing plans. If I were to ask them what do they want me to do? They're going to be like I don't even know how to answer that question.
Michael: Yeah. Here's what I would do in this room based on what I understood that was important to you. And I'll get the editing I'll jump right in so I'll take that. And then from that I'll build specification and then we'll go forward from there. It's been good. I'm finding a nice little niche.
Ron: And that business is REV2 Consulting.
Michael: That is REV2 Consulting. People say why do you call it REV2? Well this is my second revision of automation life I guess you know.
Ron: I love it. Well let's go back if you don't mind. Let's go back. When you began. How did you land as I want to say you were an electrical engineer.
Ron: And you were working in the aerospace industry. You started what in that space in the 70s?
Ron: That would be right at the end of the Apollo program. The Apollo program ended in the 70s.
Michael: Yeah. I remember when I graduated there were two 4.0 students and we had all been interviewed. I must have interviewed at 30 companies. And we're all interviewing but nobody was hired. It was 1975. I had two offers and I'm standing there looking at two guys who with 4.0 said screw it we're going to graduate school because we got no offers. They were a little on the nerdy side and maybe was a little more on the sales side. I grew up my dad was a General Motors GMC truck and Buick car dealer in a little small town in Arkansas. I grew up around a salesman.
Ron: Some of those skills rubbed off.
Michael: Yeah a few did. He taught me some cool stuff. I went to work at Rockwell International. And it was terrific. The Defense Aerospace Industry, it was exciting. I was doing some exciting work. There are 100 war stories I could tell you but I don't want to drag us down into that one. But the idea is that I had worked with the Rockwell's, research labs out in California and did some work at the Marshall Space Flight Center center at NASA in Huntsville Alabama. I spent time over the rocket laboratory in Redstone Marshall where Wernher von Braun and done all work rocket work so I can claim to be a rocket scientist. I worked on the shuttle. I was working on the separation boats that the firing system that fires the explosion. We always used to laugh about the separation bolts because you want that explosion to break them apart at a specific point but you don't want them to break when you don't want a break. But you do want them to break when you do want to break.
Ron: That sounds like a terrifying piece to be working on.
Michael: But the question was how do you spec that? It was a lot of work there on how you did that and how you made sure you had that crossover specification. And again it's not like you can pre-test them. It's an explosion. I could test my firing system but you couldn't really test those unless you were not on things. There's no pretest taking off you just hope they work.
Ron: Holy moly. When when the space shuttle was going when the boosters had been spent when they fall off. Is that bolts that hold those on?
Michael: Yep, they're the separation bolts. It all comes out of the same technology used for ejection seats and in airplanes how they break those loose and then fire the retro rockets all that stuff sequencing and all that stuff it has to happen.
Ron: You were exposed to higher levels of technology.
Michael: It was. I worked with some of the guys back at Magnum Research Lab, that where big communication guys and they had done work with the radio system that Gary Powers had when he flew over Russia in the U2 back in the 60s. These were guys like the guys at the rocket laboratory where Wernher von Braun. They were kids when they went to work there and they tell me all these wild stories about Warner. Von Braun sleeping in his lab and all that stuff. I did that and finally got to a point where I was literally running liaison between the Capitol building and the Pentagon working big contract stuff like that. And I just got burned out. I was traveling too much. If you found out how our government works if you know today you are dissatisfaction with the Congress and the government.
Well I would start to see the early signs of that back then and how was so infused with getting reelected. That's really what it was about. I left that. Kind of just said I'm done. I left the industry I didn't know what I wanted to do. But I remember one Sunday morning. I set straight up in bed because I remembered a little article I got out of an airplane one day that said this new magazine called Electronic House and I stuffed it in a file and I got up it was like seven o'clock in the morning ran in there found that little thing and all it said was this magazine Electronic House and that was interesting talking about the new intelligence. Don't know where to get it. Don't know where to go. There's no Internet. Can't go search. None of this right. I'm the first guy to Dallas Public Library that day. I go to see the librarian and I said you got to give me the information. She gives me the name of this guy named Roger Dooley. And Roger was the publisher of the magazine. Monday morning at 8 o'clock.
I call Roger. Hey Roger. I'm really excited about your magazine. He said yeah. I said I want you to send me every single issue you've got. He said no problem Mike I'll send you all three. I'm serious! Oh, I thought I was late to the industry. Oh my God I gotta catch up. This is gonna get out ahead of me. Little did I know. Well five or six months I was involved with C.E bus committee meetings and all this stuff. Which was the early standards committees that led to doing some work in locally around town. I found some people they wanted to do houses, working with Tricia Parks writing articles.
Ron: CEDIA as a trade organization did not exist yet.
Michael: No. I remember it was like this was like '87 '88. There was really no trade organization. I had met a few other guys that did some similar things but that was just getting around and getting my name out there a little bit. I ended up starting a company called Intelahome. The intelligent home because I was getting requests to help people with their houses. And one of the more interesting what had been my first bosses boss. If you will at Rockwell International and he was the retired president of Rockwell International. Holy crap. I know who Kit Blackwood was and it was great. I got in and it's like two engineers working on something. Going to it. And I remember I had him in my office and I was showing him his touch screen that was not color at the time. It was like a luminescent I had his touch screen from AMX and I was showing him and I had this button on it and his wife was sitting there and while we're talking all this techie stuff she throws her hand down as the gauntlet between us and says hold it. I'm got a question guys. If I touch that. And I want to wipe that screen clean. My house is gonna go wild. Well you know Karen I never really thought about that but OK. And I created the clean screen button right then and there for Karen. It said this is your clean screen button, she loved it showed everybody that ever came to her house. She showed them her personal button. Karen's clean screen button was the name of that button.
Ron: So you pressed the button and it would remove all the other actions?
Michael: It would go to a blank screen, it would freeze and say please clean me you got five minutes and it would do it. Just things like that you were learning early on you had no idea you know that. But anyway I remember he had invited myself and Tricia Parks to go talk to some of his senior executives from other divisions. And I said OK great. I'll come in to do that. And we were sitting at an executive lunchroom. And I remember sitting at this one time when the guy says. You know. We had been in this space shuttle. And I was like. Oh my God , you talk about a power lunch. This is a serious power lunch here. Stuff like that. That's how I got started. And then it just grew from there. It just grew from there and I've been at it ever since.
Ron: What did an integrated home in the late 80s early 90s even mean? If you had someone with unlimited money and they wanted technology. Well, maybe they used to watch the cartoon the Jetsons from Xerxes. What would you do for them? Well, let me say I think we all know what we do today. Was it the same then or what was?
Michael: Oh gosh no. I mean we were just pioneering here. Everybody wanted to be able and I loved the touch screen approach and I could show that with it and I used some of the AMH stuff that they were doing in the boardroom to integrate audio-video stuff. Well you know they were saying OK I want to be able to do my heating cooling and we have lighting systems like light touch in the early Vantage system. You had those out there and we have ways that actually had protocols we could write on RSG 232 to communicate with them. But you know they wanted security. They wanted HVAC and there's no thermostats and I can really talk to no network thermostat. And I end up working with Jerry Carlino to develop some of that. But in the early days we would literally switch over from the thermostat and use relays and write our own algorithms so that we could do it from our own sensors and do our own thermostat emulation.
"I see the whole integration process as brute force. We take things that weren't originally designed to go together to be able to provide people with that simple interface."
That's what we would have to do because it was not thought of. Security systems. I remember there was a silent night system that you could talk through its printer port and get a little bit of information but you couldn't really control these things. I remember on the C Bus committee with me was a guy named Steve Wynn. He was a Vice President of Technology at Dinka. And I kept dogging that guy saying look give me the protocol and the keypad but I just wanna emulate your keypad. Give me that protocol. He wouldn't do it, said it was security reasons. I finally got him a little liquored up one night said come on man what's the deal here? He said Well I'm kind of embarrassed by the protocol. It's a bad technology it's not really good. And I wouldn't really want to expose. But. I don't care. I just want to do it. I remember about three years ago I got a call from one of my ex-employees who was still supporting Kent Black and we had built that box that adapted from the keypad bus into the Arias 232 and he says you won't believe it but that damn thing's still working. I said well I think I built 10 of those and put those in. That's where I really started to say this stuff is brute force. Nobody's sitting down at Dimco or Sony or anywhere else and say yeah let's build these products so they can integrate and to this day they're still not totally doing that. But those are opening up a little better. I see the whole integration process as brute force. That's what we do. That's most of what we do. We take things that weren't originally designed to go together to be able to provide people with that simple interface.
Ron: Speaking of brute force I happen to know because I know you, that you were called out. To actually meet with Bill Gates. Oh yeah. Back on his early project the big the first big house.
Michael: Yeah the one up in Seattle. Yeah, the one that had the underground stuff and all that.
Ron: What was that like?
Michael: Oh it was fascinating. I had gotten called in by one of the guys that was working on that. I had a guy Michael Avery. He's been in our industry forever as well. And he said Mike come up here. You got to help me man. Explain some of this stuff you know. They put us in a room and at the time, they always hired these really smart kids out of Stanford and all these other places like that, so I'm in a room full of smart kids and they're droning on about how they're gonna do this. One of the things I remember is they were going to do a grid that was in the half house and you have this little tag that you put on. And as you walked around a house it knew your location. And based on their location they would then at the time we didn't have high definition but there were start to pop up in Japan. They said then we're gonna have these high definition displays and we're going to display art. In fact we're going to do that. We even created a separate company that went out and bought digital art so that they could have that. I mean it was the first of its kind. He had couple of lawyers working on that and they were marinating in the model. The visual rights to the Mona Lisa. Remember that one. They're talking about all this and said yeah and when they walk in the room they're going to do this.
Just understand something real practical here what's gonna happen when two people cross in the hall. How are you going to play my music and his music and their art and my art? Well , I'm sure we'll find a way to reconcile it. And then what if you got a large group of people in a room? How are you going to play the music that they all like? What if Bill walks in a room? Are you going to flip it over to his music? Well how does that work? You walk in a room, temperature is going to go up, lights are going to come on. I said how are you gonna keep my temperature up to speed in two seconds? I said it takes minutes to get that up to temperature. They didn't have practical answers. It got to the point they were talking to Bowie about a glass panel in the floor below the floor or there was this room that they were going to have these robots. They were going to get from Bowie and they were gonna be able to take laserdisc and VCR tapes and go plug them in different players throughout the whole place and show what it's actually wanted something to robot go get it. Plug it in.
I said that there's new media coming. What are you gonna do about that? I guess we'll have to reprogram a robot. Doesn't sound very practical to me. We don't know what that's going to look like or how to go work and overnight. There's a lot of little things like that that manifested itself.
Ron: That is straight out of the Jetsons. That was a money is no object sort of technology first approach.
Michael: I mean we walked out onsite. I remember Bill was standing out there and he would just chewing the architects up one side and down the other about budget and saying you guys don't understand anything. He's going on about it. He was in full force mode and I said to that guy well we just doubled his budget. From what I've told you this morning I said what's he gonna say about that? I don't know. So we go over and we talk to him, explain the budget. Dale said budget? I'm in the technology business there is no damn budget. Yes sir. Happy days. That was an experience and a half I got to tell you. Yeah.
"Oftentimes the people that start businesses works for an integrator and they're the programmer or the salesperson or whoever and they decide that they can do it better or they want to do it on their own."
Ron: Mike when in the early days how did you decide what your business model was going to be? And I'm just going to compare that to anyone starting in the technology business today. Oftentimes the people that start businesses works for an integrator and they're the programmer or the salesperson or whoever and they decide that they can do it better or they want to do it on their own. But there's a paradigm there's a definition of how to run this type of business how to scale it where the thresholds the ceilings for scaling it are. How did you figure it out when there was no one to look at or was there did you look at a different industry or how did you approach it?
Michael: Well that's a great question because I was not probably the smartest businessman type. I was an engineer's engineer and I thought OK well I start this thing and I said OK so how do I model it? I said first thing I've got to do is write a contract so somebody can pay me. I do know that much. I went and hired a lawyer and said well I need a contract can be lawyer right. I hired this business lawyer and sat and did 30-40 minutes explaining what I do and all that stuff. What he came back was atrocious. It was atrocious it had nothing to do with anything I was selling or delivering or anything. And so I had at that point to sit down and write a contract. And the nearest thing I could find a model was that AI documents with some little reference but you know you got to realize there was really no references back then. There was no CEDIA. There was nobody I could go ask. There was no similar firm. That was it.
How do you do this business? We were creating our own processes making mistakes every which way. But we started creating checklists. We started figuring out we've got to get repetitive stuff. Got to be able to do things over and over. And we took some models. At that time. I was more modeled after a design firm and it developed because a lot of work I was doing in the beginning was out of town. And so what I would do is I'd fly inti town find the best dealers and call all the manufacturers that I knew and say who's your best guy in town? And I found a security guy found an AV guy and we'd go from there. And I was providing programming services and stuff like that. I kind of just built from there. And then the natural osmosis you start hiring installers and you're actually installing this stuff and putting it in, it just grew from that. And then by the early 90s , I was starting to meet other people that did what we did. I could say well what do you do here? How do you do this? CEDIA was the best thing to ever happen. I'll be honest with you for all of us out there because we were just grasping for knowledge in different areas. I was an integrator I was not the best AV guy in the deal. When CEDIA started I was their SI guy, their system integration guy. I was more in that vein than the guys who were coming at it from the AV world.
Ron: In the early 2000s or in the mid 2000s I want to say if I read it here I think around '05 '06 '07 somewhere in there you joined ETC. You joined up with Bill Marinette to run engineering at ETC and for those that aren't aware ETC and in Florida is one of the largest if not the largest certainly at the time one of the largest residential integration firms in the state. One the largest in the country and you were running engineering. Can you speak to some of the philosophies that you applied to that business that led to use you being able to kind of put your stamp on the business and what ultimately led to you guys running an effective integration firm from a scoping and engineering standpoint?
Michael: Bill and I had known each other for years. And I had originally in my company in Telehome, we had developed some software and it was patented. We can look it up. Under the name Intelahome and you'll see my name there. Well we patented some software and he had some people who were showing it to. I met him in early 90s at a few conferences. I remember we were in one Kinko's one night. Making copies for our class the next day. Both of us madly making them the night before. And so I met him there met his wife and all that we got to know each other and we stayed in contact. In 2006, he called me out in San Diego I've been doing some work with some lighting designers and some integration, was working on a marina in America's harbor new marina that was there doing leads based system. Anyways, we were doing a lot of stuff out there. He called me and said hey how would you like to go to Florida? We're just going crazy here. And I said I don't know. I looked at my wife at the time and said do you want to go to Florida? She said yeah I think so. I'm in San Diego.
Ron: San Diego is pretty nice.
Michael: That's what I kept telling Bill. Now I don't know if I want to come to Florida. But I got here and I've loved it ever since. But when I first came in and answer your original question when I first came in I remember taking my time kind of looking around. I knew some of the guys there from the times I'd come with Bill from before. And I remember the first thing I saw was his drawing system was atrocious. It was the worst that it's in the drawings they would take the architects CAD if they could get it. They were taking and putting little scribbles over here put dots on there. By this time, over the years I've developed my own set of symbols and I had all this stuff and so the first day and I literally took about two to three months reengineering that whole drawing system and documentation system that they had. And I think that was fundamental to transitioning that to coming from our solid engineering base design. I would go out for example I'd ask people, "You're using these products. Why did you choose these products?" Well, I don't know it's what we always used I said lets re-evaluate that let's make sure we're using the right thing. I would try to go through that. The other thing we did was we tried to tighten down the mix of products that we had. That to me is one of the key things you can do in any integration firm. Tighten down. Don't change products every time something new comes out. Try to get some consistency, try to get some experience with that product.
Change when necessary not because it's the new thing. That probably is the key to what I found was good and we put in some processes and procedures for the field. We talked in terms of engineering deliverables and field deliverables. What do you have to do? How do you know you're done? What is a completion?
Ron: The concept of checklists or procedures to define that the customer accepts the final product and you in fact get done.
Michael: And I used to preach this one thing that was repeatability. And I remember I was in Italy and I sent one of the techs a picture of a box of McDonald's French fries. And I said it's amazing it tastes the same here as it does in Palm Beach. How is that possible? And the point was process procedure and repeatability work. That works and you got to get that data. You got to be able to do things similar every time.
Ron: Now I know ETC over the years has been awarded some spectacular projects and some super famous people. I won't mention any. Any project that stands out for you that was kind of interesting to you maybe challenged you or you thought was particularly fun?
Michael: Oh man that's a tough question. There's so many.
Ron: Maybe a feature of a particular project.
Michael: I remember one project where there was a microphone that the lady wanted to be able to hear the ocean and the house was set back too far from the ocean. Plus she didn't want to leave her windows open because of the humidity and the temperature instead. She said can we just put a microphone down and listen to the ocean and my music when I go at night?
Ron: That's a pretty cool idea.
Michael: Yeah let's do that. I said do you realize about every six months we're going to have to change that lightbulb? That salt is going to eat it up! I don't care what we did. Then she says I understand but can't be that great. Yes. OK. So we did. We put it down here. And one day there was this, I'd never seen it in California but I saw it here a couple of times. There was this dead still on the ocean no waves no noise, really a dead still. Well. Lo and behold she got in there and turned it down. Couldn't hear anything. Near the ocean. Day after day so she just cranked it up til I guess it broke. Then I had to replace that microphone. About that time, here comes both a motorboat coming right down there and one of those airplanes with the signs behind it flew down right over the top of the beach and it sounded like World War 2. She was calling me, she said I was gonna die in an attack. I swear she said. I said oh my gosh I said I never thought I'd say two words. What happened? Finally, we figured it out. We had to put noise limiters but that's how you learn!
Ron: Yeah. How could you have preplanned for that? Pre thought that out. That's pretty cool. You and I'm mindful of time and I still have a lot of want to go through with you. You are a member of the CEDIA board of directors. First of all, thank you for your service and dedication to the industry and the time that you donate to do that. So thank you for that. And what are some of the initiatives that are going on in CEDIA that people listening or watching should know about or care about?
Michael: Well I have a deep love for CEDIA and it goes back to the early days. We had the early meetings. The original island thing I remember sitting there with the Vice President of Panasonic Technologies. My gosh Bayonex was up there talking about RS232 and this guy says what's RS232? Jud Hoffman punched me and said, "You know Michael we've got a long ways to go with this bunch." It was interesting in the early days and they always asked me to get on the board in the early days and serve and I said, you know look I go and I teach two or three courses at every CEDIA. I'm there when you need me. I've supported you on lots of baby stuff that you needed for the shows but I'm not going to do it. I'm going to stay with my business. Moving on to today, I looked up and it was I don't know 2018 or whatever and I said you know what? I'm gonna run. Maybe somebody will remember me but we'll see and sure enough I got elected. I'm very thankful for that because it's been tremendous. Now as far as where I see CEDIA. It's still a real key in our industry. It's a place you can go. It's a place you can find your peers it's a place that you can get involved in. If I could preach one thing don't just sit there and say what does CEDIA do for me?
Get involved, just the people alone you're going to meet. I can call anybody all over the country with all kinds of questions. Pick up the phone and call a guy like Anthony. "Hey Anthony where would you get something like this or have you run across this?" Those are the kind of relationships that you just need, you want. The main thing I'm seeing with CEDIA right now is we're doing some exciting stuff with education. It's growing it's evolving. You've got a taste of it. With the free stuff that came out the whole concept here is to create a career path take a young guy comes into this industry let's take that young guy and say I'm the owner of the company. I say all right now I want you take these five courses. They're about learning how to do rough. There's the details. It's stuff like that. Or I can take a more advanced technique I want you to take these courses. And this between now and your next review OK. And we can assign as an owner you can sign value and money to that and we put people on a career path. We can create competition between employees. We can show progress. We can actually do it because I've tried to do that internally do training internally. I did it with ETC constantly trying to do that. Boy it's time-consuming. And then to figure out the different paths and the different levels and certifications and all that stuff is very difficult.
CEDIA is putting a big emphasis on certification standardization. They're now accredited ANSI standard. That was a big big deal to become ANSI accredited. That's the American National Standards Institute. We were accredited to provide standards not just as CEA is IEE Institute of Electrical Electronic Engineers and other organizations that are a member of the ANSI process. That was a big deal. So if you put that together we're really focused on trying to make sure that people have a place where they can learn and grow. The second area I think is very important as we go forward is technology is evolving. OK we're going to be in fights I'm telling you over lighting fixtures with these electricians because we're now getting in the lighting business because control's moving into the fixture. What do we do? We're going to have to protect our space. That means legislating. We've got CEDIA out there going to be looking at every law is being passed in every state looking at licensing looking all these things to make sure that safety is voices heard. In fact , one of the things I'm doing right now is I'm on one of the code making panels for the National Electrical Code for the National NFDA. .
Ron: Has CEDIA ever had a representative in the NEC decision making process?
Michael: No the seat became available and we jumped on it and it's right in that area of low voltage stuff where we wiring all this stuff. We want to make sure that that's available to do for us and that it makes sense and is properly specified. It's been interesting because you've been a lot of electrical people that were on it. And I've covered it from a low voltage standpoint and we're talking a lot about what's happening with data over coag. Those kind of things like that. What happens with POE 57 volts or whatever. Is that too high of voltage? And so we're getting those things in there, getting the wiring classes in there. That's been I think a big element for us to play. And so I'm excited for the future of CEDIA. CEDIA's been I think they were pre-eminent in selling the show obviously. That was very helpful. We able to build a whole new headquarters. We've got one floor fully leased and we've got a situation where we have the resources and staff to move forward with these education opportunities. Well I tell you what you look at is some of these courses that are being put together. I think what really creates like some of the staff has done is they said well look let's modularize this so that if I had somebody like a Comcast or an AT&T or somebody come to me and say hey I need a course in training on this network. They can take this piece this piece this piece and put it together so one class might be made up of 10 separate modules in each one of the modules might be 10 or 15 minutes long that you could go take that course and learn that little segment while you're having lunch on your job you know.
That and then short of a final element is we're really looking at how do we make certification something that provides real value? Now I never said that I want to have a homeowner come in and say to me hey is this guy certified with CEDIA? That's not going to happen I don't think in my near future.
Ron: You'd have to spend a of money on customer awareness for that to be possible.
Michael: Yeah. Well, what I do think is important is if the content is good. This the information is good there's value in it for owners and people you hire and being able to carry that little certification to your next job. And say hey, look here I'm CEDIA certified and it has value. And it means something. That's what we're concentrating on. And there's a whole element working on that certification right now to revise and revamp that.
Ron: If you were to look into your crystal ball for next year 2021 and for those listening. This is in October 7th 2020. If you look into the crystal ball for next year do you think our industry starts to have in-person events? I know there's all the buying group events in the Spring slated. InfoCom ISE slated for June CEDIA slated for September. Any feelings of. I know there's hopes and prayers but any sort of feelings you're able to express?
"I think we've accelerated the digital transformation enormously in the last just 6 months."
Michael: I do think that by say June or July will have had enough distribution of a vaccine that will be out there. There will be ways that you can certify somebody vaccinated and you're safe. I'm talking about mid next year we're going to be back on track. But I think we're going to live in a very different world cause this has changed us all. I truly do. And I think we've accelerated the digital transformation enormously in the last just 6 months that we've been doing this. I never did that much on video and work in place and in conferencing and it's pretty amazing what we've seen happen. I think going forward there's a great future out there for integrators. I see things that are going to move beyond the house. And I think there's some exciting areas to this.
Ron: Well let's talk about technology using that same crystal ball. What are some of those areas that have you excited? And I'm just going to make an assumption that I know you're like a super engineer looking into the future trying to predict what's coming and then you also have your ear to the tracks because of your CEDIA ties. What do you think's coming down the pipe that's going to affect the life of the integrator and the consumer?
Michael: Well, I do look at that. I'm a consummate reader and follower of technology and what's happening and where it's going. There's a lot of transformation. You start with what's transforming in our world. And let's take transportation for example in 10 years will you be driving? I don't know. Will we have. There's a thing out there right now it's called transportation as a service. We talked software as a service, they're talking about transportation as a service. It's just something you get. If you look at those transformative things and then you look at what we have today with just outside the vehicle how does the vehicle integrate with my house? I have Alexa in my truck right now. It's kind of cool.
Ron: You have commands to your truck and it talks to your house or it talks to the truck? I can talk to my house through my truck. I could tell my house to unlock the frontdoor. It's those kind of things that are starting to come to pass. Then start thinking start looking at the transformation of if we see all this technology happening everywhere. What's going to happen when we talk about smart community? How do we bring that in and become part of the smart community and integrate with that?
Michael: Not only is the outside and everything inside my house. Is that starting to flow naturally together. And I think if you look at those trends and see where that's going it's happening. We were integrating more and more in government buildings integrating more and more in the community services that we have. And the local facilities and whether it's your local golf course or whether it's a country club or what it is.
That's part of becoming a member of the smart community. I think there are always these integration opportunities. Now you know obviously the near-term things everybody's talking about right now. Wellness is hot. It is really important and I'm getting a lot of interest and doing a lot of stuff with my clients on wellness. If you don't know about wellness spend some time with some of the CEDIA podcast and get that information. The other thing is lighting. Lighting is transforming. You're not going to have these big back of house systems anymore because the control is going to the fixture. You buy a fixture, it's going to have built-in control. So are we going to start putting it in fixtures? There's a good chance we might. Will it be retrofittable? Yeah you can retrofit this stuff. Because we're going to talk to this stuff wirelessly.
Ron: Yeah, I like the Lutron Ketra stuff like the lamps you still win. Those are actually smart lamps.
Michael: And then I think as an integrator I would be thinking if I'm looking forward I would be thinking about what I would call destination spaces. We're doing on the technical advisory committee or council at CEDIA we're putting together paper on that called destination spaces. I just saw a deal where a company called MercyGym.com look it up it's really cool. They've got you surrounded with an environment set on a treadmill or on a bike or whatever. And as you travel you're moving through this environment. These immersive situations and have you ever seen some of these things are looked at? I don't know. Just watch some of the stage sets you're seeing with the 3-D that they're doing on TV shows it's amazing with the projection imaging and what they're able to do. You've seen it.
Ron: Oh the 3-D mapping where they're shooting.
Michael: All that stuff. It's great. Take and turn that inside a home or something like that. We try that.
Ron: Yeah I have not yet seen it but I'm actually starting to get some companies follow me on social media. I guess they're tracking me or something regarding the 3D mapping and turning art into your home into 3-D maps art installations and how that's going to be a thing. Yeah.
Michael: If you think about spatial computing. What is that spatial computing? Well, we're going to move into 3D space and we're not going to be tied to a phone or a laptop or 2D environment for you to have wearables. We're going to have goggles, headsets, we're going to have all kinds of thing that are going to be computing environments and it's happening really fast. Dr. Rich Greene he is on this hard and there's some great books about it right now. But I can tell you that that spatial computing is going to change how we interact with our automated world. And that's a very exciting area to want to look at. I'll tell you one of the reasons I look at a lot of stuff is I'm an investor so I'm looking for those companies.
Ron: You're looking for the companies to put your money in.
Michael: Yeah I want to find the next Google or the next Amazon but you know. It's out there. Let me tell you there's so much going on that it's exciting.
Ron: Michael. Believe it or not we've been here an hour and a mindful of your time and your hard stop. And I wanted to first of all anyone watching or listening that wants to get directly in touch with you what's your recommended method? You want them emailing you do you want them calling you or visiting a web site?
Ron: And Mike thanks for coming on the show, man. It was a blast. I love your stories.
Michael is currently Principal at REV2 Consulting, on the CEDIA Board of Directors, and a new member of NEC’s Code Panel 3. Throughout his career, Michael has been involved in several startups, maintained a private consultancy for high net-worth homeowners, and was proudly involved in CEDIA since its founding.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing within the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.
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