All by Myself

All by Myself

What the rise in DIY means for security and home automation

Whether it’s a solution sold at a retail chain, a system ordered online, or the latest product on Kickstarter, it feels like Do-It-Yourself (DIY) is the new buzz in both security and home automation. This is a change that feels like a threat to many, but is a very common path for most technologies; it just took our industry a little longer than most.

Take computers for example. When computers were first invented, they filled entire rooms and needed complete staffs to operate. As the famous computer pioneer, Gordon Moore, predicted in 1965, in what would become known as Moore’s Law, the number of components placed on a microchip would double every year, which led to smaller and more powerful computers. The computer also became increasingly user friendly over time, from desktops to laptops, right up to today, where the phones we hold in our hands have more computing capability than the computers used to send men to the Moon in 1969.

In a similar way, security systems that began protecting only banks and jewelry stores, or the homes of multi-millionaires, have now become much smaller, much more powerful and easier to install and use—all the while becoming much less expensive. With self-contained security systems using wireless sensors, security dealers are able to install multiple systems in a day, opening up tremendous growth over the past 10 years.

The DIY systems that are emerging today are the next logical step for the growth of the security industry. The key to their success will be making these systems easier to install and easier to use. These will be the two most major success factors for security manufacturers and security dealers alike.

If we look back to computers, software has become much easier to install and use in the past 30 years, through the use of installation wizards and more intuitive and user friendly designs. Security needs to follow this same pattern to achieve success and mass adoption in the DIY market.

Expanding Security System Penetration

Why go to DIY at all? Research over the past 10 to 15 years shows that the penetration of residential security in the U.S. is somewhere between 20 to 25 percent of all homes. Many customers who see security as a desirable product, balk due to the cost of systems, or to being locked into long-term contracts. If you notice, that concern has become the key messaging focus of some successful entrants into the DIY space.

DIY systems hold the potential to expand the market share well beyond where it is today. Not only could these systems be ideal for homeowners of traditional single family homes, but due to the wireless nature and ease-of-install that wireless sensors offer, these systems could be installed and uninstalled and moved again and again. That would open-up the opportunity of security to be sold to customers who live in multi-dwelling units (MDUs) such as duplexes or apartments.

The National Multifamily Housing Council estimates that over 35 percent of Americans live in MDU homes, which is over 111 million people. This has been a market largely ignored by security dealers, but could be ideal for new DIY solutions. Systems that are designed to be installed and then are easy to be removed and re-installed in the next apartment would be more valuable to both the renters and the dealers as the security service relationship continues from address to address. This model has been successfully employed by satellite and cable TV providers for years now.

Targeting these customers also has the added benefit of creating relationships with security providers and customers much earlier in their lives. These systems could be expanded over time to protect more people and assets as their lives grow and include other services like home automation equipment.

Another great target for DIY systems is existing security customers that also have a vacation home. DIY systems could allow families that share vacation homes to verify who is using the property, or give disarm codes to friends for temporary use. Also, systems can be made to be flexible enough to accommodate temporary use by renters through property management companies or new marketplaces like Airbnb. The owners of the property could create “temporary” user codes that can easily be changed when that renter leaves. DIY systems can also give added protection to locked owners’ cabinets where the permanent owners store items that they want to keep secure from renters.

Making Installation Easier

Wireless sensors and back-end service providers offering system control apps have made security much easier for dealers to install and for homeowners to use. DIY systems will need to take another leap forward in ease of install to make these systems more user friendly for less experienced installers.

One method will be through easy step-by-step instructions videos. The app that runs the system is the best place to provide the content that will walk the customer through the installation of their DIY system. Videos created to show the best practices of “how to install” a particular sensor on a particular installation point, such as installing a wireless door sensor on a sliding glass patio door, can show the user what to do and most importantly, what not to do, making the installation easier and more secure. Video satisfies most of the styles people naturally use to learn by enabling them to see, hear and have almost a tactile example of what a successful installation looks like, making the installation experience better and much less intimidating.

The burden is on the manufacturers of these systems to make them much more intuitive to program than even the best systems of today, which have industry jargon like “entry-exit with delay” for door/window sensors, or “interior follower with delay” for motion detectors. DIY systems must employ common terms and eliminate industry jargon to avoid confusion.

Security professionals should not underestimate the competencies of today’s consumers, when given intuitive, step-by-step instructions. For example, most of us now complete our own taxes and make investment decisions for retirement using software tools that have made the steps of those transactions easier. Learnings from those markets can be transferred to DIY Security to make installation, programming and operation of these systems manageable for all.

Easier Control and On-Demand Monitoring

Just like the disruptive changes that have occurred in the tax preparation and investment industries described in the previous section, the service models of today will need to be more flexible for DIY Customers. The standard long-term contracts and $30 to $50 that amortize the cost of equipment over the life of the contract will no longer suffice.

DIY systems should be inexpensive to start, increasing the likelihood that the equipment is purchased up-front, making it unnecessary for the monthly monitoring cost to spread out the upfront expense of the physical equipment. DIY systems also eliminate installation expenses like truck rolls. Some of these costs will not disappear entirely, as more service operators may be needed to help DIY customers with questions that come up during installation, but this will significantly lower the monthly RMR.

Security dealers should recognize that these transactions, although lower per month, can be profitable on day one, in contrast to the contracts they use today, which take months to become profitable. Money is made on the equipment sale itself and monitoring is still profitable. If you look at other successful monthly services like Netflix and Pandora, monitoring costs below $15 per month equal payment amounts that consumers are very comfortable with making month after month.

A step even further will be to offer either “self-monitoring” or “ondemand monitoring” features, common of emerging DIY solutions. Self-monitoring can be offered at a lower monthly cost like $9.99, allowing end-users to establish their own response network for security events. Instead of calling the police, the system may alert a roommate, landlord or another predetermined contact. Security dealers could then offer a step-up solution to increase consumers from “on-demand monitoring” to professional monitoring for two weeks when the owners go on vacation, or seasonally for vacation homes.

Where to Go From Here

While the current security model will continue to successfully sell and deploy alarms throughout the market, the opportunity that emerging DIY solutions present is extremely viable. DIY security must be embraced and enhanced to match consumer’s preferences and expectations, resulting in a product that’s easier to install, program and use.

When that perfect mix of easy and intuitive is put into a kit for DIY customers, it opens up a huge new blend of target markets for the entire security industry to work with, and that is the real goal—to protect more people, more homes and more assets, while working with those customers to provide a monitoring package that is right fit for them.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Security Today.

  • The Z-Wave Alliance Focuses on the Residential Market The Z-Wave Alliance Focuses on the Residential Market

    Mitchell Klein serves as the executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, an industry organization that drives numerous initiatives to expand and accelerate the global adoption of smart home and smart cities applications. In this Podcast, we talk about the 2022 State of the Ecosystem, and the fact that technology has brought about almost unimaginable residential security resources. The Alliance also provides education resources as well as looking at expanding technology.

Digital Edition

  • Security Today Magazine - May June 2022

    May / June 2022


    • The Ying and Yang of Security
    • Installing Smart Systems
    • Leveraging Surveillance
    • Using Mobile Data
    • RIP Covid-19

    View This Issue

  • Environmental Protection
  • Occupational Health & Safety
  • Infrastructure Solutions Group
  • Spaces4Learning
  • Campus Security & Life Safety