How France is preparing for Amazon Alexa... and the GAFA invasion.

This week I was invited for two days to a boot camp organized by the French Home Automation Federation (Fédération Française de Domotique "FFD"). One of the big themes of the boot camp was the validation of a set of specifications to create a professional quality mark for our AV & Home Automation industry. This work has been done in partnership with the French Association of Normalization (Association Française de Normalisation "AFNOR Certification") who will be helping to design specifications, audit pros and promote the label.

The event was pretty big for the French market. Electricians, AV installers, home automation installers, Internet services providers, manufacturers, distributors, architects, professional press and even an ergotherapist were there for a total of roughly 120 people. The goal of the FFD and AFNOR Certification was to set the bar of the label specifications as high as possible, and of course, as you can imagine, the goal of the professional installers was to set the bar as low as possible. We were all there to find the right balance between what we should do, what’s possible for a first step now and in the future.

Here are some of the specifications of the label (there are many others):
- Prove that you participated in at least two professional trainings per year
- Be able to reply to any customer request within 48 hours
- Implement a mechanism to collect feedback from end users
- Display clearly on your website prices for installation and service
- Deliver well documented files of the installation
- Systematically propose a service and maintenance contract to end users

I was there because I was involved in some of the working sessions on the certification, but also for my knowledge of what’s happening in the US market, my legendary straightforward way to speak and, of course, my sense of humor. An important piece of information you should get at this point is: Google Home and HomeKit are available in France, but not yet Alexa.

During my first intervention I gave them the example of Lennar and Amazon partnering to deliver houses with connected equipment already installed by the Amazon team. I explained to them that for many reasons, good or bad, the American AV and Home Automation installers have been pushed out of the game. Whatever those reasons, we haven’t been chosen for this job and this is bad because we are the only task force able to execute those kinds of jobs. Amazon should have been only a supplier for the hardware, and we should install and maintain everything, giving our industry enough incomes and recurring revenue for the next hundreds of years. Now, even if I wish them a total success, I'm quite sure it's not going to be as easy as they expected for Lennar and Amazon to deliver smart houses. Let me tell you again: We, I mean the actual AV and home automation installers, are the only ones able to do it.

Our AV industry suffers from a bad perception: We are not, or we are not perceived to be, well organized and credible enough to the eyes of a big home builder like Lennar. No official certification, no boundaries, no restriction, no specific professional insurance, it is way too easy to pop up out of nowhere and become a “Custom Installer”. Quoting Kris Gamble from Customised UK, “We are perceived like concept car manufacturers. We are not Ferrari or Lamborghini who can deliver thousands of exact same cars per year with service and maintenance. We never proved to the construction industry that we are able to work with them, handle 500 houses and provide clear documentation, service, maintenance, support.

The AV & home automation industry was not well prepared enough for this GAFA phenomenon, and except for a few that were considered heretics at the time, no one saw this coming.

Let’s try to prepare and organize ourselves” I told the French pros. “Let’s be credible and show the construction industry they can rely on us to help them deliver the smart home end users want!” The construction industry will face big pressure from end users to deliver smart houses, and they have absolutely no clue on how to do it. We must give them a solution before they’ll figure out by themselves and create their own team or partnership with someone else!

My second intervention was to deliver my Service, Maintenance, Guaranty & Delegation training. That was fun: Manufacturers, architects, Internet services providers, the FFD and AFNOR Certification were all on my side, while, as usual, all professional installers where on the other extreme with the excuse that it would be very difficult to sell:

- Installers:If we talk about service and maintenance contract, we will lose clients!
- Architects: WellIf I must choose between 5 different proposals, I will take the one with a maintenance contract
- Installers: “Actually I can’t afford 590€ annual fee for the AFNOR certification!!!”
- Me: This certification will pay back its cost 10 times over the first year, my friend

In the end, even if a handful of professional installers still resist change, the vast majority acknowledge that giving boundaries and a framework is good for our industry. It’s not going to be easy for everyone. We will have to help and give dealers support with documentation and examples of maintenance agreements on offer. But, very soon, we will have standards set in France thanks to the FFD and the label delivered by AFNOR Certification that will among other things specify the need of a service and maintenance contract proposal to each end user. We are even working now on a version 2 that will specify the need for remote supervision (RMM)!

Feel free to contact me or François-Xavier from FFD or Eric from AFNOR Certification if you want to help to setup a certification in your country. If France can do it, everyone can. It’s never too late.

Be aware Alexa... France is waiting for you!


About the French home automation Federation: The goal of the French Home Automation Federation is to accelerate the development of home automation in France. FFD is a non-profit organization which is aimed at all the actors involved in this sector, whatever their sector of origin: The FFD's ambition is to become an independent observatory, to be a force for proposals, to promote a positive image of home automation and to facilitate synergies between manufacturers, distributors, operators, service companies, building professionals, professional organizations, consumer associations, specialized media and, more generally, all the natural or legal persons interested in home automation.
François-Xavier Jeuland from the FFD :
About AFNOR Certification: (Wikipedia) The Association Française de Normalisation (abbreviated as AFNOR) is the French organization representing France at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). Since January 1st 2014, following the merger of AFNOR and the UTE (Union technique de l'électricité), she has also been a member of the European Committee for Standardization in Electronics and Electrotechnics (CENELEC) at European level and of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) at international level. AFNOR was created in 1926 and is under the supervision of the Ministry of Industry. It has about 3,000 members companies. Since its merger with the Association Française pour l' assurance de la qualité in 2004, it has been part of the AFNOR group. AFNOR publishes the collection of NF standards which usually identifies a document by the form NF L CC-CCC in the French national nomenclature.
AFNOR Certification is a subsidiary of AFNOR Group in charge of Certifying products, services, management systems or personal skills which opens the door to new-found success for companies.
Eric Laurencon from AFNOR Certification :