Lowes executes a home automation play

8 January 2013 by Steve Blum
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Presumptive retailing.

“It's our fault – technology and business models – we just haven't gotten it right,” said Kevin Meagher, vice president and general manager for the smart home segment at Lowes. The problem isn't consumers, who readily accept automation. “It's in our cars and none of us would buy one without it. The hurdle is getting it into the home,” he said.

Meagher was speaking at the Parks Associates Connections Summit at CES this afternoon. He acknowledged that there are some cases where propriety connectivity technology is appropriate, but if the home automation market is going to take off, standards have to be open and products have to be interoperable.

That concept was unsettling to at least one big systems guy. “We're on a slippery slope,” said Scott Burnett, director, global consumer electronics industry at IBM. “I think Lowes is going to get a little bloody on this.”

Burnett's solution is to have a coordinating group – he suggested the Consumer Electronics Association – set standards and keep things tidy. He seemed annoyed that a retailer would presume to tell the rest of the industry what consumers want to buy.

Lowes is showing their Iris home automation platform at CES. Their objective is to make it easy for consumers to mix, match, install and use any brand of connected home device. This heterogeneous ecosystem is managed by an Iris gateway that connects back to Lowe's servers, which do the heavy lifting on the management side.

The service is free. Or at least Lowes isn't charging money for it. Meagher says the value to Lowes is, first, in the ongoing relationship they build with the customer and, second, in the opportunity to make use of his or her data.

Meagher thinks consumers will accept it if Lowes delivers value in return. Which is the piece of the puzzle that the manufacturers and service providers are missing. “What they need is guys like us to execute for them.”