Al Levi: Technology waits for no one
I was back in Long Island New York for consulting work on a relatively warm winter’s day a few years back, and whenever I get back to Long Island, I love to visit my brothers and my nephew. They’re usually busy keeping their fellow Long Islanders warm in winter and cool in summer while ensuring their plumbing fixtures are working, and their lights are on, and their power is flowing.
As a bonus of having a job that takes me back to the motherland — Long Island — I would get a chance to catch up with my good friend and mentor, Dan Holohan.
Dan and I sat at a diner catching up over breakfast, like we did for so many years when I was working in the field in the family business. Dan was my troubleshooting ally as we headed off to find cool stuff to troubleshoot together.
Once the questions about our families were out of the way, we began to discuss where we both saw the industry trending in the years ahead.
It was a spirited give and take, as it always was, and as always, I came away a smarter man for having talked with — and, more importantly, listened to — Dan.
“I remember leaving the business back in 2000 and being promised that equipment would be so smart it would call us up when it was getting ready to break down or just when it knew it was due for service,” I said. “Sort of like the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ but a whole lot less onerous. Even back then, I would be working on sophisticated commercial controls that could allow me to monitor the temperature remotely in a bunch of buildings and even know how efficiently the equipment was working.
“I see it has worked its way to the residential market with home automation, but it seems to me there’s still a long way to go to really own a significant place in the mainstream residential marketplace.”
He replied: “With tight budgets, young buyers of homes today are making tough decisions on how much they want to invest in the bells and whistles of a high-end system. So although the technology is there, it’s not making its way to the field as much as would be hoped for, or as quickly.
“There is a much greater need for an economical system that is more customer-friendly, and in my reading, I’m seeing that people and companies from outside our industry — namely the technology sector — are jumping into our business and getting positioned to pose a real threat to those manufacturers not taking the threat seriously and to contractors who want to stick their head in the sand.”
So I asked, “What are the implications of this new trend as you see it?”
He continued: “They may just cut out the traditional manufacturers and service providers by going directly to the end user and connecting with them in a way that shows they’re more attuned to what it takes to make heating systems and a lot more like a turnkey system as they have done to our smart phones and computers.”
I paused to take it all in. Dan continued.
“The way I see it, the contractors and technicians of today may become extinct if they dig their heels in too deep and are not responsive to these changes coming downstream,” he said. “To me, those who invest in building real-world training centers are positioning their companies and their staff to be able to serve the newer high-end technology have a future. Those who want things to never change and be more simplified may end up going the way of the dinosaur, and they won’t know they’re the dinosaur until it’s too late.”
We both sipped at our coffees and considered what we had been discussing, and appreciated that we were both seeing the same trend from a slightly different angle within the industry based on what we both were doing at that point in time.
Here’s what we both agreed on: Some smart contractors will get ahead of the curve and embrace the changes. They are already on the “green curve,” and they are getting tied into the “home energy solution” marketplace. They are already serving their clients by being their total solution provider.
We also agreed that those contractors who don’t invest the time, energy and money to learn and master the higher levels of technology will be left to snap up the scraps and be in a low bidder war for the foreseeable future.
Skip ahead a few years from our time together over a meal, and Dan was right. The pace of automation, electronics and Wi-Fi, to name just a few game changers, have burst to the forefront and are becoming more and more commonplace.
You can’t be a great tech without a ton of great training on the latest trends in the home service business. That’s because the stuff we work on is getting more and more sophisticated. Techs also have to have better and more comprehensive diagnostic equipment to keep pace. This needs to be coupled with hands-on training to make those tools do the job they were designed for.
Older contractors may wish for the good old days, and I get it, but time waits for no man — and technology waits for no industry.
So, what’s it going to be for you, your company and your staff members who trust you to keep them gainfully employed?