The internet of things has become a dominant topic in both technology and consumer circles, and nothing manifests that trend better than the smart home. And for good reason — home automation technology is convenient, efficient and is being developed by many of the largest technology companies in the world. Not to mention, smart home technology is perceived as a major trend and there is some cachet to be derived from being ahead of the curve.
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Smart home — and its more complex analog in the professional world, smart facility — is seeing incredible growth, with many vendors creating both devices and software, and a thriving maker community that is taking a DIY approach. Through our own personal experience, we’ve discovered that the type of person who is building their own smart home tools is also the type that oftentimes works in IT or a related field. Not surprising that technical professionals would also be DIY whiz kids, but in the case of smart home, there’s a number of reasons why it makes sense:
- Many providers are offering point solutions or partial solutions, not complete services
- Costs can run high for many devices
- Data generated by devices is often stored in a vendor’s cloud, which raises privacy and security concerns
- Data is also stored for a short time only and is inaccessible, leaving those who want to track and analyze data in the cold
The alternative approach involves makers utilizing many of the skills they have developed during their careers. Most smart home components can be built by someone with basic labor and electrical skills, and the commodity parts used to make them are often available for pennies. There is also a worldwide support community online that offers guidance and instruction on projects ranging such as gesture-controlled light dimmers. Add in an inexpensive 3D printer, either purchased or used at a “maker space,” and one can build professional-looking housings for sensors, switches and control devices.
Devices are one part of the equation — the second is control. This is where IT and the nascent smart home world collide — many systems administrators have a deep understanding of monitoring. They may have experience monitoring a smart facility in their work environment, but even if they don’t, they have still used monitoring tools to collect and analyze data on an IT environment. The smart home is the same, and in a DIY environment, makers can monitor everything without having to cut through proprietary hardware or software.
By taking advantage of freely available network monitoring software at home, DIY smart home users will be able to collect data on all devices, evaluate it, publish and share it on maker websites, and be alerted to any problems. For example, a user can collect and analyze data on electricity usage over time and set up an alert that sends a notification if usage exceeds certain thresholds. There are numerous possibilities, but when the entire system is built by the home owner, they can control and manipulate all of the data.
With some technical skill, free monitoring tools and a small amount of money in parts and equipment, most anyone can make their home “intelligent.” The DIY method is both tempting in price and control, but it also represents an opportunity for technical workers to hone skills and perhaps even develop new skills that they will bring into the work environment. And, of course, as with any other venture, there is always a sense of accomplishment that comes with doing it yourself.
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