Digital Connect Magazine – September 2004 | by Marie Lingblom

Giving Control

In a short nine months, integrator System 7 builds a varied portfolio based on a strong networking foundation

Technology is adding new texture to the rooms behind the brass door-knockers of the 19th century brick row houses and hidden gardewns that line Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Local digital integrator System7, which has been in business for little more than nine months, has already contracted with 10 residents in the surrounding area to equip their homes with the latest networking that users can control from their houses or over the Web. These systems provide everything from remote security monitoring to control of lighting, heat and other residential functions. To create solutions, System7 specializes in networked and digital audio with interfaces such as Pocket PCs, wireless tablets and in-wall screens.

We spend a lot of time with customers," says Gerry Lynch, president of System7, Newburyport, Mass. “It’s tempting to focus on growth first, but if you come out of a project too quickly, then you don't really build that network and you don't get the successful install."

Lynch, along with Jim Pierce, lead technician for System7, talked about the company's burgeoning business in front of a big-screen plasma television and entertainment center in the living room of a customer's home in Chestnut Hill, Mass. This particular project has been in the works for the better part of a year, and has been deployed in connection with a remodeling of the secluded home, built in the late 1800s. One of the most significant challenges of being involved in a deployment that is part of an overall home renovation is working with other contractors, say Lynch and Pierce.

For instance, the Chestnut Hill project involved coordination with interior designers, landscapers and electricians. A digital integrator often needs to turn to these specialists for advice on construction techniques and aesthetics. "It's important that everyone understands what the other is trying to do, and that really brings it into perspective," Pierce says.

Lynch and Pierce say the most important part of any networked home is the structured wiring, because it is the backbone of an entire installation. System7 has had consistently good results with Leviton, an electronics manufacturer based in Little Neck, N.Y.

Other components of the networked system include products that control everything from the outdoor irrigation, home theater, lights and temperature to distributed video and audio. In the Chestnut Hill installation, System7 used HVAC products from Aprilaire, lighting systems from Lightolier, multizone audio technology from Russound, amplifiers from Integra, speakers from Cambridge SoundWorks and 802.11 b wireless networking products from Linksys.

Selecting the right products in the emerging market is an integral part of System7's unique offering. "We come from an IT background and really dig into this stuff, so all day long we're tinkering with the products and learning about them," Pierce says. "The traditional audio and video guys don't have the networking background, so they don't really know what to do with it." HomeLogic's software is ideal for home control applications, Lynch says.

Gerard Lynch

Based in Marblehead, Mass., HomeLogic introduced its OneHome Management and Control solution last fall. The system features a combination of IP-based controller, network head-end gear and software that enables simple integration of third-party systems that can communicate to a computer. Joe Lautner, vice president of marketing and sales for the two-year-old HomeLogic, said as a follow-up to OneHome, the company recently launched its OneHome Dealer partner program. "Partners are critical," Lautner says. "lf the install doesn't go well, then we're in trouble."

The OneHome Dealer program includes free training, trade show and direct marketing support, and demo systems. "We're also going to continue to write drivers and integrate more and more products so that as the new, really cool stuff hits the market we have an IT-based system that's ready to handle them," Lautner says. System7's Lynch is always on the lookout for emerging products. For instance, he is working with Nampa, Idaho-based Dedicated Devices, a digital entertainment vendor, to help develop a new breed of home networking device. Lynch describes the technology as a hybrid of IT and audio/video designed specifically to manage digital media in the home. The new device would be classified somewhere between a receiver and a computer.

The new Dedicated Devices product, scheduled for release later this year, is designed to stream digital media throughout a home from a single platform via structured wiring. "[Dedicated Devices] is an interesting group when it comes to this space because they are coming from an IT background," Lynch says. "And all of our customers are asking about this type of functionality."

They are also looking for more. To System7 customer Doug Leighton, the project that System7 is deploying at his Beacon Hill home is not just about spicing up thls residence, one of three he owns; it's about keeping better tabs on his property. "I'm a consummate geek," he says. "But, in addition to the system being really cool. it had to be something that would fit our lifestyle, because we are only there for about six months of the year."

Leighton trades time between his homes in Beacon Hill, Nantucket, Mass., and Key West, Fla. "I can check on the security system. I can turn the lights on and off," he says. ''And any time someone enters my home, I receive an e-mail that tells me so."

Leighton says while his home system is not yet complete, he's been impressed with the initial results. If the rest of the deployment goes well, Leighton says, there could be additional work for System7 at his homes in Nantucket and Key West.

He said of the five or six proposals he entertained from as many vendors which ranged from the low end of $25,000 to a mid level of $75,000 and a high-end price of $300,000 System7 was the only firm to propose an entire digital home that could be remotely accessed through the Internet and his Palm Pilot. "[System7] wasn't the cheapest, but it's an entire IT-based system, whereas everyone else was kind of behind the times and still looking at systems from a perspective of what has been installed for the last 20 years," he says.

Leighton also happens to be managing director of a Boston-based venture capital firm, Dutchess Private Equities. While Dutchess has invested in a couple of different companies within the home market category, the firm is still keeping a tighter focus on the Wi-Fi space for the time being. "But we're always looking," Leighton says. "I think this space is going to continue to boom, especially as it moves away from the analog to the IT-based systems."


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