COMMENT: The decision by US automation Company Control4 to dump their Australian distributor Convergent Technologies has created a lot of tension among custom install and Pro AV professionals. What is clear is that a lot of people are angry and now want answers, including competitors.
In all the years that I have been covering the custom install or the IT industry I have never witnessed such an outpouring of support for an organisation. Email after email has heaped praise on the way in which Nick Libertone the CEO of Convergent Technologies and his team built the Control4 brand in Australia.
An email from Michael Henriksen, the Managing Director of Qualifi, and a direct competitor to Convergent Technologies is typical of the many emails we have received from people who work in the custom install and Pro AV market in Australia; he said Nick and I go back 27 years. He joined my company as our first rep in QLD in 1983 and Nick has always been hard-working, diligent and honest with a high level of technical knowledge. Whilst Control-4 and Pronto may be competitors it has not interfered with our personal friendship which we have maintained over the years. For many years his wife Anna worked for both Scan Audio and Qualifi. These C4 guys have made a big mistake – but they will find out in due course. It would be interesting to hear their explanation.
Three weeks ago Nick, called me to explain what Control4 was doing in the energy market, a few weeks before that he was on the phone spruiking Control4 offering in the hotel and hospitality industry. This was a guy who was passionate about the brand and the IP technology that it was built around.
Back in 2002 when I first launched SmartHouse I was criticised by CEDIA members, and executives from Crestron and AMX for daring to suggest that the future for home automation was IP based technology.
At the time there was no more an ardent critic of my suggestions than Nick Libertone who back then distributed the Crestron automation system.
Shortly after Hills Industries took over distribution of Crestron, Nick got the distribution rights for Control4 and since that first month he has hounded me and every AMX and Crestron dealer in the Country to support not only the Control4 offering but the whole concept of IP based automation.
When Convergent Technologies first took the Control4 brand on, no one and I mean no one believed in the notion of IP based technology as being the future for home automation. The team at CT were not only the mainstream evangelists for the concept of IP based automation but they worked tirelessly to deliver the patches and software needed to connect other systems such as lighting, audio distribution and security into the Control4 system.
So what went wrong?
Nick Libertone tells me that he has been given no reason for the dumping, which I find objectionable.
One would have thought that if Control4 was having problems with the performance of Convergent Technologies they at least could have raised the issue with the Company; instead they chose to start negotiations with several other distributors with a view to taking on the brand in Australia.
Another issue that has been raised by several industry professionals is why Control4 has appointed an organisation that actually sells Control4 as part of their custom install offering.
Several installers claim that this could cause a conflict. Effective from November, Control4 will be distributed by Sydney based Advance Audio Australia which is owned by Joseph Riediger who also owns a custom install operation.
One Sydney based CEDIA member wrote, I have nothing against any distributor in particular and I have also not dealt directly with Audio Australia before but it worries me that a distributor who is also connected to a custom install business will have direct access to Control4.
This could mean that any projects that we are competing for would be in jeopardy as our pricing can ultimately be undercut every time. Nothing worse than an unlevelled playing field!
Will Control4 succeed in the future in Australia?
This will depend on how Control4 handles the situation going forward.
I am told that Joseph Riediger is set to hire several Convergent Technology staff. He has already spent over $100,000 setting up for the sale of Control4 products in Australia. He will also have a stand at this year’s CEDIA show despite the contract for the sale of Control4 products still being in place with Convergent Technologies.
I believe that Control4 does owe Nick Libertone an explanation as he is the guy who has made this brand what it is today in Australia.
Joseph Riediger is a smart operator who knows that he is set to reap the benefit of the work that Convergent Technologies has done in building the brand in Australia. This is worth at least $1.5 Million dollars.
Control4 has an excellent product offering at the moment but this industry changes very quickly. Intel and brands like HP and Microsoft are now starting to look at IP based automation systems and I suspect that very shortly we will see an explosion in IP automation systems from Companies that are already household names.
12 months ago Control 4 was selling expensive touch screens; these are already obsolete due to the iPhone and iPad and while their software is currently leading edge there are others out there who are also good at software including Google, Samsung, Apple and Microsoft, every one of these Companies have told us that they are currently working on automation control software that will work across TV’s tablet PC’s and mobile phones.
They believe that if they can get their core software right, lighting control and security companies along with distributed audio companies will very soon be linking to their offerings to deliver IP based automation systems that work across a multitude of devices.
If I was Control4 I would take a long hard look at the way Australia’s do business, we are not the USA nor do we have the problems that the US has at the moment.
And if they value their brand and their technology they will fix this problem quickly. Or their potential customer base will fix it for them by moving to a new supplier.