Analog Backups

Monday morning, I woke up to the dulcet tones of my smart lock locking itself… over and over (and over!) again. We cleaned the touch screen, we replaced the batteries, we gave it a stern talking to… eventually my husband pulled the radio out and it settled down.

My lock is basically working, for now. I can’t lock it from upstairs, but I can get in and out of my house. And that’s kindof an important functionality.

Even if we’d had to pull the batteries out, we still would have been able to use the front door. My lock is smart (or is that dumb?) enough to work with a regular old key. Of course, while I was patting my own back for getting the model with an old school backup, I was also realizing that we keep all of our keys inside the house. If the lock had decided to freak out while everyone was at school and work, I’m not entirely sure how we would have managed to get back into the house.

(Cue me ordering a hide-a-key from Amazon Prime.)

We should expect (nay, demand) quality and reliability from the Internet of Everything… But adding electronics and tiny moving parts to just about everything is very likely going to result in some products breaking on us. And it won’t always be at the most opportune moment. Which is why it’s a smart integrator that plans ahead.  For any electronic device that performs a necessary function, we need to make sure that there are systems in place to work around it and get it back up and running when something breaks. They don’t have to be convenient systems (there’s a reason people install smart devices in the first place), but they need to be accessible.

As someone who replaces the humble light switch with automated lighting systems for a living, I think about this stuff all the time.

Some questions that I ask myself all the time:

1. Is there an override button (or remote) that can be used in case of a processor failure?
2. What happens if the network goes down?
3. What sort of monitoring/management is in place so that the client will know right away that something is wrong?
4. How quickly can I get parts? Is there anything mission critical enough that it makes sense to keep spares on hand?

I’ve had electricians ask me to have devices talk to each other over the network that were supposed to have a physical connection to each other. I made them fix their wiring, because I didn’t want to introduce an unnecessary failure point.

Any system I architect that involves multiple lighting processors talking to each other over the network has a failover mode that it will revert to if the network goes down.

I always make a point of showing the house electrician or facilities manager how they can get all of their lights on quickly.

The list goes one and on, but you get my point. Our industry is shifting away from a model where integrators do is sell people boxes. More and more people are looking to us as trusted advisors. Which means recognizing potential pitfalls, and having a backup plan.

I don’t always have an analog backup, but when I do, it’s hidden in the backyard.