When to leave automation to the pros
By Andrew Lisa
Paolo Benedetti knows that today’s high-end automation equipment is far too complicated for pool service providers to maintain on their own.
“It’s getting so bloody complex that even the builders are relying on a series of dedicated experts to provide the support we need,” Benedetti says.
The founder of Aquatic Technology Pool & Spa and a Genesis 3 Group Design automation course instructor, Benedetti has been designing luxury pools for more than 20 years. He’s learned that both feature and chemical automation can only reach their full potential when service departments, builders, manufacturers and technical experts know their roles and work together to keep everything working as it should.
Manufacturer Resources Take Pressure Off Service Crews
Major manufacturers like Pentair, Jandy and Hayward offer product training and instruction, professional workshops and ongoing education — and service providers would be wise to take advantage of them. These resources allow crews to become intimate with the automation equipment they’re likely to encounter on luxury pools — but the men and women who service high-end automation equipment don’t necessarily have to become experts themselves.
“Obviously, we need people to be able to work the automation we’re installing,” Benedetti says. “But if the client uses a smartphone to control the system, most of that stuff is integrated into the software by the pool manufacturers. Understanding how to format that equipment is important, but again, the manufacturers have it all spelled out in their manuals how to do that, so it’s pretty basic.”
When a customer reaches out with a problem that’s not so basic, service crews should again turn to the true expert — the company that makes the product. According to Benedetti, most manufacturers have technical service people in the field who can come out and offer support.
Pool Automation and Home Automation: The Division of Labor
Automation devices are only as good as the networks that connect them. However, integrating the gadgets and gizmos that bring complex luxury pools to life requires a bit more expertise than dimming the living room lights or opening the garage door with a virtual assistant.
“Oftentimes, our pool controls are linked with home automation systems, which isn’t necessarily a seamless integration,” Benedetti says. “It’s not at the point yet where you plug in the Amazon Alexa and start talking to the pool system. We’re not there yet.”
So, where are we, exactly?
Benedetti explains that most pool automation manufacturers make what are called protocol adapters, which act like language translators that “allow pool automation systems to integrate with the home automation systems.” They also serve as the plug-in point for the end user’s wide area or local area network.
The builder’s job, according to Benedetti, is to install the automation equipment and provide the protocol adapter — and little else.
“At that point, we hand it off to the home automation person who writes the codes that are required for two systems to communicate,” he says.
When the service department gets a call, it should also recognize that its work stops at the protocol adapter.
“As a pool builder, I don’t want to spend three or four days in front of a computer writing codes so the systems can talk to each other,” Benedetti says — and the service department doesn’t have to attempt such a heavy lift, either.
Instead, service crews should recognize the natural division of labor with every call to maintain technically advanced equipment.
“Everything on the home automation side of the protocol adapter or language adaptor belongs to the A/V guy, and everything on the pool side of the language adapter belongs to the service department, manufacturer or the pool builder,” Benedetti says.
This division ensures that all four specialists — builder, manufacturer, service provider and home automation expert — can concentrate on what they do best. The good news is, service crews probably won’t have to go far to find a home automation expert who’s up to the task.
“With most of these high-end projects, the homeowner already has a home automation person engaged who is installing the home automation system,” Benedetti says. “Whether it’s home automation through lighting, security systems, closed-circuit TV or their internet and Wi-Fi, they already have a person who’s handling all those systems. That person gets tasked with providing the integration and translation to the pool system.”
While service crews should rely on the homeowner’s in-house automation pro, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t cultivate relationships just in case.
“Every time I run into one of these home networking guys whom I feel confident with, I always collect their cards,” Benedetti says. “I have a Rolodex of names I can refer clients to, but I prefer not to get involved in that. I prefer to install my part of the system and then hand it off and say, ‘Here’s who you need to contact to integrate with the rest of your system.’ ”
In the end, maintaining luxury pool automation equipment comes down to three things: leaning on manufacturer support and resources, recognizing the pool automation/home automation division of responsibility and never, ever breaking Benedetti’s cardinal rule of all high-tech equipment: “If you don’t understand it, don’t touch it.”