July 10th, 2023

In conversation with... John Bradford

We sat down with Delta Dore’s Senior Area Manager John Bradford, to talk smart socket 'fairy light bulb' moments, the changing shape of the smart home industry and the relationship between use and development.

With an engineering and business background, John has long been driven towards new, innovative technology, especially within the smart home. He has spent twelve years at Delta Dore, starting in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning market, before moving more and more into the smart home. 

As the industry has grown and developed, so has Delta Dore’s offer, now with over 400 partner connections, proficiencies in IoT and bespoke services, all with the aim of making the smart home more accessible and more useful.

John also has the claim to fame of being the first guest to appear on the very first episode of The Smart Life, where he shared his “fairy light bulb” moment of his first foray into the smart home when he discovered he could take the hassle out of lighting his Christmas tree. And it was during this chat he said possibly one of our favourite quotes from this podcast at the discovery he “no longer had to hug the bloody great thing every day anymore, thanks to his smart socket”.

You were the very, very first guest to appear on The Smart Life podcast back in January 2019. Pre pandemic, pre COVID-19, pre-war in Ukraine, pre energy crisis, pre-cost of living crisis, pre-TikTok dance crazes. Who knew what relative peace we were actually living in back then? Looking back at that time, it seems like there's been this incredible sense of development in the industry due to necessity more than anything. But how much have you seen the smart industry be shaped by the incredible landscape of the last few years?

It's been nuts, really, hasn't it? It's been a crazy few years. We're placing such a high value these days on the home and how we interact with the home because we spent so much time there. I don't know what it was like for you, but for me, I was stuck in this tiny little Parisian flat with this little slither of a balcony to be able to see the sunshine outside so ultimately I was having to live a little bit more harmoniously with the space that I had. For me, a smart home enabled me to be a little bit more clever about how I could use my space and how I would live in that space as well. 

So for sure, you have cost implications by living at home more, by working at home more, whether that be on the heating side. But you also have comfort considerations as well. If you're using the same space for work and play, how do you make that a relaxing and welcoming environment when you finish work as well? There's so many elements that all of that crazy stuff over the last few years has thrown up for us. And how do we make sure that we have a really good balance to life when it's faced with such demands as well? And I think the smart home can make a really big impact in that.

I guess we all stopped taking our homes for granted and suddenly they were our own little sort of fortress and therefore you do look at them differently and I guess included in that is the way that you use smart tech to live better, healthier, happier home lives within your home. So it makes sense that the industry would have developed because we're looking at homes differently.

Yeah, most definitely and it's just great that the technology can help with that as well. That's what's made such a big impact for me at least.

What is it about smart technology that you personally find so exciting?

Well, I'm a millennial, so I guess I'm hardwired that way to start with. But I would probably say that in the 12 years I’ve worked in the smart home market, it’s most impressive to see the speed at which things are changing and the positive impact that that's making. I'm quite convinced that technology and innovation in the home are a vital element to us evolving and solving the problems that we face, whether it's the existential crisis of our planet or connecting people to services they need. For me, that's the important thing about smart technology and what's so exciting about it. Wondering what comes next.

Tell us a little bit more about Delta Dore and about your role there.

So this year we're celebrating our 53rd birthday, having been founded in 1970, and we manufacture in the UK as well as France and Germany. So far to date, we’ve got over 5 million homes fitted with our smart home solutions, covering everything from heating, lighting, security and so on and so forth. So exciting times for us in this developing market. I work in our professional business unit, focusing mainly on installers, electricians and wholesalers etc. And I look after the commercial accounts in our developing countries of Europe, including the UK, where I began. So it's really my job to help our partners unlock the potential of smart homes for them and their markets.

What do you see as the difference between smart and intelligent technology?

For me, it's pretty fluid, but let's say that it's not necessarily about just having another product on just another app. It's great to have connectivity, but really it's about the connection and interaction that's between them that gives them meaningful use. 

So if we take heating. In your house, perhaps you have one thermostat for the boiler, one for the electric heating in your bathroom, and maybe you’ve got another one for another part of the house. It’s really about how you can bring these different elements together and have it working for you. So bringing some intelligence into that is important, which will maybe come with the next steps of the smart home: how to introduce things like energy tariffs etc to the management of your system.

When you last spoke to Beacon back in 2019, you said your hope for the next iteration of the industry was that healthcare would come to the forefront of the smart home provision as well as seeing it be made a bit more accessible for our ageing population. Both of these seem to have been sort of inadvertently fast-tracked by the pandemic. Do you agree and do you think there's still room for improvement?

Yes and no. There are so many great initiatives, case studies and proof of concepts that have really come out of the pandemic and obviously the needs that were created within that and I think that's great to see and I hope it continues. I hope that by trialling some of these and learning a lot of the lessons from it, we can hopefully have some really good scalable solutions that can make a great impact. 

But part of me also says – and I don't want to always blame the Government – but I do think large organisations like the Government certainly need to do a little bit more to ensure that we have the scalability in some of these solutions as well. So that's where it's going to impact the most people. 

So I hope that within the process of these great initiatives and great solutions that are being provided for healthcare, we can get some actual results for the many with good support from the Government as well. Clearly, they've got many things on their plate at the moment. But certainly, if we're going to have smart home solutions, which is very much seen as the next step, how do we make what's perceived as the next thing the reality today?

That speaks to the fact that no two consumers are alike, they’ll have different things that will attract them to different solutions, smart or otherwise. While this is not a universal challenge for the smart home, it isincreasingly realising the necessity to talk to the individual while also having universal appeal. What do you think is the best approach to creating messaging that has that balance?

Yeah, it's kind of true of anything that comes around that's new, really, isn't it? Why should I change? What sort of value does it actually bring me? Is it anything in addition? Is there any added value to this? And for me, what the Smart Home does provide through some of the solutions available out there, is that they're very flexible products that essentially can have very flexible use cases put around them. And it's great to see that it's possible to present these in many different ways to many different types of consumers. 

Again, we take Thermostats again for it as an example. I use thermostats because it's one of the most popular and well-accepted solutions for smart homes. They used to have one programme that did one thing that you really couldn't adapt or change. But now you can change it from anywhere. You can have really flexible programmes that really fit to your lifestyle and the way that you interact with what's around you and it becomes very specific at that point and you can really then connect on a one to one level as one user, instead of just sort of one product for the many.

So I think that the Smart Home enables that and that can only become better in time as more and more solutions are sort of presented in this way. For me, when you add to your Smart Home solutions, it's not just adding another product, we're talking about how that product then can interact with what you might already have within the home. So it becomes an enrichment at that point as well. And telling that story is really vital.. And it's great fun because in the process, you're learning yourself as well about how it could make an impact in your life and thinking about how it could also impact others. We’re so often our own target consumer, or our family may be the demographic within that scope. So what works for me won’t work for my mum for example. I find it really interesting.

Earlier you said to us that you are someone who has ‘always been motivated by identifying the usefulness of technology for different people and their different situations, not just using it for the technology's sake.’ What did you mean by that?

The usefulness of technology in different situations is always relevant to the time of life that you’re in. So I’m raising a young child at the moment and there are moments when smart technology is really useful. Take lighting, for example. It’s the middle of the night, I’m absolutely knackered and can’t see because it’s pitch black. I’m talking to Alexa, asking her to set the feeding lighting for my wife as she’s going through, or the baby change lighting to give me enough light to change the nappy without waking him up too much.

I might not have deemed it necessary before having a baby, but my God, does it make a huge difference to me now and my operational being at 3am when I’ve got absolutely nothing in the tank. Some people might see it as a useless little bit of additional bumph that is not going to make a difference, but for me, in that moment it's really, really useful to have that flexibility. It'll change when my kid grows up a little bit, of course, and when I'm older, I might have a completely different use, but perhaps some of the same type of products will help me achieve whatever balance I'm trying to get.

Do you think it’s fair to say the smart home industry is ageing in real time?

Yeah, for sure. I think we have to be patient with it. Technology is moving so fast; it's really only five or six years ago, let's say, when apps really meaningfully became available. Before that you used to have this chunky great big screen in your property when it came to what would be known as traditional home automation. But the advent of applications dropped the price from £1000s down to £100s. So it made things more accessible. And with that it created more demands, of course, on the technology. 

And if we give it a little bit of patience, if we have time to develop it properly with the use cases that are really meaningful for people with the technology that we need to solve some of our problems... Then it's going to be hugely impactful. And I hope that it will accelerate into adolescence in a really positive way, and not be a grotty teenager. Instead, let's bring another analogy to the party. Yeah. And I think it'll be a very well-behaved adolescent, especially with the type of opportunities we have.

Home energy management is a huge topic that could have such an impact on the way in which we use our energy from a personal point of view in what we pay, but also in terms of what it means for the environment as well. So that level of connectivity, the speed at which things are changing, yes I do think it is ageing in real time.

Following this metaphor of it ageing in real time, do you get the sense that our current generation within the industry has this sense of responsibility to those who will follow us? The smart home seems to have to really earn its place at the table with regard to some pretty big discussions around energy efficiency, the cost of living crisis, the need to get down to net zero for the planet's sake. And they're big, big things to then try to sort of filter down into day-to-day life. How much does that factor into your day-to-day considerations? This idea of protecting what happens next for the future generation?

Yes, these are some really important things to consider, obviously, the protection of future generations, the protection of our planet, energy efficiency and the real-time cost of living. So you're balancing really long-term elements with today’s impacts. And for me, there are things you can do today and there are little steps that can be done today. For example, if you’ve got a thermostat in your home that is already over 20 years old, by simply upgrading it you will make a huge difference in what you’re consuming. 

But something as basic as that sometimes is not really well accepted either, let alone the promised land of proper home energy management systems. So I think we need to make sure that we're doing the simple things right first, and then in the next step, we make sure to build on that. Not accelerating so quickly that people get lost, but ensuring that people can really grow and develop with those different ideas so that it becomes a real, meaningful change rather than just sort of a flash in the pan. I try to implement this in the messaging of Delta Dore.

And at the same time, we're working to make sure that the technology that we might be putting into people's homes today is actually ready for what might come next as well or future-proof to some extent to allow us to benefit from what's installed. So that's quite an important balance and quite an important responsibility for manufacturers as well, because we don't want to ruin the idea of a smart home for people or to get into this vicious cycle where it becomes a really throw-away culture. Because in order to make it meaningful, we have to convince people step by step as well.

And part of that is around this perception of price. You mentioned before the prices have come down but there is still this perception of it's too expensive or it's too much of a luxury that I can't afford and so much of it is an investment. You said you have to treat the cost of living crisis with real-time solutions but a lot of the positive benefits are long-term. How do you balance that? How do you convey the value to your customers, demonstrating a focus on the solutions not just on the products but the long-term solutions to them here?

For me, the message really is to start simple. What is it that is most meaningful for you? Is it to save energy? Is it have a nice lighting system for when you're changing your baby? Is it saving money for your future? What is it that's most meaningful for you? Decide what it is and start simple. You don't have to have the whole ‘all singing, all dancing’ doorbells, alarm systems, cameras etc right away. A good smart home system you can add to and is modular, so it's scalable, something that you can grow and develop with. 

I think that that's one part of the message: don't let cost be a factor even if it's going to be slightly more investment than perhaps you thought. For sure, if you're comparing a traditional product with something that's smart, there is an additional cost to it. But do just start simple and really choose what's relevant to you and that can make a big difference on the topic that's impacting you, whether it be cost of living or energy efficiency etc.

So we’re watching our smart home children grow up, what are your wishes for their future? What do you hope comes next, in the short term and long term paths for these smart home babies we’re setting loose into the world? 

I guess I really hope that these youngsters that we're releasing into the world go and make a meaningful impact. We're doing great things at the moment, we've got great products and great solutions that are adding value to people's lives today. And I really hope as an industry we can keep up that rate of development and rate of quality products going out there to solve people's issues. 

And if we can keep doing that and working together as an industry to achieve it, that would be a really good output for the future. In the past, you see lots of different companies, lots of different solutions all working in their own independent silos to a big extent. But I think we have an opportunity in the smart home, to come together and make sure that the way in which we're developing solutions is really well connected, not just in what we're doing, but to other companies and other solutions as well.

Wouldn't that be great? Well, it leads me nicely to my final question for you, which we ask all our guests: the idea of connectivity in every sense of the word. I think if there is a reason that we exist, it's to forge connections with the world around us. Big, small, fleeting, permanent. What do you see as the role of smart tech in this idea of connectivity?

That’s a big question. We covered the concept of smart tech growing up and developing with us as we go through different stages of life. And it never ceases to amaze me that, for example, even in looking at my grandparents, they've gone from not understanding what the hell an iPad is to being able to use FaceTime in the next moment. And as someone who doesn't live in the UK and with family back there, having that ability to communicate and be connected back to them is really vital. And it's great that all generations are sort of accepting of technology. 

So what I hope is that all of the elements we have today that encourage the ease of using this technology – or being able to place the technology in the right place to the right person – can help to connect us better as this industry moves forward as well. There are so many ways that we could imagine doing things like that. From making sure that our loved ones are safe in their home as more people are having to stay in their homes.

Making sure that we're being able to monitor our loved ones really well, making sure that they're not rushing out of the house at crazy times at night for whatever reason or just making sure we can check in or that they can indeed connect perhaps with health services, perhaps, or doctors and things like that. So there's so many different avenues that I think communication can take and it can be enabled so well by smart home. And I just hope that as we get older as well, we continue to accept change and we continue to accept that this is a good thing and that it can bring good value to all of our lives as things change and develop moving forward.

Thank you, John!

You can listen to our full interview in The Smart Life Podcast. Or if you’d like to share your views on the smart home industry, we’re always looking more IoT big thinkers to sit down and chat with, so get in touch.

Here at Beacon, we specialise in finding innovative, people-centric ways to bring the world of the smart home to life. Got a story you need help telling? Get in touch with us today.