Nick Millette is a leader and innovator in the smart home space, with an uncompromising view of the need for simplicity and security. He has seen first hand the issues, pain points, and lack of security that exists with other traditional smart devices and has set out to create a best-in-class smart and connected ecosystem for The Home Depot's private label brands. This ecosystem, called Hubspace, that he created offers unparalleled ease of use and enterprise-grade security for consumer level devices. This has helped The Home Depot create the fastest growing Smart and Connected ecosystem that is accessible to everyone, regardless of their technical background.
In this episode, Nick discusses the intricacies of building a smart home and the importance of cybersecurity. He also shares how Home Depot is investing in the smart home market and creating products inside their private label brands to simplify their customer's life.
Listen in to learn what The Home Depot is doing with their Hubspace program.
Key Takeaways Simplifying smart home products and streamlining infrastructure is essential to appeal to the broader mass market, beyond just hobbyists and technologists. By prioritizing user-friendly interfaces, seamless integration, and intuitive experiences, smart home technology can become accessible and desirable to everyday consumers, fostering widespread adoption and improving the quality of life for all. Placing the customer at the forefront of all smart device innovation is crucial. By prioritizing the needs, safety, and user experience of customers, we can create smart devices that truly enhance their lives while maintaining privacy, security, and usability. Cybersecurity must be a top priority for every home device, including light bulbs. Neglecting security in seemingly insignificant devices can create vulnerabilities that malicious actors can exploit, posing risks to our privacy and digital well-being. It is essential to ensure robust security measures are in place to protect our homes and networks from potential threats. Episode Link: https://www.afero.io/html/home/smartereverything.html
Some highlights from the conversation:
Nick Millete: Before starting at Home Depot I, I was a federal government contractor, specifically focusing on Federal ERP systems. I had the opportunity to witness the emergence of the FedRAMP certified cloud and the governments adoption of cloud computing, which highlighted the criticality of cybersecurity in that context. I got a very firm grasp and understanding of how important that is, what a mature cybersecurity approach looks like. Hence, I had a rather unique background that made me hyper-aware of it’s importance. So when I joined The Home Depot, initially I didn’t start in the Smart Home department, but eventually made my way there. The cybersecurity of these products has always been at the forefront of my mind. I constantly question how we protect the consumer and what measures we have in place to ensure the security. It’s crucial to establish safeguards that cater to individuals who may not fully comprehend the importance of security in every aspect, even for something as simple as a light bulb. Bret Jordan: I gave a talk to the Financial Services ISAC about eight years ago regarding the security of banks. The ISAC, which stands for information Sharing Analysis Center, serves as a hub for sharing information within the financial services community. During my talk, I discussed the security implications of a light bulb as an attack surface and a potential risk vector for banks, emphasizing the need for a different perspective. This occurred eight years ago. You have to make sure that every device inside your environment, inside your home is secure. Because if it’s not, then that's a crack in the foundation and that's all a threat actor needs to get in and then move laterally. I noticed that The Home Depot has been venturing into smart and connected products under their private label brands. So what made Home Depot prioritize this? Why are they investing in these connected products? Could you provide some insight into this and share why The Home Depot decided to prioritize them?
Nick Millet: True smart home, in my opinion, goes way beyond the consumer electronic categories of cameras and voice assistants. It really gets into categories like door locks, ceiling fans, and sump pumps. Those are product categories where Home Depot is the market chair leader in this space. We cross pretty much every product category that you sell in a Home Depot store by putting the infrastructure in place to allow our proprietary brands to enter the smart home space in a safe and responsible way. I can now take that same infrastructure and lay it across door locks, stealing fans, light bulbs, and light switches in one solution for the customers. So, it simplifies the experience for the mass market, not needing five different apps, or five different ways of setting products up. It also ensures that if we do the security right one time, customers have the same level of security in a light bulb that they’re gonna have on a door lock. That's why we're investing in that space. We see the opportunity there.
Bret Jordan: You’re doing some things now with The Home Depot’s private label brands in this smart and connected space. Can you talk a little bit about what you're actually doing here?
Nick Millete: We partner with the best manufacturers of product categories in the world and bring those products directly into our stores without the layers in between to get the best possible value products with great features and product quality on our shelves at a great price point. We are still partnering with the best manufacturer of light bulbs in the world, the best manufacturer of door locks in the world, or ceiling fans in the world, and then allowing them to focus on their core competency of being the best in the world at making these products. I went out and scoured the earth to find who I felt was the best in the world at making things connected–from doing it responsibly, doing it safely, the ease of setup, the customer experience of making it seamless–and partnered with them and in putting the two together. We also just brought in another third party that is the best in the world at making the product connected, and that's what we call Hubspace. So Hubspace is The Home Depot’s platform for smart home products, and it's built by the Afero team out in California.
Bret Jordan: Through your Hubspace platform, do they share a common app and a a common experience?
Nick Millete: We have EcoSmart light bulbs powered by Hubspace. We have Commercial Electric recess lighting, powered by Hubspace. We have Hampton Bay Ceiling fans powered by Hubspace. We have Defiant door locks, powered by Hubspace. So Hubspace is kind of that connectivity tissue that flows amongst them. It's also the name of the mobile app and and the platform behind it.
Bret Jordan: If customers want to participate, can they go to The Home Depot and they can look for products that say powered by Hubspace?
Nick Millete: If you go to The Home Depot, you should start seeing that kind of reddish Orange Hubspace logo in a lot more places throughout our store.
Bret Jordan: When I was doing some analysis of the IoT space, it seems like the average mass market user is comfortable with a certain level of automation, and I think it's the automation that you're talking about. All of the more advanced things, I think, scare the general mass. I don't think the general population is ready for that. Maybe five, ten years from now, we'll get to more advanced things. I think you're really trying to target the mass market and what they really want and how do we make their lives easier.
Nick Millete: You had the early adopters–the technologists who could put all the automations, the written scenes together, and do the “if this, then that” sequence, themes and apps, and all of that. But for the average consumer, it was just way too much. Getting them to at least to dip their toe in the water of getting a smart plug, so that you don't have to reach around the Christmas tree and pull it out, or having a smart light that turns on at sunset and turns off at 2:00 AM. Those very easy use cases are really how you drag everybody out of the chasm. We, at least need to get started on this journey for the mainstream market because the technologists and the hobbies are great, but they're a very small part of that marketplace. And the mainstream consumer isn't just going to fall into this huge automation thing. It's a crawl, walk, run. We have to start getting people on that progression–the mainstream market, at least getting used to having connected devices in their house with very easy, simple use cases.
Bret Joran: In a previous episode, we talked about electricity coming into the home, like in the 1920s and that timeframe, and running water and stuff. But when electricity first came, people were like, ‘Do I really want this? Like, this is scary. This might burn my house down.’ You have to get eventually to a comfort level where you're like, oh yes, like I do want electricity.
Nick Millete: With Smart Home, there's two main pillars that we focused on when building Hubspace. One was the ease of product setup. It has to be so easy that Grandma and Idaho can set up the smart plug. You only need to download a mobile app and scan a QR code, but that's it. That’s how simple it has to be. The other pillar that was completely immovable in my opinion, was cybersecurity. People don't know what is secure, and what's not secure. I was a completely immovable object on the fact that cybersecurity must be absolutely uncompromising. That’s where we partner with the Afero team. Being the advocate for the customer is very important. The customer doesn't know about cybersecurity, and frankly, they shouldn’t have to. We should be doing the job of protecting them from the things that they don't necessarily need to know about. We have to take that same level of care for our customers and be the customer's advocate when we're building connected products for them. Bret Jordan: It always baffled me why products would come along with all of these different options of varying levels of security–from no security, letting you turn it off, to all these various parameters to maybe turn it on or turn more on. Are you doing things like that in Hubspace, or is it more of just on/off, or what do you do?
Nick Millete: It's not something that is an option, in my opinion. We need to protect our customers and have great cybersecurity in our products. It's a non-negotiable fact.