Premise Systems Barely Alive

Though many integrators hoped that the purchase of Premise by Motorola in March 2004 would bring new growth to the company and a strengthened dedication to them, partners now say that support, development assistance and communication have evaporated. Many of Premise's integrators have moved on to other control packages. The most stalwart partners continue to sell the software but are considering other options.

At the time of the purchase, Motorola, Schaumburg, Ill., said it would continue to provide support for the software and would release new versions bundled with Motorola hardware. Motorola continues to sell Premise Home Control Software 2.0 through distribution but has stopped the technical support and says it will not be releasing a new version, other than some basic bug fixes.

Instead, Motorola says it is developing next-generation connected home technologies using some elements of the software. But many integrators say those plans are not sufficient, and without support and an updated version of the stand-alone software soon, they will be unable to compete with other automation platforms.

"In my opinion, Premise is dead," says Lester Ellis, general manager of Automated Home Solutions, a Redmond, Wash.-based integrator. Automated Home Solutions, a longtime Premise partner, still supports several home customers that use the platform but has stopped actively selling it. "Luckily, we have our own in-house support, because we've had no luck with support from Motorola."

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Ellis is not alone. During the last year, Premise's online integrator forum has been replete with comments from many integrators complaining about the total lack of support and communication from Motorola. Despite assurances from Premise that it would maintain its technical support channels after the sale, Ellis and other integrators say they have been unable to get any technical support or development assistance from Motorola. Premise's dedicated technical support personnel left the company after the sale and have not been replaced.

Ellis also says one of the original strengths of the Premise platform was the high number of drivers Premise wrote to allow the software to work with third-party hardware. Motorola is developing few drivers now, forcing integrators to do the development and handle tech support problems themselves, or seek outside help.

Another company affected by the purchase of Premise is ReVisioneers, a Sammamish, Wash.-based custom home builder. ReVisioneers had been interested in offering an automation package to its customers. A few months before the sale it began installing the Premise platform in its model home on a test basis, says company president Jeff Bowlby. But after the sale, ReVisioneers was unable to get sufficient support from Motorola on the platform. The company has stopped the installation and has no plans to start again or offer it to customers.

Rob Kowalski, president of Chicago-based Automated Lifestyles, another long-term Premise partner, is more optimistic. Kowalski also has been unable to get technical support from Motorola, but says that Premise is still the best automation product available and is worth the headaches. Plus, Kowalski says integrators selling IP-based automation products need to be prepared for challenges and must be able to do their own support and development.

"A lot of people are blaming Motorola, saying the support isn't there. From the beginning we assumed we would have to support it ourselves," Kowalski says.

Automated Lifestyles handles all of its own tech support, but Kowalski says he has received some unofficial assistance for advanced development projects from Premise employees at Motorola. The integrator also works with OEMs and third-party developers for drivers and support. Automated Lifestyles has six houses roughed in for the Premise platform, and has interest from other customers.

Nevertheless, Automated Lifestyles has become certified on two competing products, the Lifeware Media Center tool from Exceptional Innovation, which is designed to work on PCs running Microsoft's Media Center Edition (see sidebar) and the OneHome platform from HomeLogic. Kowalski says he still prefers Premise, but says if Motorola does not update the Premise platform and Microsoft and Automated Lifestyles increase their focus on the automation space, the latter companies will dominate the market.

Dan Quigley, a founder of Premise Systems who continued to head the company when it was purchased first by Lantronix in 2002 and then by Motorola, acknowledges some of the concerns. The emerging technologies that he and other members of the former Premise team are working on at Motorola, he says, will help the vendor soon become a leader in the digital home space and will open new opportunities for integrators.

Quigley is currently senior director of product management of the Motorola Connected Home Solutions division, which is focused on communication, networking, entertainment, security, automation and related products. Members of the team are working on several projects, including new IP cameras that can be monitored and controlled from mobile devices or over the Internet. The team is also working on home automation and media platforms that will connect more devices than current platforms, and provide easy remote access to the home's systems from cell phones and other mobile devices, Quigley says.

"It took us three years to get Premise out the door from when people first heard about it," Quigley says. "We've been with Motorola a little over a year. Our partners know that we're capable of doing really great things, so stand by for great things.

After it acquired Premise, Motorola lowered the price of the Premise Home Control Software Dealer Edition 2.0 to $519 from $979, and has continued to sell it through distributors Home Controls and Worthington Distribution. Quigley says integrators selling the stand-alone Premise software can e-mail technical support questions to [email protected]. Quigley or another former member of the Premise team will try to answer basic questions, but refer more challenging questions to the partner forums for other integrators to answer.

The Premise team has released a few drivers over the last year for the stand-alone Premise software, and is planning on releasing an update to the product with some bug fixes. However, Quigley says Motorola placed development of the update at a low priority, and he could not predict when the release would be available.