A 15-year veteran in the custom installation space, Justin Tamm, the lead system engineer for Orbis Solutions, has been tinkering with technology since he was a kid. Now that he’s made a career out of designing and building automation and security systems for residential and commercial projects, Tamm is able to put his passion to use each and every day. What sets Orbis apart from other integration firms, he told Connected Design, is their commitment to strong customer service practices on top of their lengthy background in networking-based solutions.
Connected Design: Thinking back to those early years, what got you interested in the custom installation and home automation space?
I've always, it's kind of funny, my nickname growing up was always MacGyver for my family members and my parents because I was always tinkering with all of their stereo equipment when I was a young kid, from a baby all the way through my teenage years. I was always interested in car audio and the electronics in that, so I was always just tinkering with the electronics field.
Then one of my friends I grew up with and went to high school with, his father was actually starting a business for low voltage and I started helping as a way to make some income on the side, pulling cabling in houses. And then, kind of what piqued even more of my interest was all of the touch screens in the homes and all the high end audio that the residential market was using at the time. There was steady work for me at the time, and it was very interesting and it was always evolving, and there was always something new. Every day was a new challenge, whether that's putting a touch screen in someone's house to putting commercial audio in someone's bar. So, yeah, I kind of was just naturally interested in it to begin with.
What do you believe Orbis Solutions offers that differentiates you guys from other installers in your space?
I think our customer service and our ticketing system sets us apart, hands down. We manage our AV division and low voltage division more like an MSP, like an I.T. service, in which we're kind of giving residential clients commercial service, if you will. If a client has a request, whether it be something simple like, "I want some speakers outside," to "Can you add Pandora to my music server," they can quickly send an email to our ticketing system and our whole entire staff can see that and take care of them very quickly.
You mentioned that you’ve been in the business for a little over 15 years. How have you seen the CI channel evolve in that time, and what are you doing to keep up with that change?
There’s two main areas where we’ve seen the industry change. One, it’s evolving more towards network-based solutions, whether that's your garage door, to your microwave, to your laundry, which is great because it's becoming a more easy system to manage, especially remotely. If you have a system in place and you have the infrastructure at the customer's home or business, the great thing is we don't have to roll a truck out for a lot of things. So, not only are we're saving the customer money, but we're keeping our staff busy in the office and other trucks doing new installs. I see the network being the biggest evolution, in my opinion.
And the other thing, which I also think is a good thing, is that whether it's HDMI matrixing or audio systems, consumers are now given the opportunity to configure or change stuff on their end. We’ve gotten a lot of suggestions in the past, things like, "I'd like to make a lighting change." Now they can do that and it won't impact their whole system. And that kind of goes back to not having to roll a truck out. But it also gives the end user better knowledge of what they actually invested in and purchased, which is great, and then the ability to have custom scenes and do their own thing, which I see as a very beneficial thing moving forward.
What's your relationship like with the architect homebuilder community?
I would say very good, especially in our area. And again in the past it was very hard to sell even an entry level system into builders' homes, whether it was a model home or some of their townhouses, to some of their nicer, bigger homes. It just wasn't affordable at the time. So now, I think builders and architects are thinking and realizing that it's a very smart investment from a homeowner or builder standpoint to put this technology in their home. And it helps sell their home when it's built and then down the line when the home goes back on the market. So, I think it's becoming now a necessity where before it was a luxury.
Is that the technology itself that's sort of helping to cultivate those relationships or do you think you guys are doing something in particular that's making it easy for you to work with homebuilders?
I think the technology itself is helping—you can't deny that. One, being more affordable is huge, and the marketing aspect—whether it's Vanco or anyone out there. A lot of people are seeing the benefits of smart home tech now, so they're aware of it, but they might not know a lot about it. What's great with us, then, is we can explain that to them and give them full demonstrations whether we demo our office to them, or in some of the projects we’re working on, which I think is what leads us to have that confidence for people to invest in us as a company.
Again, going back to the customer service thing, it's huge. People either have been burned, especially back in the day where they spent a bunch of money on their home or business and then for whatever reason their AV or low voltage contractor booked out on them, and then they're kind of left with nothing. We just landed a deal where we were up against a couple other bidders, and he was on the fence with us because he never really heard of us because of the I.T. stuff. But as soon as we brought him in, he was comfortable. As soon as he met all of our staff and saw how our business runs, I mean he signed the contract right away and we started work for him, and he's been very happy ever since.
So, to answer your question, it's kind of both. Technology obviously helps—people want it. Everyone has it. But, what we do great is our customer service and just our business structure, which helps seal the deal.
You mentioned that Orbis dabbles in residential and commercial. Has that always been the case? And what made you want to get into the commercial side of things?
We've kind of been 60-40; so 60 percent residential work and then 40 percent commercial. I mean we do everything from surveillance, the wireless, the networking, the lighting controls, the fiber work, and a lot of that stuff is used in both applications. But I would say for me growing up, I got started in the residential stuff and then slowly got into the commercial business.
But for Orbis, the move from residential into commercial isn’t a difficult mainly because of our IT services. We maintain their infrastructure for their business, and then they're like, "Oh, you guys do surveillance, music, TVs," and then that's how we get roped in to opening up all of those horizons and then doing more technologies for the business.
What are some of those differences from residential to commercial? And what’s it like for you personally making the transition from one type of project to the other?
Because I personally started in the residential market and business, it actually made commercial work easier. To me, commercial work for the most part is really defined upfront a lot more than residential. The custom home stuff that can change and be altered last minute. Commercial work is pretty cut and dry. And then the technologies are somewhat more simplified. They're not doing the custom automation as much as residential stuff is, at least back in the day. It's becoming more popular that people want all their TVs in their bar controlled from a touchscreen, so when they say, "Alexa, turn the bar off and shut the lights off," it arms the security panel, it turns the music off, and so on.
For me the transition was easy just because in a residential market you're playing with all the technologies. Commercial work, generally it's just audio to start, and then maybe they'll add a TV, and then cameras later. I actually see more and more that commercial work is being based off of residential design or technology, which is a good thing in my opinion because people want to use what they have at home in their business. So it's one system that's very familiar.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with other integrators?
You know my biggest thing that I tell people—the new hires or people I've known in the industry forever—is you've got to invest in yourself. There's only so much businesses can offer. I'm personally a hands-on guy. I like to receive the product. I like to play with it. I like to learn that way. So, I don't like people to be bottlenecked in one technology, which is another great point for Orbis is that we play with so many different technologies. It's like a great learning experience for people that we hire, and they can take that experience into the real world and use it. My biggest thing is, you can't boil the ocean, right? So, you've got to manage yourself and prioritize, which is my biggest push for my techs in the field. You might be slammed on paper, but if you manage and organize yourself, it doesn't become overwhelming and you can conquer whatever you need to do that day.