AlertMe Case Study

Smart home - seamless integration

The Story

AlertMe was an ambitious start-up in the home automation / IoT market, founded in 2006. It provided a scalable, resilient, interoperable platform to connect an ecosystem of devices and appliances in the home. With customers such as British Gas and US hardware store Lowe’s, it was building a second-generation platform and needed help from a delivery partner to scale.

AlertMe understood the IoT, its customer and the product roadmap it needed to create. Success required flexible teams that believed in the vision and could adapt to changes from the end customer whilst focussing on the long-term goals.

AlertMe wanted to demo its new IoT platform, mobile app, and remote-controlled thermostat, using a big press launch at a specially constructed show home. The deadlines were tight and the work required close collaboration.

Challenges

  • Need to extend the development team to reduce dependence on an existing supplier
  • New features/innovations to build that aren’t part of the core platform
  • Need to prove that AlertMe APIs could be used by 3rd parties to build applications

One Step to Success

Connecting ERP systems is relatively easy – they have stable, published interfaces, and everyone follows standards. IoT is more complex: everyone appreciates the need for standards, but rarely agrees on a single one, and there are new devices coming online every day. AlertMe built an abstraction layer to defend it from changes at the edge. However, they still needed to solve other patterns such as IFTTT, add security models including OAuth2.0, or integration with new technology such as Amazon Alexa.
One of the more challenging examples was to introduce video streaming from connected cameras. This gave access to live images from the house relayed over the cloud and 4G network to the owner’s mobile phone and was especially useful when an alarm had been triggered, e.g. a movement sensor, flood detector, or smoke alarm. Having selected the Samsung Smart camera, the challenge for Estafet was to onboard the camera to the home’s local wi-fi, and punch through firewalls, before negotiating and then handing off an HD video stream to a mobile device.

Nigel Pugh
Product Director, AlertMe

The Solution

Estafet acted as the Innovation Hub for AlertMe and we deployed a large nearshore team with a key technical lead on-site to work with the Product Owner and other teams within AlertMe. We ran two-week Sprints with demos to the whole company to share what had been achieved and what was possible next.

There were many changes of priority from the end-customer requiring the team to move from web development to iOS apps, to camera streaming and Salesforce integration. Each time, we worked collaboratively with AlertMe technical leads, and product owners to ensure we always delivered features of the greatest value, automating all aspects of our delivery from testing, to releases and quality management.

For the camera streaming, we found that streaming from the Samsung Smart Camera to the Samsung Cloud as possible, but there were many other elements needed to build a service that could then be integrated within the AlertMe ecosystem. For example, Wi-Fi Direct allows the user to set cameras (or other devices) on the home network without having any technical skills. Similarly, STUN/TURN lets you get through your local firewall without needing to understand port-forwarding. We also had to learn how Samsung controlled its cameras and implement that in a generic way on the AlertMe platform to operate other brands of cameras. The result was a secure, standards-based solution (using XMPP/Jingle) which delivers fast HD video to the phone.

Deliverables

  • Two Scrum Teams scaled development effort
  • New ideas and speed of delivery of MVPs
  • Prove how 3rd parties (with no knowledge of the core platform) could build apps to control a Hive home using only the published APIs

The Success

AlertMe created an IoT platform for the connected home, including a flexible cloud infrastructure to handle all aspects of automation and control. Estafet was the innovation partner, building cloud services to connect home hubs with cameras, phones and back-end microservices.

In early 2015, British Gas bought AlertMe for £65 million and Centrica (its parent company) announced it was investing £500m in Connected Homes over the following five years. We continued to be a part of that journey, often trialling new innovations and working closely with the core engineering team to achieve their roadmap.

Outcomes

  • Faster progress through Product Backlog
  • Core team free to focus on 2nd Generation platform
  • Prove Centrica that AlertMe was well-engineered and worth buying