Back in 1985, with Ronald Reagan in the White House, beverage icon Coca-Cola changed its formula and introduced New Coke. At about the same time, three guys who worked together in the commercial automation field took their own leap and introduced Home Automation Inc. (HAI). New Coke lasted three months, but New Orleans-based HAI is celebrating its 25th year in 2010; and, while its basic business formula remains firm, it continues to innovate using myriad technologies through a worldwide network of distribution partners with product installed by more than 1,000 trained dealers in more than 80 countries.

“The start? Our Model 1503,” says Jay McLellan, HAI president, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder along with Tom Pickral and Brian Yokum. The 1503 offered burglary and fire protection, telephone access, lighting and appliance control plus programmable automation in a single, affordable product. It was real-life home automation after years of Disneyland-like House of the Future predictions.

“We were budding entrepreneurs,” says McLellan of the beginning. “As compared to home security monitoring, our technology didn’t cause false alarms and there was no recurring income from monitoring. So we couldn’t really sell through the existing [security] channel.” With the National Association of Home Builders promoting the so-called “smart home” at the time, HAI was off and running. “Don’t get me wrong,” he points out by explaining that home automation has a natural and needed relationship with home security. “The communications elements and security system know best if you are in or out of the house.”

Throughout the years, HAI has continued to focus on a motto of “comfort, convenience and safety.” For its distribution partners, and especially in today’s challenging economy, there is also increased emphasis on “delivering the greatest bang from the buck” as well as attention to consumer friendliness when it comes to technology, products and systems, the HAI executive says.

The firm also continues to evolve a clear commitment for conservation and energy management, which plays out in HAI’s offerings. Of course, audio, video, lighting, security, convenient interfaces, and home controls through touchscreens and remote devices are product pillars. Still, there is growing attention to and return-on-investment interest in home energy management and security video. “A tipping point is home energy management,” contends the CEO. Connected to a home security system that knows if the owner is home and enabled through a home intelligent thermostat in addition to mobile devices for out-of-the-home remote control, consumers can see real cost savings, even before smart grid/smart meter installation by utilities.

“Security video continues to grow. Homeowners feel comfortable with it and also for applications beyond the typical — pet cameras, second home cameras, so-called nanny cams, etc.,” says McLellan. As homeowner awareness and technology knowledge grows, will do-it-yourself (DIY) home automation take a bite out of the business? “There will always be a DIY coexistence with professionally designed and installed products and systems,” he observes, but the value added from professionals continues to be visible. With 25 successful years under his belt, Jay McLellan knows not to be overconfident but also knows his own customers, current and emerging technologies and applications that bring everyone together with appreciative homeowners.