Who can Sell this Stuff?

I’ve written about the impacts of the new technology on the general electrical industry over the past 4-5 years. I’ve devoted more of that dialog to lighting (especially solid state lighting, SSL) for several reasons:

  1. Lighting consumes over 40% of the energy in commercial buildings
  2. Lighting is typically the second largest electrical bid portion of a commercial project
  3. Lighting is the #2 stocking product in electrical distributors’ inventory
  4. Lighting gets more blame and praise than any other electrical component

Lighting commands a larger indirect footprint in the electrical industry than many people recognize. When lighting becomes electronic the impacts will be profound:

  1. ‘Connected loads’ in a commercial building will drop significantly
  2. With reduced connected loads, power distribution products change proportionately
  3. With low voltage distribution of SSL, the role of the traditional electrician changes, including the potential of eliminating a licensed electrician entirely
  4. Low voltage power distribution impacts: boxes, pipe, wire, connectors, labor units, hangers, switches and codes
  5. Lighting indirectly ‘enables’ solar power, with reduced load requirements and the native DC nature of SSL, solar will become a more cost-effective solution for many applications; especially residential, but commercial as well. And solar adoption enables battery development.
  6. With SSL fully adopted, Lighting becomes a medium for other electronic things

When SSL is fully adopted, it will become the communication medium of all electronic things if for no other reason than it is mechanically and geographically robustly distributed throughout the space. The ability to add controls and sensors into SSL is simple (to those who know how to do that, of course).

We already see the trends: Google has a Wi-Fi enabled chip installed into LSG’s replacement LED light bulb; Retail informatics and GPS devices are included in Acuity and Philips’ new smart fixtures to provide a retail experience that is ‘smart’ and cell phone integrated; Sensity has outdoor SSL designs that can lead a driver to an open parking space and identify who the driver is; including demographics.

I’m aware of research into medical assessment tools that can logically be incorporated into SSL lighting chips that can track a patient’s health metrics and relay anomalies back to a central medical office. Additionally there are prototype ‘mirrors’ that can virtually accessorize a woman in a dressing room; again, deployable through SSL lighting.

So the real question becomes… as great as all of these potential applications are; who is capable of selling this stuff? I can’t envision a distributor salesman talking to a customer about retail informatics, nor can I see a lighting rep promoting a SSL system that includes Bluetooth enabled fixtures to track the activities of people inside a retail store or museum or prison. And I’m pretty sure that none of us has seen an electrician who can commission or de-bug a faulty Bluetooth enabled light bulb.

So in the race for lighting to become the medium of electronic controls and sensors, we lose sight of one really important thing; who’s paying attention to lighting anymore? Lighting has never been about the emitter, it has always been solely about emittance: how much light falls, where it falls, how it relates to other emittances in terms of max and min ratios, which colors it renders or doesn’t render, how it evokes emotion and elicits attention, how it competes against itself in glare versus clarity of the seeing task. Lighting has always been an art, grounded in science. SSL is science deployed through light.

SSL brings tremendous complexity that has to be absorbed and clearly presented to the arbiters of quality lighting. While it becomes ‘easy’ to laden SSL with a variety of cool additional tasks: security, sensors, controls, data transmission, etc., it doesn’t improve the quality of lighting. And it confuses the message, which lessens the discussion dedicated to lighting. And it makes it harder to actually sell.

The electrical industry has been in a rapid technology transition for the past 6-7 years.  The explosion of sensors and controls has introduced a growing need for electronics expertise. Electronics infiltrated motor control systems 15 years ago; PLC’s have been in factory automation even longer. But the impact of SSL is even more profound. The reduction of power requirements and the incorporation of smart technology devices that transcend lighting are creating a separate industry. Lost in the shuffle is the customer.  And who can get to the customer with the technical acumen to effectively ‘sell’ the capabilities of smart SSL?

It’s a bit ironic, but lighting used to be controlled by electrical engineering firms. As lighting became more theatrical and design influenced, lighting design became a separate professional specialty. Will we see a further narrowing of specialization to SSL Lighting Systems? Or will Lighting become the province of DataCom specialists who are trained in commissioning software systems and the integration of differing technologies of audio, video, data and communications?

The challenge for every manufacturer of SSL will be to attract people who can sell smart SSL systems. The trick will be in developing training regimens to ensure they understand not just the electronics, but that they can also understand the nuances of selling into the legacy electrical industry.

The smarter Lighting gets, the dumber the buyers become.

Ted Konnerth, PhD

Ted Konnerth, Egret Consulting Group’s founder and CEO, recruits on a retained basis, helping leaders in the electrical and lighting industry identify their next C and V-level hire. He is also the executive director for the International Retained Search Associates, allowing him to liaise with skilled recruiters around the globe. To learn more about how Ted can help your company attract talent view his biography, check him out on LinkedIn or email him at tk@egretconsulting.com.

By |July 23rd, 2014|Blog, Industry Commentary, Newsletter|0 Comments

LightFair and Tech

I attended my 24th LFI conference earlier this month and found the conference to be one of the best in their history. Attendance was very strong, the overall quality of the booth displays was excellent and the diversity of products and solutions was visually staggering. In short, Lighting is no longer about delivering footcandles to a task. The intersection of lighting and tech has begun in earnest. The integration of control systems and the sheer definition of what controls what is in flux. In the past several weeks, I’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to discuss the technology changes in the retail market and how the interaction between tech and product is changing rapidly.

I had the chance to start my retail experience with an excellent discussion with Sensity (formerly Xeralux) and learn about the integration of outdoor lighting with security and informatics. We are at the threshold of offering site lighting that can integrate cameras and sophisticated control systems that will enable retail shopping information down to the specific consumer; where he/she is in space and whether they are trying to find a parking space or simply looking at a sweater. And if they’re in a dressing room equipped with the capabilities of simulating that same sweater in differing colors or suggesting a complementary belt, pants or handbag, then the opportunity for increasing the sales value rises. The tech part is impressive.

Retail can now combine visual merchandising with direct sales; there are virtual interactive concierges who can guide you to specific products or stores within a mall. You can now purchase products in a brick/mortar store through a cell app that allows you to ‘check-out’ by simply taking your product away. Malls are adding visual kiosks to take up unused space that enables consumers to see visual merchandise and buy it from their cell and ship it for free. Fast food restaurants have digital menu boards that allow you to order your hamburger exactly the way you like it and hit ‘buy’ with no interface with a human… pay for it at the counter or through your cell app. Drive-through restaurants can allow you to order your food before you get there and pick it up at the window. The key to the explosion of tech has been the new operating systems for cell phones; both Android and Apple’s new IOS upgrade have the capability of enabling cell phones to provide an extraordinary breadth of information. And then there’s the other enabler… lighting.

Solid State Lighting (SSL) is now a smart chip; placed pervasively throughout our lives that can enable communications across a variety of technology.  Legacy lighting systems were largely dumb systems; the better ones could enable dimming and off/on control systems. SSL systems can now be integrated into systems that may contain: dimmers, cameras, security detection systems, face recognition software, license plate recognition, temperature, occupancy levels, motion, speed, personal recognition (phone identification or app account information), credit-worthiness and buying habits. And that’s just a small sampling that involves retail operations. And how does retail lighting shape the general commercial lighting market? A lot… since every homeowner, business owner and governmental leader is also a consumer and is impacted by the look and feel of how ‘retail’ functions. We observe retail environments through the eyes of what’s trendy or fashionable and take those concepts into our offices, homes and even warehouses.

SSL will explode the applications for informatics. Informatics lead to Big Data and Big Data leads to Big New Ideas. And Big New Ideas lead to the simple question… who do we have in our company who can do this? Technology has largely existed outside of the legacy lighting industry, we sold legacy products to legacy channel partners and sold legacy solutions that always ended up with… how much light do you need and how much does it cost? The new frontier will likely minimize the attention to the former and displace the discussion of the latter… ‘price’ will be offset by bundling together solutions that have fewer opportunities for competitive comparisons.

The leadership and tactical employees of the very near future will be dramatically different than the traditional employees of the legacy lighting era. The ability to sell lighting based upon the sophistication of the control and sensor environment will alter the sales process and change the buying influences. A traditional contractor will be largely mitigated from the discussion of lighting; value-engineering reps will be valued less; full-line distributors will struggle to identify what a lighting ‘line’ will look like, since lighting will be sold more through the controls features than the emitter capabilities.

And then there’s the human capital investment. Legacy lighting executives may not have the skills to identify the type of selling skills and technical aptitude their sales organization will require. (as well as their product development, marketing, engineering talent). Legacy salespeople are rarely capable of getting out of their comfort zone and calling on customers or buying influences outside of their traditional base of business. The scope of technology is changing so fast that training is obsolete before you can complete the manual for it.

The lighting industry is in a renaissance. It is the most exciting time in the history of lighting, but companies and individuals will be tasked to make dramatic changes in their view of the lighting industry to change from selling tangible products to environmental technology solutions. Planning for a renaissance is tricky.

Ted Konnerth, PhD

Ted Konnerth, Egret Consulting Group’s founder and CEO, recruits on a retained basis, helping leaders in the electrical and lighting industry identify their next C and V-level hire. He is also the executive director for the International Retained Search Associates, allowing him to liaise with skilled recruiters around the globe. To learn more about how Ted can help your company attract talent view his biography, check him out on LinkedIn or email him at tk@egretconsulting.com.