Insights into the forces shaping our industry.
IoT and We
So many people are into IoT…it’s the shiniest object on Earth right now and nearly ‘every’ company is active in it. Which gave me pause…who is really ‘in’ IoT? I did a couple of Google searches and here are the top 10 IoT innovators, according to a couple of aggregator sites:
[supsystic-tables id=10 ]
Familiar with most of those? Me neither. So, I checked again to find more legacy named companies that seem to be at the forefront and got:
Siemens, AT&T, Schneider, Intel, Apple, Amazon, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon and Philips
Those, I’ve heard of. And then I started to think about where does the electrical industry play in this future behemoth of a market? It’s noticeable to me Philips is on the legacy list AND have divorced themselves from lighting. Of the legacy companies, the only ones that appear on that list are: Schneider, Siemens and GE. Those 3 companies are all electrical manufacturers; and the only commonality they have is power distribution and/or factory automation. All three, of course have to be positioning themselves in the IoT market. But where are the rest of the large companies? ABB, Acuity, Honeywell, Rockwell, Eaton, Southwire, Johnson Controls…and more.
I found the book BOLD* very interesting. The digitization process goes through a 6 step process of 6 D’s: Digitization, Deception, Disruption, Demonetization, Dematerialization, Democratization. When LED arrived about 12 years ago (commercialization of LED as a light source), I witnessed most of these steps: the legacy companies, at large, denied its existence (too hot, too expensive, etc.), and then the market disrupted, first at the lamp level and then legacy fixture products. The rest of the steps also occurred, with democratization remaining as the last step. I’m not sure how a lighting emitter source will ever be democratized (other than as an inclusion of a flashlight in your cell phone), but there’s a lot of runway still out there.
My main point is this…is the IoT ‘market’ suitable for the electrical industry as a whole? When IoT is boiled into its primary elements, it’s a sensory system with a data analytical system attached. While many electrical products have been equipped with sensors, the electrical industry is not historically tech savvy enough to position themselves as a data analytical system.
GE is an example of an electrical company who has jumped into this area with both feet. It has internally created its own operating system, Predix, to provide an industrial customer with a complete sensory and analytical system; independent of the overall ERP system of that company. Their success is still too early to assess.
I can imagine a Honeywell solution competing with Predix; as well as a Siemens system. But those companies have been software intensive for decades. Is this a viable market for more traditional electrical manufacturers to enter; as their historical success has been the manufacture of electrical hardware? The only way to get there, quickly, would be through acquisition. Acuity is a company who obviously believes they should be in the IoT market; and they’ve made several acquisitions of companies with software solutions. Will that succeed, though?
Lighting is a product designed for commercial applications, to do one very important thing; render the ability to see a task. Most companies listed on any of the lists above, feel they ‘get lighting’. Commodity lighting solutions will always be around us…troffers on 8’ centers has been the core of commodity office lighting for decades…and sadly, it’s not going away. But does your ability to put troffers on centers position you in the IoT market? Lighting offers a unique presence; it has geographic hegemony, power supply and structural capacity to handle as many sensors as a building owner may require. Coupled with communication gear, it can sense anything you want, upload that information into a central processing system and feed a sophisticated analytical system to generate more information than anyone needs. But, does that give lighting an edge in playing in the IoT market?
I think not.
I’ve always been guided by the principle of parsimony…keep it simple, master your craft. Lighting is complicated enough; with dozens of channels and myriad product solutions…you can be very happy and successful focusing on being a great lighting provider. Stepping into software solutions and assessing security risks, asset management, temperature variances, occupancy variables, toxicity, terrorism or more…isn’t lighting.
Egret is uniquely specialized in the identification, assessment and recruitment of quality talent unique to the electrical industry. Most of the people we encounter are well-qualified industry people…who have developed some capability of talking about IoT. Any client company can succeed with the acquisition of that talent…without investing time, people, training, and huge capital investments into a scientific discipline that happens to just physically coexist with lighting.
I know many of the mega corporations feel compelled to enter IoT, with huge CapEx and OpEx budgets. But look at the players above and ask yourself…is my software solution more robust than Google, or Verizon, or SAP, or Microsoft? An alternative strategy may be to become devout agnostics and approach every company above and offer to partner with them as the geographic hegemony that can deploy their solutions? And together provide quality lighting and a sensory/data analytic solution that meets the expectations of the client.
The IOU community has been embracing software vendors for decades as they try to modernize their grid. With the advent of distributed generation…they’ve expanded their vendor partners. None of the IOU’s I’m aware of have ventured into creating their own solutions for IoT. In short, they stick to what they really good at; power generation and distribution.
Parsimony…be the best you can be in electrical equipment and partner with the software innovators to provide a broader solution to your customer.
*: Diamandis, P., & Kotler, S. (2015). Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.
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. Ted also manages Egret’s Consulting Services division, assisting clients with Organizational strategy, Channel strategy and Succession planning. To learn how Ted can help your company view his biography, check him out on LinkedIn or email him at email@example.com.