Insights into the forces shaping our industry.

LIGHTFAIR and Future Thoughts on Technology

Industry Commentary

Ted Konnerth and Brooke Ziolo returned from LFI last week with a list of thoughts and ideas that came from their meetings with dozens of exhibitors and clients. Nearly everybody they spoke with had comments on the trends of IoT. The industry appears to be quickly adopting IoT concepts into their product line and the future of sensor embedded lighting is poised for growth. In many ways, this reminds me of a conversation with a lighting CEO about 8-10 years ago, when at their LFI booth, the CEO mentioned that as far as you can see, it’s all LED, but every rep he spoke to said that their revenue of LED equipment compared to legacy equipment was about 3% LED. In short… the LFI conference was a future mart; not based on current realities.  IoT is definitely the future, but for whom?

In a joint collaboration at LFI between Ted Konnerth, Bill Astary, and Russ Clark, there was an open discussion of the impacts of technology on channel partner adoption. Bill Astary and Russ Clark are both Georgia Tech faculty members and involved in research on a variety of channel impacts of technology adoption.  The key issues from the presentation were boiled down to: Who’s going to sell this stuff?

The electrical industry has been on a rapid transformation. Grid automation, smart meters, distributed generation and alternative generation have combined into a blizzard of new technologies, new concepts and new approaches. But the question remains…who’s going to sell this stuff?

The industry has absorbed a lot of these changes with a grudging merger of tech talent and legacy electrical talent. But the key to revenue growth is always tied to direct relationships with the customer. And customer relationships tie back into the quality of your sales organization and product development.

So the future of IoT and related technologies exposes the weaknesses of all of the industries that are combined in an IoT program: Sensor development, sensor placement (i.e. the host product), communication network (Datacom, telecom) data aggregation and data analytics (IT systems), and feedback loops into actionable responses (building automation, factory automation, ERP systems, data management systems, etc.).  So, who’s going to ‘sell’ this?

  • Sensor manufacturers?
  • Host product manufacturers (lighting, grid equipment, HVAC manufacturers, machine tool manufacturers)?
  • Building automation providers?
  • Software companies?

If you think about ‘channel’ for a quick minute… the list above demonstrates the complexity of channel relationships. So, if the HVAC community assumes their share of influence on IoT deployment, then HVAC sales organizations and channel partners will promote IoT. Similarly, lighting, power-distribution,machine tool,datacom, communication, and software people all have their sphere of influence to promote IoT.  So getting to the customer introduces significant complexity.
And then there’s the sharing of technology issues. I call those the ‘can’t we all get along’ issues. You’ve heard the buzzwords: interoperability, communication protocol, security, scalability, liability, etc. Each of those is critical to successful adoption of IoT. None of those have been adequately addressed to the point of agreement across the players.
And then there’s the tactical side of the issue; who’s gonna sell this stuff? Where are the sales and product people that can comprehend the channel strategy to define ‘customer’ and identify how to coordinate the pieces into a professional presentation that leads to an order? The lighting industry has seen a growth of talent from the tech industry enter the market. Many of those are performing well at the technical level; but many are failing at the connection to the customer side.
The current state of the talent market is simply… scarce. We are largely at full employment. Technical people with college degrees are over 97% employed. Advanced degreed people are over 98% employed. And now we need talent that can comprehend new business models: SaaS, Li-Fi, licensing IP, LaaS, niche marketing and emerging technology that is beyond just ‘lighting’: agricultural lighting, vertical farming, human centric lighting, UV sterilization, biological lighting and more.
And the growth in new markets has only begun. Just think of new technologies that have been introduced… and then think how lighting will interact with: drones autonomous cars, EV charging, cyber security, smart cities, smart homes, solar power, DC power generation/distribution, wireless controls, Amazon and more to come. Lighting has arrived at the Second Pivot: Pivot 1 was LED and smart lighting. Pivot 2 is the future; it’s the digitization of lighting and the impacts of that move into tech that awaits us all.
Which begs the question: who’s gonna  sell this stuff?