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Who can Sell this Stuff?

Blog, Industry Commentary

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

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