Lighting vendors should target IT departments more than facilities managers

July 5, 2018
Info techies are more influential decision makers in today’s IoT-oriented, smart lighting, smart building environment, according to a survey by GE’s Current group.

Info techies are more influential decision makers in today’s IoT-oriented, smart lighting, smart building environment, according to a survey by GE’s Current group.

As the lighting industry attempts to morph from its conventional role of illumination and become more of a provider of smart networks that collect data through chips and sensors embedded in the lighting infrastructure, it should focus its sales efforts on IT groups rather than on the customary facilities departments.

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That is the takeaway from an informal survey conducted by GE’s Current smart lighting group, which asked via Twitter: “Who do you think holds the keys to smart buildings of the future?”

A plurality of 1500 respondents weighed in with the answer “IT,” which got 44% of the nods, well ahead of “facilities and operations,” which was second at 22%, a nose ahead of “CEOs” at 21%, and all in front of “finance” at 13%.

While facilities managers and site supervisors still “play a pivotal role in building smart facilities,” the industry’s relationship with them is in the balance, Current noted in reporting the survey results.

“It’s important to understand how the nature of vendor relationships is changing,” Current said. “For decades, these interactions have centered around products and services, such as lighting, air conditioning, security, or other business systems. Today, however, cyber-physical systems are becoming the foundation of smart facilities, and with them come new questions about connectivity, compatibility, and other concerns that simply didn’t exist before.”

Not long ago, tech talk in the lighting world meant words and acronyms like “watts,” “lumens,” “CRI,” “E27,” and so forth. It still does, but the vocabulary has widened to include “big data,” “cloud,” “Bluetooth,” “Ethernet,” “megabits per second,” and the like. So much so that IT departments are emerging as principal lighting buyers. (Image credit: Learntek via Flickr.)

Current noted that “built and digital infrastructure are colliding,” thereby behooving facilities departments to learn how to equip building systems including lighting, heating, and others with Internet of Things (IoT) technologies that collect data and tie systems into cloud-based analytic systems to improve overall building operations.

If you think that sounds like more of a job for IT, you’re not alone.

“It’s no wonder that nearly half our survey respondents said the IT department holds the key to the smart buildings of tomorrow,” Current added. “We’ve entered an age of industrial data and analytics, and going forward, technology experts will be essential for managing the networks, configurations, and protocols that enable intelligent outcomes.”

To some extent, the survey results are self-serving for Current (it’s full name is Current, powered by GE), an IT-focused lighting group that GE is selling as the once-mighty corporate conglomerate disposes of many other operations as well. GE has pared back Current’s once overarching mission that previously included other energy products such as solar panels, EV chargers, and energy storage, and is focusing Current on smart lighting tied to building systems such as heating and cooling.

Self-serving or not, the results reaffirm the reality that lighting companies must find new revenue streams in an era when LED light sources will last for purported decades, thus undermining the century-old business model of selling lighting hardware and replacements. Switching the focus of sales pitches from facilities managers to IT departments is just one of many changes involved in upending the conventional hardware-based business model into one based on selling services and data-based operations.

The new IT and data ethos is creating new opportunities, so much so that German engineering giant Siemens has re-entered the lighting business — not as a vendor of light sources per se but as a provider of smart, Internet-connect lighting systems.

As lighting companies reorient around an IT-based business model, they are finding themselves both partnering with and competing against pure-blood IT companies.

MARK HALPERis a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.