Why I (kinda) hate the lighting industry sometimes

I HAVE A SECRET to confess. Back in the day, when I edited Lighting Equipment News (hands up if you remember the trade rag LEN?), this industry wasn’t my only squeeze.

For a few brief years – to please my bosses and earn a few extra grand – I also edited Shop Equipment News (we weren’t very imaginative with titles at Emap).

I recalled my run in retail recently during a panel discussion about the internet of things and lighting. Some of the panellists expressed cynicism that the IoT would become a ‘thing’. They couldn’t see why we would want our lights talking to the cloud. What would they tell it?

Further, they couldn’t see why anyone would want to access their smartphone in a shop. It wouldn’t happen, they affirmed, because of ‘security’ and ‘privacy’. And anyway ‘I can find the stock cubes in a supermarket without an app, thank you very much’.

Security? No one cares. Privacy? Sad, moist and lame.

It brought back to my mind a similar panel discussion about 15 years ago, this time about on-line shopping. Again the retail industry panellists were cynical. ‘It won’t happen’, they agreed. I distinctly remember one asking: ’Who in their right mind would type their credit card details into the internet?’

You won’t be surprised to learn that Jeff Bezos wasn’t on the panel. Global online sales, by the way, were worth almost $2 trillion last year. Yes, $2 trillion.

Our lighting panellists were equally adamant that no-one would walk around a shop while staring at their smart phone. Well, my 14-year-old daughter Lara does that all the time. Even when there isn’t a sniff of a bargain or a discount. She’ll take a selfie in the changing room of Top Shop or Pull&Bear and have 50 likes before she’s made it to the cashier. Security? No one cares, Dad. Privacy? Sad, moist and lame.

One senior lighting company executive confessed to me recently: ‘I thought the phrase Internet of Things was made up by you and the Lux team, Ray. And then I heard it on the BBC’.

My daughter will take a selfie in the changing room of Top Shop and have 50 likes before she’s made it to the cashier.

He’s not alone. I am regularly floored by the levels of dismissal and conservatism I hear in what is supposed to be a technical, innovative community. I hate this industry sometimes.

We should have learned our lesson a decade ago with LEDs. I remember clearly people saying to us: ‘LEDs are okay for some niches but not for general lighting’. They’d also complain that ‘all Lux ever talks about is LEDs’. Er, yes.

They couldn’t see why we would want our lights talking to the cloud. What would they tell it?

The LED revolution brought in a wave of new entrants to the lighting market, many of whom have taken a painful market share from the old guard.

The next revolution isn’t confined to the lighting sector, so there’s no excuse that we didn’t see it coming. The IoT will – is – disrupting whole industries. And not always in a bad way. Early adopters can do well: since 2014, BP has saved a staggering $7 billion by investing in Big Data technologies. It’s not for nothing they describe data as ‘the new oil’.

But here’s the thing: we in the lighting sector are in grave danger of missing this boat. I’d rate our chances at 50:50.

We should be all over the Smart Cities movement, but guess what? I reckon the energy companies and mobile networks will beat us to it.

Worse, luminaires could become dumb terminals, a cheap platform to carry digital services designed, sold and managed by someone else.

Last week we tested a high bay light we bought from China for $16 and found that it was dangerous. Scary.

This week we bought a $16 LED panel from Amazon (thank you Mr Bezos) and you know what? It’s pretty good.

Now that’s truly terrifying.


Comments 5

It IS a technical, innovative industry. So were the steamloc guys. Without outside-in thinking any industry runs the risk of being hit out of the blue. Everything is being connected (started long before someone coined IoT), LEDs are improving and becoming cheaper, smart cities and integral building management are happening, and more and more data is being collected enabling new, profitable services. Light is of course the best invention ever, so for those who are not into service business models there are ample opportunities in other light-centric application domains.

My concern is that even where "smart" lighting is embraced that lack of training,awareness etc in the supply chain becomes the limiting factor. The history of lighting controls is littered with unfulfilled potential. It was never really the technology at fault rather the failure of industry players to properly design, install, commission and support the solution. Those factors are not going to disppear in the IoT era.

Great read, with a lot of truth. I would not be surprised to see the energy giants jump on this, why wouldn't they. I remember attending a Lux seminar at Mercedes world a few years ago, one topic was about lighting manufacturers potentially "owning the sky /ceiling and all around it" it seems that many have been to slow to understand the opportunities ahead.

The point about IoT is that it doesn't matter whether you like it or not. It's coming anyway. Remember that King Canute, the most powerful man in the world, demonstrated that even he could not resist the incoming tide. The big question is "Who is going to guide the tide?". It's no good saying the tech and IT giants don't understand good lighting because they aren't interested.

Great article Mr M. Sadly you are spot on about the state of affairs. Mr Bezo is watching the numbers go through his website then making his own to compete whilst taking 15% commission from the seller. Free industry knowledge that they are earning revenue for...... Now Manufacturers, large ones specifically, have well and truly missed the boat. Not just on IOT bus basic products. Continual specification changes within 6 months of a "new product" are the bane of our life. "We have to improve all the time" they all say. Sorry Manufacturer but replacing a 5.8w GU10 for a 6.2w improved version is not business savvy especially when the new outer casings are grey replacing the lovely white. End users try 10, want 10 more 6 months later. Then this one. 3rd September I received 6 samples of "Eco Glass" GU10 LED's for testing from not quite the big 4 but big enough to have taken plenty of their market share looking at their accounts. Today these items are obsolete replaced by a 6w improved version! MADNESS. As a distributor of all these products we are struggling to manage all the changes. In fact 9 times out of 10 we kill the product and don't bother promoting it. So we are making our own and have been for a while. Like many other LED pop up firms in the last 3-4 years. It's that simple the globe is smaller now and shipping is cost effective. Luckily we are a member of a well known recycling scheme..... Good luck

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