Connected lighting - why I’m a convert

Lux Connected Lighting in Retail Conference 2017 – the view from the chair.

I bought a new LED TV recently and, of course, it’s HD ready. I’m not really sure what that means, but I know that I’ll be ready when HD arrives. And that, more or less, explains the state of technology at the moment. There is a future, and we’re bound to believe that progress will continue with its inexorable rise to the stars (or where else would we be?). And, for the lighting industry, it’s time to join in.

I’ll put my hand up and say, right from the off, that I’m a convert to the ‘connected’ universe. I can’t see any reason why every light fitting shouldn’t be ‘HD ready’ – or ‘IoT ready’, in our case. There’s a change in the air around the matter of connected lighting, and our recent conference demonstrated it very well. In previous gatherings, lighting and the internet of things has felt like someone pitching an idea, maybe just half an idea, and hoping that someone might feel lucky enough to take a punt.

But this was different.

For a start, we had David Mudd from BSI on the platform. If David comes anywhere near a topic, it can be safely assumed that the powers are taking it seriously. Once the gatekeepers get involved, we know that whatever-it-is is coming down the track. These guys don’t mess with fanciful notions. David’s hard look at what connected lighting might mean for business provided a solid platform for the rest of the day. And his message? Work out what it is that you want to do – and then do it properly. Tough love.

Once we apply digitisation to the retail sector, we begin to see why the lighting industry is perfectly placed to provide the bridge between the real world of customers, stock and physical resources – ‘the bricks’, and the business of data analysis and business strategy – ‘the clicks’.

Andy Hobsbawn from Evrything put the issue of digitisation into perspective with a flurry of statistics, the standout ones being that ‘digital leaders’ are reporting 18 per cent higher gross margin, 26 per cent higher profitability, and 12 per cent higher valuation

These days, is there any business not ready to look at that kind of performance?

Once we apply digitisation to the retail sector, we begin to see why the lighting industry is perfectly placed to provide the bridge between the real world of customers, stock and physical resources – ‘the bricks’, and the business of data analysis and business strategy – ‘the clicks’. The thing that we haven’t been getting (and I include myself in this) is that it’s not actually about light; it’s about what the lighting installation can deliver. We have the benefit of being everywhere, in every building, in every room. Our version of ‘HD ready’ is to ship luminaires containing on-board sensors as standard.

There is a philosophical nettle that needs to be grasped here. We have all grown into this industry believing that, via creative technologies and energy management, we can deliver enormous savings to our clients. Once upon a time that was true, but the LED has shot that fox and all those big-number savings are gone, which leaves us with getting our head round the 3:30:300 rule. Let me explain, because this might hurt.

The 3:30:300 rule came out of the US a few years ago. It says that organisations spend approximately $3/ft2 on utilities; $30/ ft2 on premises costs; and $300/ ft2 on personnel. So all those mighty savings that we’ve been shouting about amount to less than one per cent of the cost of a happy workforce. A switched-on board of directors might start wondering where their money is best spent.

The lighting companies that will be of most interest to those seeking connected building solutions will be those who have already done the work and made their luminaires ‘IoT ready’. 

To enable this, a building needs a connected environment, requiring a matrix of data harvesters – the sensors from which all knowledge flows. And the most effective place to put them is inside something that is already in the ceiling and already powered, so the building doesn’t require yet another layer of electrical services. And that sounds like a light fitting to me.

The lighting companies that will be of most interest to those seeking connected building solutions will be those who have already done the work and made their luminaires ‘IoT ready’. We will gain our business by anticipating the future, and all of the signs are heading towards a universe that needs to know things.

During the conference, speaker after speaker provided evidence of how connected lighting is making a difference to the business of business. John Kavulich of Acuity told us how they, as a global lighting brand, have integrated a sensory infrastructure into their products. Martin Hartmann of ZGS talked about how space utilisation can be improved by data analysis of occupancy and customer flow patterns. Gerben van der Lugt of Philips explained how indoor positioning is helping customers and staff to find the things they need.

Benjamin Brudnjak of Osram described how a family fashion business in Switzerland has digitised its customer loyalty programme, increasing basket value by ten per cent. And Gary Bennett of Aurora showed how connected lighting is adding to the ‘theatre’ of the car showroom.

All these solutions use the lighting installation as the physical framework for improving business by digital means. And occasionally, the telling nugget of information comes as a throwaway line: ‘There’s no reason why connected light fittings should cost any more than they do now.’ Now there’s an interesting idea to play with.

And since the conference, more news has hit the headlines.

Gooee has agreed a US $7.5 million deal with Evrything to help smart buildings better capture, analyse and utilise data through ‘lighting-as-a-host’. Gooee will be able to apply Evrything cloud technology to the data that is collected via its connected lighting installations, providing an end-to-end digital service for the management of customer data.

Osram has acquired a stake in Swiss company beaconsmind AG. Beaconsmind already provides customised software for the Osram Einstone beacons, smart transmitters that can be integrated into light fittings. This is the kind of programme that enables a retailer to optimise product ranges and contact with customers – all to provide a more creative shopping experience.