Chris Brown
Last year I introduced a new word….. Illumigeddon, referring to the end of the traditional lighting industry as we have known it. Now it’s time to introduce this year’s new word, to better reflect the state of the industry today. Illumigeddon probably started quietly in 1999, when Dr. Roland Haitz and Jeff Tsao presented their white paper on Semiconductor Lighting. With proper funding, they predicted, rapid improvements in brightness were possible, that would ultimately create the ideal light source.

Now that we have broad end-user acceptance of SSL, what is next? ILLUMIGEDDON is soooooooo yesterday, or better, so last month. Literally last month, with the announcement of Cisco’s lighting industry alliance with Philips, and then Cisco announcing their Digital Ceiling and alliances with a growing number of traditional lighting manufacturers. My humble opinion….Cisco’s Digital Ceiling and PoE in general might be the personification of Illumigeddon….truly the end of the traditional lighting industry, as we have known it.

Well, (since I get to make up words), here is the new word for this year….Illumitunity! meaning amazing new opportunities in lighting. But, and a very, very big but…. opportunities for whom? My Chicken Little, the sky is falling fear…..I’m not convinced that most lighting distribution is prepared or committed to making the emotional and financial investments necessary to transform to a 21st century technology and solution provider. And, with the Internet of Everything, the game changes. Lighting isn’t just about light anymore. Channel players must find ways to provide measurable, appreciable value to the end-user, beyond just providing product.

The question is….who plays in the IoE game, and who do they play with? And what are the rules, the hurdles, the rewards? And when tech gorillas and lighting manufacturers align, who drives the bus? Lighting has been talked about as the Trojan Horse of the Internet of Everything, because lighting is ubiquitous, it’s connected, and it is the perfect vehicle for the data-collecting sensors that will drive the Internet of Everything.

Cisco as a keynote speaker at last year’s Strategies in Light (SiL) conference was a hint of what was to come. Now Cisco and Philips announce their PoE alliance. Then we hear about the Cisco Digital Ceiling and that Cree, Eaton, Molex, Orion Systems and others are also Cisco Partners. And more alliances are sure to come. And thus the $64k question… will the products and systems developed in these alliances get into the ceiling. Does traditional lighting distribution offer any value in the new selling equation, other than their critical existing customer relationships?

As PoE gains traction with the Digital Ceiling alliances and with startups like Platformatics, NuLeds, Innovative Lighting’s Genisys….how and with whom will the PoE companies come to market? Now, in this new SSL industry, we are not just selling lumens, but connectivity and sensing devices, accumulating data and needing to analyze it and figure out how to use it. Now, Solar and Energy Storage and Net Zero Energy are becoming legit contenders for our end user’s attention. Are all the players in the existing lighting food chain nimble enough to maneuver to new 21st century business models to stay relevant and necessary?

Back to PoE for a minute, and the Cisco/Philips alliance and then the Cisco Digital Ceiling and its alliances, and ‘who’s driving the bus’? As a lighting distributor now trying to sell not just lumens but also connectivity, have I trained myself, or been trained by my manufacturing partners, to be able to speak intelligently about the new alliance of lighting and connectivity? Can I sell switches and routers and electronics as comfortably as I now sell lamps and luminaires and lighting controls? If the answer isn’t a resounding ‘yes’, I’m going to be in trouble, and I deserve to be. My last resort to ensure I don’t get disintermediated is to become so invaluable to my client that he or she has to keep me in the selling, service and solutions equation. In this new age of lighting combined with technology, lighting distribution may not be so often disintermediated as simply replaced by the tech gorillas existing electronics distribution partners and VAR’s. One more worry to keep lighting distributors awake at night!

Earlier I said ‘lighting isn’t just about light anymore’, BUT fundamentally it will always be about light……and about quality of light and benefits of good and great lighting. We can’t let the market forget that.

Illumitunity is reserved for the brave, the risk takers, the innovators, the aware, the thinkers, the doers. 21st century businesses run like they were run way back in the 20th century, are likely to be out of business already, they just don’t know it yet. At the recent Strategies in Light Investment Forum, leading lighting industry analyst Jed Dorscheimer of Canaccord Genuity, said “Things are not ok in this industry, they’re ugly. The traditional lighting business will go the way of the dinosaurs”. And if you want an example of the type of dramatic changes we may be in for, think of the traditional lighting distributor whose only business was selling light bulbs. Can you say ‘turn out the lights, the party’s over?!?’

Finally, as Jack Welch said….”If the rate of change outside is greater than the rate of change inside, THE END IS NEAR”. For many of us in the traditional lighting industry, I’m afraid the end may be near! Unless, folks answer the call of Illumitunity! If they are willing to. If they are able to. If they even want to!

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  1. Chris,
    Great reflection on our Industry. I also heard at The LED Show last week that “Lighting is only the Vehicle” for the new players to roll through our legacy establishment (Cash Cow). Or in another conference “Lighting is the Enabler” reflecting the Trojan Horse in your story. Many companies of Fortune 500 or less, see us (Electrical Distributors – Lighting Wholesalers) as an easy mark to wipe out any semblance of easy money. It is Six Sigma, Kaizan or just a plain blood bath, all dependent on your perspective.

  2. Mark Lien says:

    When you tell people the sky is falling, and your projections prove accurate, you are an early warning system. Chris is a very astute industry observer and the premier futurist for the distribution skill set in the lighting community. Thanks for another great column Chris and more insight into industry threats and opportunities. – Mark

  3. Dennis says:

    POE is a great thing in its’ earliest stages… part of its’ appeal is the end
    to the stale and now illogical reliance on 120 V ac mains –

    Two points to make – one, that the orthodoxy of copper wires – AC mains,
    standard form factors… the whole ancient infrastructure and gear are like a seven year old Twinkie. Some historical relevance -Its’ time of meaningfulness is in its’ last decade or two. My grand father and parents depended on incandescents and typical 120 V power supply… Those loved ones were born in the 1890s & 1920s – POE screams out that it’s a 21st century approach. On merit; I’m a lighting professional who is a ardent proponent of POE.

    Two – How does anyone pen a POE lighting story and just give a fleeting mention of NuLEDS?
    They own the category – While Ciscos’ role is enormous, the work that NuLEDS
    has been doing in the realm is the area of the most promising advancements.

  4. I agree with “Chicken Little”. Where the traditional lighting focused ED is concerned, there must be serious internal debate as to what they will continue to bring to the party in the face of the IoT. Lighting will be a communications channel, not simply an illumination product. The technology is moving faster every minute. The combination of technology giants and lighting giants will be daunting. How EDs will keep up with technology that changes by the day maybe an insurmountable problem.
    However, the EDs still have a trump card. They have credibility with a customer base that may not have no contact with the techno-lighting moguls.
    The solution seems obvious but not easy. How to partner with these new giants and still find a place for ED profits. ED sales forces may become little more that stalking horses for the ED’s new partners. Opening the doors to high tech sales people who will then put thee orders through the distributor. To expect ES sales forces to master the changing technology is unrealistic. The EDs will assist the sales effort, fulfill the order process and carry the paper (unless more sophisticated financing options are provided).
    What kind of changes will that require within a given organization? That’s where the fun begins.
    Remember , “the race may not always go to the swift, or the battle to the strong…, but that’s the way the smart money bets”.

  5. James says:

    Great reflection on our Industry. I also heard at The LED Show last week that “Lighting is only the Vehicle” for the new players to roll through our legacy establishment (Cash Cow). Or in another conference “Lighting is the Enabler” reflecting the Trojan Horse in your story. Many companies of Fortune 500 or less, see us (Electrical Distributors – Lighting Wholesalers) as an easy mark to wipe out any semblance of easy money. It is Six Sigma, Kaizan or just a plain blood bath, all dependent on your perspective.

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