Feature, Lighting Industry

How to keep Google from owning the lighting industry

Soft landing: The lighting industry's old replacement bulb business model is crashing, so it's parachuting into new pastures, where software will play a big role.

If you’re a legacy lighting company, what can you do to stave off the industry encroachment of internet and IT powerhouses like Google, and survive the transition to lighting’s digital LED future?

Easy! Simply become the Google of lighting before Google does.

That’s the antidote according to Ulrich Schumacher, CEO of Austria’s 64-year-old lighting stalwart, Zumtobel.

‘We will develop increasingly…into a software supplier, a kind of Google of the lighting industry,’ Schumacher said in an interview published by a German language magazine called Trend, as reported by Reuters.

Software supplier?! Those two words might sound strange coming from a company that has made its living selling lamps and luminaires since its inception in 1950.

But as the industry shifts to LED lamps that last a purported 20 years and more, it is parachuting to new business pastures before its old profit model of selling replacement bulbs crashes to the ground.

Software is the rip cord. It will help connect lights to information networks and make lighting part of the fledgling ‘Internet of Things’ in which anything that can be digitized will be. Consumers will turn lights on and off and alter their brightness and colour remotely via software apps. Cities will use streetlights to monitor traffic, crowds, air quality and many other things, feeding information into central systems.

The industry often refers to the movement as ‘solutions and services.’ Companies like Google, Apple and Cisco have taken note, and are beginning to offer related products in a move that could build into a full-on intrusion into the lighting industry.

Like many others, Zumtobel’s Schumacher is formulating strategies and ideas for the brave new lighitng world. As Reuters noted, ‘He cited as an example complementing ceiling lighting with movement sensors or cameras to make it into an alarm system, or adding wireless modules to create an internet network.’

It is the same challenge that pushed old timer Siemens into spinning out its Osram division a year-and-a-half ago, which has Philips attempting something similar, which essengtially forced Samsung out of the LED lamp business, and which has pushed GE into overdrive to collaborate with innovative technology companies.

There’s no guarantee of success for any of them nor for any of the newer lighting companies storming into the LED business with no burden of an incandescent past. Those include Opple, Aurora, Cree, TCP, LIFX and Acuity, to name just a few.

Judging from Schumacher’s insights, it could be the one with the softest touch that wins.

Update: After we posted this story, we landed a copy of Trend’s German article. Our resident language expert and editor Robert Bain spotted some more nuggets: Schumacher said Zumtobel is launching ‘lighting as a service’ projects with a Brazilian museum and an Austrian industrial company, in which the user rents the lights and pays a subscription for use, potentially including data serivces. It will also pilot a system that sends location-based sales offers to people as they wander about shops. Stay tuned for more from Lux.

Photo is from Auddmin/Shutterstock