A smart building turf war: Should IT or facilities manage connected lighting deployments?

May 8, 2015, 9:56 PM UTC
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Courtesy of Philips

Anyone who’s worked late at the office can probably tell you that there’s almost always a moment when the lights click off automatically, and you have to get up from your desk to go flip a switch just to ensure you can work. With the new breed of smarter and more energy-efficient buildings, that scenario could become a thing of the past, as companies such as Philips, Digital Lumens, Enlighted and others sell lighting packed with sensors into commercial spaces.

But as these smarter lighting systems joins smarter HVAC systems and an array of other connected products that aim to deliver both energy savings, and also improve the comfort of people inside the buildings materialize, a turf war is emerging. Only it’s not really a turf war, because at least one side really doesn’t want to have anything to do with it.

“Facilities managers are going to bring a lot of this stuff in largely without the CIO and IT managers involved,” said Tom Pincince, president and CEO of Digital Lumens. “Remember BYOD? Now we’re going to have BYOB, or bring your own building, and the IT managers are going to have to deal with it. Right now there is a divide. The facilities guys look at IT as technocrats and the CIOs don’t want to deal with the physicality of the building automation.”

However, in a conversation with Eric Rondolat, the Global CEO of Philips Lighting, it appears that the C-level executives and IT are getting there. Rondolat is heading up the future spin out of Philips lighting business after the Dutch conglomerate finishes splitting its business into a two segments, with one dedicated to lighting services and the other to medical and consumer devices like your Saeco coffee maker or Sonicare toothbrush.

Rondolat says that Philips has reorganized the way it sells its lighting services. First, it is in the process of selling the physical LED components business and now is left selling bulbs, lighting fixtures and the software and services around running connected lighting operations. This can mean everything from tuning LEDS to perform light shows, as Philips has done with the Tappan Zee Bridge or it can mean programming your office lights to follow an optimized color pattern to keep workers more productive.

“Light is not just light anymore,” he said. “They are systems with location and sensors and intelligence. We need to develop full architectures for the light sources, and the software and on the marketing and sales side of the equation we must also make sure we are equipped with the type of people who can drive those types of enterprise sales.”

To that end, Rondolat says Philips’ sales team is finding itself more often in the offices of the CXOs and the IT side of the house as opposed to facilities and building management. It also means the sales pitch is more about the return on investment for the lighting around energy efficiency, as well as increasingly productivity in the office. Those savings can come from swapping incandescent lights of LEDs, but as a building adds connectivity it also comes from better automation. Turning off lights when the building is empty and making sure they stay off—or perhaps running in a random pattern to deter theft—are also ways to save on costs.

Pincince believes that companies will eventually take it a few steps further with personalized lighting for employees. But as it stands now, that’s going to take a while until those CXOs and IT do really get involved. “Your lights might talk to your HVAC system before your phone talks to your lights or HVAC,” said Picince. “Networked buildings is a role the IT manager has largely not accepted at this point.”

He said today’s divide between IT and facilities reminds him of the divide between telephone and voice over IP systems back in the early 2000s when telephony and IT were separate and companies had to wait until IT took that over before many of the enhancements we’re used to, like visual voicemail, were able to flourish. So we’ll get there, but it’s going to take time—and perhaps a few rogue facilities managers—before officer workers can control their lights or the AC from their desk.

Correction, May 11, 2015: An earlier version of this post misstated how Philips was splitting its business units. Its medical and consumer businesses will form one business while lighting will spin out into a separate company.

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