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PoE: Power Over Ethernet or Philips Over Everyone Else?

By Chris Brown

Or should it be BoE… “Beginning of End” for some lighting distributors?

Illumigeddon got real last month with the announcement of an alliance between Philips and Cisco to promote PoE and networked lighting.

Philips (PHG.AS) has entered strategic partnerships with Cisco (CSCO.O), SAP (SAPG.DE) and Bosch [ROBG.UL] under which the Dutch company will become their preferred supplier for networked lighting. 

Philips Lighting CEO Eric Rondolat said that his company would collaborate with U.S. information technology giant Cisco on networks for office buildings, software company SAP for city infrastructure, and engineering and electronics group Bosch on home networks.

I asked the question in 2014: When technology and lighting get together, who drives the bus? No surprise that Cisco is now officially in our game… not after Cisco was a keynote speaker at Strategies in Light in 2015 and recently at a DoE lighting conference. The chilling question for distribution now is “Who will be selling the products of this and other expected lighting and technology alliances?” And if existing lighting distribution will be selling PoE, there may be a steep learning curve regarding smart, networked lighting and related connectivity and networking gear. As my friend Bill Warren is fond of saying, “This is a real game changer!”

Lighting distribution has very smart sales people, who have had to learn a whole new language of lighting with the advent of SSL. But is it realistic to think that with all they have on their plate now with our new lighting technologies, and with the tyranny of the urgent maxing many of them out, that they can take on learning not just the language of networking, but the intricacies of the products and systems themselves? I’m going to strongly encourage our sales team to get in front of the issue, get their heads and arms around PoE, and be the first to bring the information about what’s coming to our clients. And that takes us back to fighting disintermediation the best way I can conceive – becoming invaluable to the client, if not to the vendor.

This groundbreaking news about Philips and Cisco is just the first major alliance announcement potentially threatening lighting distribution. There will be others. Who will be selling the systems of lighting and networking? Assume the worst case to best prepare. Philips and Cisco will “jointly market networking systems” and Philips lights “will be an integral part of Cisco’s platform for managing office networks.”

Will lighting distribution be needed in this new equation? Only if we are adding value, as trite as that old phrase is. But how do we add value? And now I go back to Menko DeRoos’ mandate from a previous column: Demand training from our vendors – real, in-depth training. Not just on specific products, but also on technology, competition and strategy in this new space. And be the first to bring that value-add information to our clients.

But back to my “Chicken Little” and “Illumigeddon” position. I’ve said that SSL changes everything. PoE is a concrete example of more new technology, new players and potentially new business models. And in the worst-case scenario, the new business model fulfills my observation that some lighting distributors are out of business, but they just don’t know it yet.


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