IoT connected lighting
Innovation

Signify US CEO (Formerly Philips Lighting): Lighting Up The Connected Economy’s Innovations

Founded as Philips Lighting 128 years ago and spun off as Signify in 2016, the company today considers the sun to be its primary competitor in the illumination market. And, as its U.S. CEO Roger Karner tells Karen Webster, its next big challenge is helping to light up the connected economy. It’s about more than the tech making it happen, he says — it’s also about building the legion of use cases that make it relevant.

“What, do you think we own the electric company? Then shut off that light!”

It is an admonishment that we’ve all heard, or at least a variation of at some point in our lives. Maybe one’s father asked this question, but the ending was always the same: a vigorous command to turn off the light that a child (or adult) left on when they left one room to go to another.

This is a command and behavior that an entire generation of children may never have to hear or commit to memory. That’s because, in the connected future, as Signify’s CEO of the U.S. Market Roger Karner told Karen Webster for this week’s edition of the Monday Conversation, the lights turn themselves off. In fact, the lights in the era of the connected smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) can do much more that will genuinely improve the lives of both consumers and businesses beyond simple illumination.

The challenge, he noted, isn’t in what can be done, but in how to do it.

“The one thing we all have to learn: it is not about the innovations themselves. It is about the use cases and the value we can create for the consumer and the professional customer. We get very excited about our innovative capabilities, and we are extremely proud of all of our IP and patents in this area. But, at the end of the day, it is all nothing if the consumer doesn’t see the value and [want] to pay for it. Those innovations have illumination that there is value here beyond a great light,” said Karner.

Karner noted that Signify has been into IoT and connected products since its early days: 2012, two years before Amazon Alexa’s release. When Alexa hit the market, however, Signify was quick to integrate its Hue smart home integration. From there, it has been an avid collector of partners — in the voice ecosystem specifically, and across IoT in general.

Signify — which, until 2018, was known under its original brand name Philips Lighting — has been in the innovation game for 128 years, since the earliest days of electric lights. Today, it is already in the number-one spot in terms of selling conventional lights, LEDs and connected bulbs.

“We think, as the biggest light producers after the sun, there is more we can do with that, and that we can help customers and businesses make big shifts to their well-being, simply by changing a host of small things,” he said.

Collecting Connected Experiences 

If one were looking to make a list of things they wished they could do with their lighting, they might be surprised by how many of those things are already possible, and pretty easy to hook do. That is because Signify focuses as heavily on being a good collaborator as it does on being a solid innovator.

That includes all the integration it has done with various voice devices, but extends far beyond it, because the company has built its network to be a place into which others can also easily integrate via an application programming interface (API). Currently, the net result is 750 apps working within its home ecosystem, and connecting lights in a host of interesting and unexpected ways.

For example, features include lights that flash every time one’s favorite sports team wins, or living room lights that all come on when a doorbell rings. The use cases can get pretty complex, Karner said, like lighting patterns that switch on to make it look like someone is coming down the stairs inside the house when a proximity alert is set off outside. They can also be tied into larger features — smart kitchen suites now include a set of features that will turn the lights on to a custom setting, and instigate the grinding and brewing of coffee.

The unifying principle is delivering use cases that consumers can genuinely utilize, then making sure that the experiences are secure, private and under consumers’ control. This is why — despite the tremendous amount of consumer data Signify gathers via its connected devices — the data isn’t used, Karner told Webster, except maybe to troubleshoot issues for consumers. The company does not use the data to, say, push advertisements via its app for other Signify products.

“We do a lot of personalized demographic-centered advertising with partners like Amazon and Best Buy to help create the value proposition they are looking for,” he said. “But we don’t go really direct and personal, and push through the app, because, honestly, I don’t like that as a consumer, and I think few do.”

That instinct to pull customers to the maximized beneficial use case, as opposed to pushing it on them, translates to the professional side of the business as well.

Getting Businesses To See The Light On Lighting 

When working on the corporate side with its professional Interact platforms, Karner noted, the early questions are often similar no matter the vertical. Business customers want to talk about energy efficiency, sustainability and the bottom line. From there, it depends on which Interact platform they are using (Interact Retail, Interact Office, Interact City, etc.), and the use case for which they are specifically looking to solve.

“What we hear is ‘I know from data, I need A and I need B.’ Our job is then to position the innovations we have to deliver the technological backbone for that. What that looks like depends on the customer, what they want to do and how they want to implement it,” he said.

As is the case with the consumer side (but even more so), the road from there opens up to many possibilities. In retail, for example, there are baseline fixes in physical stores — namely, lighting that is not noted for being glaring and unflattering.

However, there is the next level of use cases. How do you, say, take a shopping journey that began online, and pull it to a physical store by using lighting cues that direct the consumer where you want them to go? How do you set the lights so that they work in a variety of contexts with the tap of an iPad — for standard shopping during the day and for hosting night events, like wine tastings and speaker series? How do you put a heat map in place so that stores can get a feel for not only general foot traffic, but where consumers are specifically shopping?

That sale isn’t always easy to make, he noted, because the enterprise at all levels is bottom-line-focused. The conversation can often end on questions like, “What is the replacement cost of the bulb?”

“I can know my lighting product creates 2 percent revenue growth, but the question is how do I demonstrate that to them in a way that makes it clear that it wasn’t their promotion,” Karner said.

However, as the environment shifts increasingly toward connectivity, and as opportunities for firms to capitalize on emerge, the questions they hear are moving away from why and more toward how. That’s because the connected economy has an undeniably bright future now, and being left behind in the dark is becoming an increasingly pressing concern.

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