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Chris Bedford reflects on 7 years in the lighting control industry

18 September 2015

Open Technology Managing Director Chris Bedford recently celebrated 7 years with Open Technology. In this interview he looks back at his time in the industry, from what inspired the business in the first place to his hopes for the future.

Where did the idea for the business come from?

We have been in the BMS industry since it started in the early 80’s. While working with B&Q on the BMS in their stores it became clear that the way they wanted to control their buildings was like a foreign language to the lighting industry. They wanted the same in-store user interface to control both heating and ventilation as well as lighting, while allowing head office to collect maintenance and energy performance data. At the time it couldn’t be done. It was a clear gap in the market that we seized upon.

What was your mission when you started the company and how has that evolved over the years?

It hasn’t changed. We are simply here to eradicate unnecessary energy consumption from lighting. I’m no eco-warrior but I’m as disappointed today as I was when we started to see so much energy wasted by lighting buildings when it’s not required. I was an energy manager in the health service in 1981 and the truth is that at a cultural level we really aren’t much further on today. Time and again lighting is installed and simply forgotten about.

Read our case studies for more information on our work.

chris interview - open technologyChris is interviewed by the BBC at Southampton Station. Read more about Open Technology’s work with the Network Rail/Southwest Trains Alliance.

How well known/common was lighting control when the business began?

Lighting companies make lights. Control was, at best, a necessary evil. Manufacturers would regularly exclude controls because they worried that they would be difficult to understand and might get in the way of simply selling the lights. The industry has always been far more interested in the light fittings than we are in how we use those lights. That only changes when people experience the benefits of controls for themselves. So there has always been, and continues to be, a lot of education work to do.

How has the technology itself evolved and where do you see it going in the future?

The lighting industry has always looked for the holy grail or a moment of genius. But in reality it takes a lot of will to get the building owners on side and buying systems. Companies have to blend entrepreneurial ideas with a deep understanding of managing buildings. The technology we use, DALI and Ethernet, combine well and future proof people’s investments in lighting controls. Much of the industry is looking to the Internet of Things to deliver a sexy solution, but it just not the right time. The electrical trade has neither the will nor expertise to progress that technology.

What is your proudest moment/greatest achievement in that time?

Excepting the birth of my grandchildren or Southampton’s return to the Premiership, I am proud that an increasing number of individuals and organisations have engaged with us and now understand that lighting control is an important part of any building and can half the energy and maintenance costs associated with lighting. If you asked me to pick a project I’d choose our current work with the Alfa Laval HQ in Alborg, Denmark. There’s real co-operation on the building site and the client got what they wanted with a simple integrated system.

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Chris Bedford working in the National Gallery
Chris checks in on the LiGO system at the National Gallery. Watch our video case study to learn all about the project.

Any low points you care to share?

Every time contractors are given the chance to ‘value engineer’ a project. The first thing that goes are the good ideas that will save operational costs over years, for the sake of saving a few quid on the upfront cost. I’m yet to meet a happy client of a value-engineered project!

Is there anything you would have done differently?

No, you learn from your mistakes but just be sure you don’t repeat them.
What would you like to see change over the next seven years?
The customer getting what they want! I’d also like to see a return to energy saving legislation that gives real encouragement to organisations to make a difference. We mustn’t forget that innovation creates growth and provides secure meaningful employment.

Read our case studies for more information on our work.