A realistic Internet of Things will require real investment in industry skills

15 January 2018

Chris Bedford, Managing Director of Open Technology, shares his thoughts on the latest trend shaping the Internet of Things’ future, and what it means for the smart lighting industry.

By now you’ve probably heard of IoT, or the Internet of Things, and its promise of revolutionising the built environment with internet connection.

The lighting industry in particular has jumped on the bandwagon, espousing predictions to change our wired up world at the flick of a switch.

While a fully web-connected market holds much potential, the big promise of a world where everything is connected and devices and data integrate seamlessly for our benefit is certainly some way off.

I’ve voiced concerns regarding the potential security risks of such systems and questioned whether or not we are really considering the customers’ best interest when developing these automated and connected technologies.

Today, I want to talk about another issue: the shortage of specific skills if our industry is to fully embrace an IoT future.

Let’s not forget that the specification of lighting systems involves a complex delivery chain, and integrating smart lighting will not make the process any easier. At the moment, the main challenge we face is a lack of knowledgeable people to commission systems such as Internet-connected lighting, or Power over Ethernet (PoE) projects. The main issue is that electricians are used to install switches on the wall, and not to managing wireless systems and networks.

Gone are the days when the work of an electrician was limited to the installation of lights, sensors and switches.

They now need to understand the whole service that goes along with smart lighting, which needs to be managed and maintained.

Although system design needs to take into account the available skill set of those who will carry out the installation, we, as an industry, are forgetting that an IoT future will require a massive push for schools and colleges to start gearing courses to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s automated industry. At the moment there is no reason this move can’t be made, after all the information and the technology is already there. If IoT proponents are so eager for a web-connected world, why are we not seeing them demand the appropriate training the contractors, to make sure their work gives the maximum functionality. And if this world is coming tomorrow, surely an investment in skills was needed yesterday, otherwise the imminent skill shortage will delay the adoption of web-connected lighting.

Electricians will also need to be trained in understanding how different lighting and shading controls talk to each other, but also how they are connected to the building management system, to the building automation system, and to the security system.

Lighting a building effectively, running the system efficiently, and ensuring that staff can maintain it correctly is a real challenge. Manufacturers have a duty to ensure that they have the resources and commitment to resolve any issues that may arise from new developments in technology.

The big picture of big data and the Internet of Things will only become a reality in commercial building once the supply chain rewards its staff with training and pay that encourages the individual to see the value in their own self-development.