Latest from Industry Perspectives

New Tech That Counts

June 3, 2019
Some new technologies may reshape part of the mix of lighting products electrical distributors sell and how they operate their businesses.

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is traveling to industry events to talk with folks about what’s new in the electrical market. In the past six weeks, I spoke with dozens of industry execs at Epicor’s annual users’ conference, the NAED Annual Conference, and LightFair to get their take on the electrical business. Factor in the industry insight we gather each year though our Top 200 survey, and it adds up to a real-world overview about what’s happening in the business.  

I came away from it all with a more optimistic view of the market’s 2019 business fortunes and  lots of questions about some new technological trends. Here are the technologies I learned about during my travels that I found most interesting.

The latest in lighting. There’s  been plenty of chatter about IoT-enabled lighting and app-based lighting control, but they still account for a small percentage of overall lighting sales. Three days at LightFair convinced me to explore three other fascinating new technologies:

Lighting fixtures that “multi-task.”  Ask your lighting vendors if any of their LED fixtures can be programmed to offer different voltages, color temperatures, and other lighting parameters. They cut down on the lighting SKUs distributors need to stock.

LED lighting for horticulture applications. While many folks get a few laughs over the use of tunable LED lighting to grow marijuana in cannabis-friendly states, the bigger play for this technology may be  tuning light so that it can grow more — and healthier —  food closer to customers. Applications include urban areas where vacant offices and apartments are re-imagined as vertical farms or warehouses near major population centers.

LED lighting as a disinfectant for hospitals. Research shows that one in 20 patients gets an infection during their hospital stay. By fine-tuning some slices of the ultraviolet portion of the lighting spectrum, some lighting companies have proven they can eliminate a broader range of germs in medical and food handling applications than ever before.

Distributors selling drones? You betcha. Two Top 200 utility specialists told us they now sell drones to their utility customers for inspection of their power networks, and one recently got into drone certification.  Several drone vendors were at last year’s NECA trade show in Philadelphia, and their product pitches on applications for drones in electrical construction projects were totally believable.

The potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on your sales force and delivery strategies. On a more ominous note, there’s a very real chance in the next decade or so that some salespeople and truck drivers will be replaced by self-driving trucks and computers that have been programmed with the smarts to help customers in the product selection process.

I am not a big believer in the need for self-driving (autonomous) cars or trucks, but it’s not hard to imagine applications for them in our industry. Uber wouldn’t already be developing a fleet of autonomous vehicles if it didn’t see cost savings in the concept.

Despite their shortcomings, AI-enabled personal assistants like Alexa and Siri offer a glimpse of how AI impacts our daily lives, and you can see how a super-smart Siri might one day be a go-to product expert on an AI-enabled ERP system. For distribution ERP providers already working on AI, a big chunk of the challenge is programming their software with the algorithms to guide customers through the cross-referencing process, or suggest to customers the related products they may have forgotten on their shopping lists.

This sounds an awful lot like the industry knowledge and product insight your veteran salespeople provide customers every day. You see other examples of AI-enabled sales tools on Amazon and the websites of other digital merchants, and it’s not far from  being used in the electrical market, too.

These new technologies are providing EW’s editors with the most food for thought. What technologies do you see  that may provide the most interesting sales opportunities, or have the most potential to change the way distributors operate? Drop me a line at [email protected] if you would like to share them.