TECHNOLOGY / COMMENT
Technology expert Dr Geoff Archenhold finds Rogier van der Heide’s Briefing in the last issue of mondo*arc a fascinating reading. Here’s his response.
ZUMTOBEL’S GAIN... Rogier van der Heide’s ‘Briefing’ interview in the last edition of mondo*arc, following his move from Philips to Zumtobel Group, was really interesting on so many levels. It definitely felt like Rogier was openly critical of companies not being bold enough with technology choices and the fact that many companies in the marketplace seem to lack a cohesive portfolio of innovative products. I certainly concur with his feelings on this point as the larger companies tend to have to set strategic directions that don’t deal with technologies themselves but focus much more on market and geographic share as demanded by shareholders (alongside earnings growth of course). Smaller companies tend to be significantly more inventive and fleet of foot but don’t have the global experience, market knowledge or resources to deliver a coherent plan to enable sufficient confidence to gain traction, so there is a general mismatch between innovation processes and market reach. This scenario isn’t limited to the lighting industry of course and happens in all other sectors, hence why large companies acquire smaller entities so they can absorb the technology innovations into their product portfolio. Having some experience in the automotive sector (and the aerospace industry) there is one aspect they do very well which is to utilise the experience of their strong supply chain to develop and push forward technology advancements. For example, if you are Ford, GM or Volkswagen you wouldn’t design the rubber compounds that go in tyres or steering rack or Engine Management Electronics but instead would commission the supply chain to deliver their vision. Maybe the lighting industry should learn more from these other sectors to allow significant supply chain integration
and cohesion moving forward. The second aspect of creating an ecosystem for the Zumtobel group is a sensible decision to pool the resources for the group, although the timescales to successfully integrate large organisations’ innovative thought processes is not easy and will take many years to embed across the brands. Just look at how Sony is struggling with it. One issue with building an ecosystem is you need to not only contain all of the required parts but have them integrated so the experience is seamless from an end-user’s perspective. For example, look at the two competing ecosystems in the mobile technologies area from Google and Apple. Google has a low cost licencing model for its Android operating system and allows many manufacturers to use the ecosystem and Google generates revenue through the Play store and search advertising. However the experience is poor due to the fragmentation of the operating system with manufacturers placing different front ends and apps on different phones. The relatively closed ecosystem offered by iOS from Apple has been far more successful due to a super smooth user experience whether you want to purchase a book, music or film through iTunes or just switch from an iPhone or iPad to an iMac. The difference in a great ecosystem is that users are retained continuously and they purchase more and stay with the brand, so I think a focus for all lighting companies is to concentrate on the user experience from start to finish. The question is which way will
Zumtobel go, open or closed ecosystem and will that sit well with lighting designers and end-users? I felt that Rogier’s idea of stating Zumtobel needs to “build relationships in which the continuous exchange of ideas gets established” is a breath of fresh air and I hope this extends to beyond the three internal brands and to the wider supply chain. Unfortunately, many companies feel that if an idea or concept is brought in externally then it’s not a good one and the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome occurs and the idea or concept is quashed (only to be resurrected ten or 20 years later by someone saying they did this years ago but it wasn’t taken up). Of course today the technology challenge is outside of even the largest companies and so collaborative supply chain working is even more essential to create an advanced ecosystem to allow a company to gain a strategic advantage. Look at the issues with Apple and the Quartz glass manufacturer GT Advanced which was developing the Quartz production line for Apple. The fact that the contracts were completely one-sided actually harmed Apple in the long run (and killed GTA by sending it into administration) as it couldn’t launch Quartz glass products to market when it wanted. Therefore, the moral of the story is that one needs to look after the supply chain market for long term success, as a healthy supply chain means a healthy outlook. One issue to be aware of before creating relationships with the exchange of ideas is to make sure the IPR aspects are completely agreed before the sharing as this can be an immediate killer of the relationship when something great emerges from a creative exchange and a dispute arises. Therefore, the first creative idea should focus on how all parties protect any inventive step and profit by it! In terms of making lighting catalogues more relevant then I have a slightly different take on this as the future of lighting and in fact total building management will be driven by legislation and as such lighting catalogues will eventually (in ten or 20 years) be replaced by