Systems thinking: revolutionizing professional lighting practices

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) calls for systems thinking. This kind of thinking is second nature for people who work in IT disciplines such as networking and software. For lighting professionals who have no background in IT, however, thinking about lighting from a systems point of may seem as daunting as learning a foreign language.It’s best to start simple, with a working definition of the word “system.” This word is basic, but because it can be confusing, as it’s often used to refer to a number of different things.

In the most general sense, a system is a set of components that work together to deliver a specific set of capabilities. A lighting system is a set of components that work together to deliver a specific set of lighting capabilities. A connected lighting system is a set of components that work together to deliver a specific set of lighting capabilities and capabilities beyond illumination.


Lighting system components include familiar products such as standard and LED lamps and luminaires, switches and dimmers, and sensors and controllers. Connected lighting systems add connectivity components such as connected luminaires, connected sensors, lighting management software, and wireless communications.


The term “Internet of Things” can add to the confusion about systems. This is due in part to the fact that people sometimes use “Internet” and “Internet of Things” interchangeably. To understand the Internet of Things, the first thing to do is to forget about the Internet and to think instead about networking. Computers can connect to each other, communicate, and share information on a network whether or not those computers can get on the Internet. It’s the connectivity and communication, the ability to share information on a network, that’s at the heart of both the Internet of Things and connected lighting – not the Internet.


The Internet can be part of the Internet of Illuminated Things, to be sure. Software can be Internet- or cloud-based to allow for remote monitoring and management of lighting systems. The Internet can be used as the means of integrating connected lighting systems with other types of systems to create a system of systems in a city or building like The Edge in Amsterdam But it isn’t a necessary component of a connected lighting system. And connected lighting systems are not “on” the Internet in the same way as a website. This is important to understand, especially as privacy and data security in connected systems can be serious concerns.


As lighting systems are constructed of the combination of multiple lighting products that work together, systems thinking invites less focus on the specific specs and capabilities of individual products, although these are still important, and more focus on the capabilities of entire lighting systems as specified and deployed.


How do luminaires and controls work together to deliver the lighting experiences required for a specific application? What are the points of control and where are they? How much control should be automated, and who can override the system’s operation, for what purposes, and when? Does the system simplify installation, maximize energy savings, or offer workflow efficiencies? Does it provide insight into operations and energy consumption? Does the system allow real-time monitoring and management of system light points? Can the lighting system be used to deliver information and services to people in illuminated spaces? Can the lighting system integrate with other systems for a comprehensive view of all resources in an organization or municipality?


These are the kinds of questions that systems thinking asks.

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