Q&A: The Growing Relationship Between ECs and Controls

As seen in the 2016 Profile of the Electrical Contractor, available at profile.ecmag.com, electrical contractors continue to get involved in controls work. This includes a significant increase in heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) controls work. As such, ECs are looking to learn more about what products they should turn to when entering into such a project.

Below is a conversation with Tom Lowery, president, building control systems division, Legrand. Topics included what brought him to Legrand, the company’s growing relationship with ECs, the various product lines that are available, and what the world of controls will look like in the future.

You joined Legrand in 2014. What drew you to the company? What goals did you have for the lines you would oversee, and what kind of progress have you made?

What drew me to Legrand was the opportunity, as there is so much growth in lighting controls and automation due to changes in technology such as connectivity, Internet of Things (IoT) and lighting controls, specifically with LEDs. This has provided a tremendous opportunity in both the residential and commercial spaces.

When I joined Legrand, the building control systems division had two product lines: Wattstopper and Vantage Controls. Legrand had a vision of growing and adding to that portfolio to increase our presence and leadership in residential and commercial lighting. We’ve acquired residential shading company Qmotion, and commercial shading company Solarfective to round out our lighting controls portfolio and provide our customers with integrated solutions to meet all their lighting needs.

Your bio states you have “25 years of experience in business transformation,” among other things. Would you say transformation is a primary objective for you at Legrand? If so, what kind of transformation would you like to see?

Yes, transformation is necessary in this dynamic business. Doing what we did yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow. Focusing on transformation puts us in a position to stay ahead of industry changes and help our customers also successfully navigate the changes.

We’re focusing on transformation through four core experiences:

  • Design: We are developing new products, making enhancements to our product lines, and expanding our integrated lighting control solutions and services so we are the basis of design.
  • Project mobilization: We are also improving our design tools and customer programs to ensure a successful project from start to finish. We want to make the entire project easy for all involved.
  • Installation: Our products and newly launched connected start-up service will continue to be designed to be easy to specify, install, set up and maintain for the contractor. The simpler the installation, the faster the contractor can move on to their next project.
  • First use: Our interfaces, keypads and newly launched connected services will deliver a seamless first use experience for contractors, facility managers and building occupants.

In our 2016 Profile of the Electrical Contractor, we were surprised to find a significant increase over our 2014 study in electrical contractors doing HVAC controls work. Have you recognized such an increase in your electrical contractor market?

Yes, electrical contractors are increasingly being asked to support the integration of HVAC and lighting controls. This is commonly done via BACnet, and we are seeing more buildings requiring systems to be controlled by building automation or management systems.

Is Legrand finding more ECs engaging with the company?

Yes, more ECs have been engaging with us, and we have stepped up our engagement with ECs as well. For many years, we’ve been integrating into building automation systems so we understand the importance of providing contractors technical support and resources to ensure their success.

ECs are more frequently specifying products, especially controls. But owners sometimes have to be sold on controls integration because they can be seen as a luxury, not a necessity. What kinds of talking points could you offer an EC to help convince an owner to buy a controls system?

Building and lighting requirements are changing. Emphasis has been placed in improving the occupant experience, meeting new building and energy codes, and meeting sustainability targets. Controls help you meet code and save you money by increasing energy savings. Lighting controls can provide an additional 48 percent to the ROI in a lighting project. Controls are also key to the success of future digital lighting applications like human centric lighting.

You mentioned Vantage Controls and QMotion above. In October, Legrand announced the integration of them. How’s that going?

It’s going well. The integration makes it easier to bring a bundled automated lighting and shading system into projects. Because QMotion systems are now included as native objects in the Vantage Design Center software, there is just one programming tool for commissioning and programming. That saves a lot time and money during installation and ensures that the systems will work seamlessly. This makes Legrand an easy choice to be the basis of design.

It seems Legrand is working toward offering a bundled, integrated controls solution. Would you say that’s accurate?

Yes, in various aspects. Software integration is just one part of it as with the recent Vantage Controls and QMotion news. We’re leveraging expertise from all our product lines to improve, bridge, or create new solutions. For example, providing intuitive and standardized user interfaces (UI), building out advanced digital lighting applications from our digital lighting management and architectural dimming platforms, and further integrating automated lighting and shading and services. These solutions provide easy choices for the contractor when determining what they want to specify. It’s about providing the right product in the right place.

How do you want ECs to see your brand? What kind of identity do you hope they associate with Legrand?

Wattstopper, Vantage, QMotion, and Solarfective are product lines that have brand recognition and histories within their markets. We want ECs to know that we’ll continue to build on those legacies. We’re also focusing on products and features that make their jobs easier, faster, and safer throughout the design, installation and maintenance phases. We hope that they see Legrand solutions as their products of choice and associate us with best-in-class integrated lighting solutions.

What else is going on at Legrand that you would like ECs to know about?

It is very important to us that we design products that help contractors complete their jobs quickly and efficiently. As above, this year we are concentrating on four core experiences: design, project mobilization, installation and first use. We are delivering on specifiable features in areas such as UI and advanced digital lighting applications and a whole solutions approach (hardware, software, services, and bundled systems). To help at the project mobilization stage, we are also improving our design tools, training, support, and processes so we can work together with project team members like ECs to prepare for an efficient and successful installation and first-use.

DLM is already one of the easiest systems to install, operate and scale. We take the complexity of out lighting controls for the contractor. We’ll continue to build on this approach.

We are also delivering new products and features as well as services that provide better user experience at startup and commissioning. Our recently launched connected services program combines connectivity with remote access to service our DLM system. This will increase efficiency during installation and start-up and provides improved maintenance and customer support.

Pretend I’m an EC. Sell me on your product. Why should I specify Legrand?

Legrand makes complex controls simple. For many years, Wattstopper has been known as the easiest and most reliable system to install. We pride ourselves on, and continue to focus on making controls easy to install, set up, and maintain as well as safe. In addition, we have the widest range of solutions from cost-effective products to feature-rich products that meet any project type and budget.

With our product lines, we have a combined expertise in building and home energy controls, energy efficiency, sensing, shading solutions, and automation. The combination of expertise and resources from design tools to service offerings ensure a successful project from start to finish.

What does the future for controls look like, and where does the EC fit?

A growing number of ECs are increasingly involved in the specification and installation of controls systems, and this will become the norm. To grow their business, ECs will need to be in the controls game. Since controls will only get more complex with smart buildings, lighting applications, and new technologies—such as LEDs, big data, and IoT—it is important for Legrand and contractors to work together to make projects successful.

About the Author

Matthew Kraus

Matthew Kraus is director of communications at NECA and previously was senior editor of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR for five years. He can be reached at mkraus@necanet.org.

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