The Thing About The Internet Of Things

In 1999, Kevin Ashton, a British entrepreneur making a presentation about radio frequency identification (RFID) to a major U.S.-based consumer products manufacturer titled his slide “Internet of Things.” That expression, often abbreviated “IoT,” is now a permanent part of business vocabulary and denotes where the physical world and cyberspace have collided to give us not only new words but, better yet, a big sign pointing toward the electrical industry’s future. 


Dan Brailer recently departed an executive role at a multibillion-dollar company to sign on with BOSS Controls LLC, an early-stage, entrepreneurial technology firm in Ligonier, Pa., that has a breakthrough IoT product. Dan convinced us of how such a product can lead a service-oriented electrical contractor (EC) into a new business model—with an enduring mantra of “recurring revenues.”


After many successful years with an electrical products distribution company, you made a monumental decision to leave its C-suite environment and tote your skills over to a company that is charging forward under a wide banner labeled “the Internet of Things.”

Big electrical products distribution companies engaged in the sales and delivery of traditional goods and services have been making great strides in developing their value-added role for the benefit of their EC customers. But they still have not fully caught on to the way that the Internet of Things is going to take this industry to a new level. That’s why I’m excited to be here where our business is all about the opportunities in IoT.


Although it has taken many decades to bring about the technology that constitutes the IoT, it was not until the late 1990s that there was a name for it. It is still a new term to many people. So, when they ask, how do you define it?

I would define it this way: People communicate with each other—close by or at a distance—via the same language or through an interpreter. They exchange information. Sometimes they spur each other into action. With IoT, machines do all these things that people do but without always needing people to tell them what to do next. With the IoT, two or more machines can go ahead on their own and interact just as two or more people might.


BOSS Controls makes programmable electronic devices that plug into and control the electricity flow from wall receptacles, one by one or by the hundreds. How do these products fit into the IoT?

Over 99 percent of electrical devices and apparatus have no connection to the Internet. Certainly, run-of-the-mill electrical wall plugs do not. [In the] meantime, plug loads account for up to 30 percent of the electricity used in modern buildings. That leads to a lot of wasted energy. By simply inserting our Wi-Fi-enabled device between the receptacle and whatever it is powering, we instantly create the effect of having a network-controlled “smart plug” that can be programmed to go on or off as often as you want—and it pays for itself in about a year by intelligently regulating the amount of power consumed.


Our readers’ companies and careers are predicated on the expertise that they bring to solving customers’ problems every day. Your products are ingenious, but they don’t require much talent to program and install. So, why should service-oriented professionals be interested in something with such a low requirement for expertise, even if it truly constitutes an IoT application?

Because this is just the beginning. Future products and services will move up a notch on the scale of technical know-how and installation complexity, demanding the knowledge and expertise of highly qualified contractors.


[In the] meantime, service-oriented ECs can present these plug-and-play products to their customers right now and begin to position themselves as IoT solutions providers. They can start by offering easy-to-produce assessments of how these energy-saving devices could be deployed in a customer’s facilities and demonstrate what their payback 
period will be.


So, this does represent a new business model for service-oriented ECs.

That’s right. And, by the way, experience shows that incumbent customers pounce on offerings like this. Attractive as the energy savings may be for the customer, however, the prospect of a new source of recurring revenues for the electrical contractor can prove to be even more enticing.


About the Author

Andrew McCoy

Service and Maintenance Contributor

Andrew McCoy is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and Department Head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech. Contact him at apmccoy@vt.edu.

About the Author

Fred Sargent

Service and Maintenance Contributor

Fred Sargent is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com.

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