Grooming the human element of IoT

The Internet of Things is already entrenched in the enterprise psyche. There are reams of materials to be found on the business benefits of engaging in the IoT revolution and constant debates around topics such as the bridging the IT/OT divide, the use of case studies, interoperability standards, mobile device management and interconnectivity.

But what hasn’t been discussed at great length is the human resource factor. Increasingly, org charts are making elbow room for titles such as ‘VP Innovation’ or ‘Director of IoT’ or other variations on the same theme. But who are these people and how did they get there? More importantly, what exactly is their role? The answer to the latter is: just about everything, from sales and strategic planning to finance and IT – informed by a healthy dose of industry sector expertise.

In fact, senior IoT expertise can rear its head in the most unexpected of places. At a couple of recent Cisco IoT events for example, it wasn’t unusual to find senior municipal officials and police officers as comfortable presenting the IoT business case (and with as much enthusiasm) as the C-level industrial engineers and IT vendor spokespersons.

Disruption changing the ranks

Disruptive technologies have often been huge drivers of business transformation, including change in leadership functions. It wasn’t that long ago that VoIP was putting pressure on corporate structures to integrate telecom and IT functions under single guardianship. Discussions abounded over blurring of boundaries, strategic redirection, collaboration and redefinition of roles. Department heads that were once functioning within their own functional silos, found themselves sitting across the table from each other poring over the technological ramifications and business case for VoIP.

Ecommerce saw a similar reshuffling of corporate structures, particularly in retail, where web developers were learning that no function could operate effectively as an island. For many, major restructuring brought about the marriage of sales, marketing, social media, logistics and IT functions under one collaborative umbrella.

Victor Woo, GM IoT, Cisco Canada
Victor Woo, GM IoT, Cisco Canada

IoT, however, makes these previous iterations of change look like child play. “The stakes are higher this time around,” said Victor Woo, general manager of the Internet of Things for Cisco Canada. “With VoIP, internal teams had to work together to figure out how to leverage technology convergence. When ecommerce transformed retail, they had to create new business models that would adapt to their lines of business. The same thing happened with cloud and mobility when storage, compute and networking teams worked to develop application platforms to address their new lines of business.”

But IoT has a much more far-reaching effect on corporate structures because it touches assets within multiples lines of business, Woo explained. “It’s a very different level of organizational convergence. People have to think in terms of assimilating the technology, operational needs, industry sectors and analytics. There is a lot that needs to happen culturally.”

IoT an inside talent play

David Heather, VP HR, Cisco Canada
David Heather, VP HR, Cisco Canada

The challenge currently is that the answers to skills development won’t be found in an MBA or university program per se. Cisco’s approach from an internal perspective is to find the human resources in the talent they have on board. “We’re now seeing lines of business leaders – CFOs, CMOs and even heads of HR, sales and manufacturing – getting more involved in how technology can drive a business,” said David Heather, vice president of human resources at Cisco Canada.

Cisco uses a systematic process for identifying “early adopters” within the company who can move into business-centric conversations around IoT. A majority of the people selected already have the skill sets, whether it’s engineering, sales or IT. Part of the company’s education approach includes experiential, simulation-based learning programs that walk business leaders across all lines of business through the brave new world of IoT requirements.

“Our job is to develop and enhance them so they can work together with the CMOs and CFOs to solve customers’ biggest problems,” Heather said. “The fact is customers are asking for this. They want to us to work with them in a different way.”

Ecosystem navigation

This may be all well and good for technology-oriented organizations that already are well-stocked with talent whose skills can easily be enhanced to fit the IoT executive mold. But where and how can senior executives in more conventional roles transform their skill sets to meet the demands of IoT?

Terry Stuart, chief innovation officer, Deloitte Canada
Terry Stuart, chief innovation officer, Deloitte Canada

Deloitte has done extensive research on the topic of Canadian awareness and readiness for disruptive technologies such as IoT. “One of the challenges that come with it is getting organizations to really understand and be aware of how it will make a difference,” said Terry Stuart, chief innovation officer for Deloitte Canada. “They are realizing they need more discipline around innovation.”

The freshly-titled IoT/Innovation leaders’ role now is to understand what impact technology has on strategy and the elements needed to execute on it. In other words, better ecosystem management, according to Stuart. “You have to roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty and work with it.”

To that end, corporate executives are turning to incubators and accelerators to get up to speed on innovations and their applicability in the bigger picture. Deloitte, for example, has launched a partnership program that offers C-suite executives a four-day education series that explores the role technologies such as IoT can play and how they can be incorporated into a business strategy.

As senior ranks get up to speed, and new titles make their way into the executive lexicon, there’s another piece of the IoT picture to be considered. The partner ecosystem is becoming an increasingly eclectic pool of senior IT specialists, engineers, number crunchers, developers and consultants that need to understand how to work collaboratively across organizational structures.

“Every company or organization has to be a technology company now,” Woo said “That is going to be their asset moving forward. The ecosystem is not the typical IT-centric crowd. It’s an IoT-centric one, which is a very different thing.”




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