The Internet of Things is more about people and process than technology

May 16, 2017
Change is the new status quo and it is accelerating exponentially.

Technology adoption is driving change at a dizzying pace. Billions of devices are connecting to networks—most of them the sensors, controllers, and machines that power the Internet of Things (IoT).

You probably see the rapid growth of connected devices in your own organization and you probably also see the impact of these connections on your organization’s people and culture. Because the change IoT is driving isn’t really about technology; it’s about business processes, and perhaps even business transformation.

Positive disruption

IoT is driving disruption in every industry—from mining to manufacturing, from agriculture to aviation. Just look at how Lyft and Uber have disrupted traditional taxi service, and how Amazon’s hyper-connected supply chain has transformed e-commerce.

Or consider the auto industry, which only a few years ago offered mostly blue-collar manufacturing jobs. Today, every new vehicle rolling off the assembly line is a connected datacenter on wheels that generates up to two petabytes of data per year.

The same phenomenon is happening across most other industries globally. With the adoption of IoT, all industries are becoming technology industries, and every company is becoming a technology company.

That kind of relentless change threatens the survival of many businesses. According to The Boston Consulting Group, only 19% of S&P 500 companies from 50 years ago still exist today. So, how can you ensure the survival of your business in the next five, 10, or 15 years?

Reinvent Yourself

In the fast-paced technology world, we have adapted to the model of reinventing ourselves every three to seven years. We may be able to miss one major technology or business transition and survive but, if we miss two, we will likely perish.

Now, people and organizations in other industries must face this very challenge. No longer can you expect to stay in the same role for 10 or 20 years, doing mostly the same things. The rapid pace of change today means you have to be prepared to continuously reinvent yourself—as an employee, as a company, and as an industry.

Next generation

A new generation of leaders, makers, thinkers, and doers is meeting that challenge with flexibility and optimism, and transforming it into opportunity.

I call these pioneers ‘Generation IoT’. These are the people who see the transformational power of IoT-driven processes, business models and new revenue streams. They are eager to champion and drive these opportunities in their organizations. These people know that IoT is not just one project, one training session, one change. They know that in order to succeed they and their organizations need to adjust and re-learn, over and over again.

Generation IoT is first defined by openness—open standards, open collaboration, open communications, and open, flexible business models. Members of Generation IoT can be found in Information Technology or Operational Technology. They can run the plant, or be part of the supply chain. They can be vendors, contractors, or CXOs. They can be young or seasoned.

All are willing to learn and take risks and are good at building virtual teams internally and partnering externally. You can recognize these new winners not by their age or their titles, but by their ability to build and deploy agile, flexible business solutions.

Rethink Your Workforce

Building Generation IoT is requiring companies to rethink their approach to workforce roles and hiring. So, that means cultivating a culture of constant learning and role evolution.

Will the chief information officer become the chief IoT officer instead? How will the plant control engineer’s role change in the face of IoT and automation? Will you also need a chief supply chain management officer? What new skills will an assembly worker need in order to operate an automated line?

And how can you fill these new roles?

• You can start by cultivating your own people. Invest in your existing employees to help them grow new IoT skills.

• Next, expand your search beyond the usual places. Rockwell Automation, for example, runs a summer internship program for high schoolers. Other companies have found that smart devices, accessible technologies, and broadband have opened up a vast untapped talent pool—roughly a billion people in the world with disabilities.

• And finally, build relationships with schools, veterans groups, and industry organizations. Sponsor research, offer internships and even consider co-developing curricula with these institutions.

Tackle the Cultural Challenges

Of course, not everyone will embrace the changes they see as your organization embarks on the IoT journey. In fact, changing culture may be your toughest challenge. So think of your task as not just implementing IoT solutions, but as a change management process that will transform your company.

You can maximize your chances for success by tackling the cultural issues head-on, not waiting for trouble to arise. Before you kick off your first IoT project, meet with employees, discover their issues and concerns, and address them directly. Identify key influencers and people in key roles and include them as part of your virtual team.

Naysayers can become your allies if you take the time to hear what they have to say and actually leverage their expertise. Uncertainty fuels negativity, so be clear about the impact of IoT on current roles and the new opportunities it can open. Work closely with employees on adopting the new technology, and continue to expand a coalition of the willing as you build on each success. In short, listen, include, and communicate!

Embrace and Shape Change

IoT will also impact organizational structures and decision-making, both of which will become more collaborative and less hierarchical. Partnering across organizational lines and with external partner ecosystems will become more important. IoT is complex and interdependent, and no one can do it alone.

Change can be scary, disrupting familiar roles and processes. It requires us to rethink old assumptions and acquire new skills. It is also inevitable. So the best approach is to embrace and shape change within an overall strategic direction. If you’re an IoT champion, you are by definition an agent of change. Now is the time to lead your company toward digital transformation by creating a culture that is agile, flexible, and collaborative.

Maciej KranzMACIEJ KRANZ is a business leader, frequent keynote speaker, and the author of the New York Times Best-Seller, Building the Internet of Things: Implement New Business Models, Disrupt Competitors, Transform Your Industry. Kranz brings 30 years of computer networking experience to his current position as Vice President of the Corporate Strategic Innovation Group at Cisco Systems. Prior to this role, he was general manager of Cisco’s Connected Industries Group, where he drove the Internet of Things (IoT) business for key industrial markets.

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