Photo: Twenty20 / @ricardoiwakuraphotography

A guest blog by John J. Keller and Hugo Fueglein

Managing Directors, Diversified Search

If our Age of Technology has taught us anything—and let’s face it, it’s taught us a lot—it’s that what is here today is not only usually gone tomorrow, it’s replaced by something that will then be replaced the day after that. The breathless pace of technological innovation is thrilling. And exhausting.

And so we come to the catch-all umbrella that now neatly encapsulates all of that: “The Internet of Things,” or IoT. If you’re moderately confused about the size and scope of the Internet of Things, you’re not alone. In fact, you’ve got plenty of company.

In a recent Forbes article, Louis Columbus cited four different estimates around the IoT:

  • Bain & Co., the global consulting firm, predicts annual revenues of more than $470 billion by 2020 for IoT vendors selling hardware, software, and solutions.
  • General Electric says investment in the Industrial IoT will exceed $60 trillion (yes, trillion) in 2030 or thereabouts. (Who can be exact?)
  • In terms of devices and connections, IHS estimates the IoT will grow from 15.4 billion devices in 2015 to 30.7 billion devices in 2020. By 2025, the IoT will encompass 75.4 billion connected devices.

Clearly, the IoT is a huge phenomenon destined to transform every business, at every level of trade and commerce. From the mailroom to the C-Suite and everywhere in between, there will not be a single person whom technology does not touch on a daily basis.

We recruit senior-level transformational managers in the Tech and Innovation sector. So we have a front-row seat to the kinds of skills that organizations are now demanding. So let us tell you this: the IoT revolution will require a massive new wave of recruiting and organizational overhaul not seen since commercialization of the Internet began in the 1990s.

It’s not that everyone in a business organization should learn about the IoT and understand its potential. They must learn, or be left behind. The IoT promises many wonderful benefits, such as the ability to remotely control billions of machines and devices generating massive amounts of potentially useful data. There are companies who are trailblazing the IoT every day, and impacting the way we live as they do it. Some you already know: Amazon’s Echo; Apple’s Siri; Whirlpool’s smart consumer appliances; Google Home; IBM’s Watson. There are far more you don’t: Microsoft’s IoT Suite for its Azure Public Cloud + Streaming Analytics and Machine Learning; Phillips Lighting and Energy Sources. And dozens more, from companies such as AT&T, Dell, Intel, Huawei, and GE, just to name a few.

Image: Facebook / Diversified Search

Image: Facebook / Diversified Search

Benefits, however, also come with risks.

Let’s say you’re riding in an elevator to the top floor of a skyscraper. The elevator is connected to the IoT. It’s quite possible that in the event of a network disruption, the elevator’s function will be compromised. But it’s not just elevators we need to worry about. Soon, it will be common for air conditioners, power generators, oil wells, submersible robots, medical devices, aerial drones, and mass transit systems to all be connected and partially controlled through the IoT. Automakers visions of self-driving cars, once the stuff of science fiction, are coming to life.  

Some of the likely issues:

Interoperability

By its very nature, the IoT is composed of millions (and soon billions) of machines and devices. All of those disparate pieces will need to work together smoothly and seamlessly, posing new technical and operational management issues.

Security

Read the headlines on any given day and you’ll see hackers hacking somewhere. (Consider the mess going on with HBO and Game of Thrones.) Every device on the IoT is a potential vector for malicious hackers and cyber criminals. When you’re relying on the IoT to make sure the doors in your house are securely locked or your car is actually going where you programmed it to go, security is everything. Cyber-security managers will encounter a vast new realm of surveillance and protection issues. On the flip side, almost every firm is going to need someone to do cyber-security. Talk about a field opening up.

Safety

Unlike the traditional internet, which generally connects users to sources of data, the IoT connects devices in the real world. Many of those devices (such as cars, trucks, trains and airplanes) will be carrying passengers and freight. Ensuring safety will be fundamental—and essential.

Governance

Who will be responsible when something goes wrong? Who gets the call at 2 a.m.? Who will be held liable? Who pays for the damages? Which devices will be allowed on the IoT—and which won’t? Who sets the standards and enforces the rules? Which agencies and organizations will write them?

There will be winners, and there will most definitely be losers. Who will be ready to seize the opportunities and dodge the risks?

Given what we do, we are a bit biased, we admit. But we can make a real case that recruiting and retaining the right mix of talent will become absolutely critical navigating all of this in the next ten to twenty years. It will take a special blend of IT knowledge and hands-on operational experience to handle challenges and solve problems as they arise. Companies will need managers who are great communicators, who can learn quickly, and who will not be afraid to step out of their comfort zones. It’s going to present gorgeous opportunity for a lot of new people. And, unfortunately, send a bunch of others out to pasture.

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So suppose you’re just starting out, or you’re in mid-career, or you’re running your own shop. What should you do to prepare? Here, our advice.

  1. Depending on your situation, either be, or look for, candidates with proven leadership skills, problem-solving abilities and transformational competency in operations, IT, finance, and culture.
  2. Step out of your own comfort zone. Candidates who don’t fit the traditional mold will be the ones who are sought. Remember, the IoT doesn’t fit into traditional categories – it spans multiple categories and industries. If you’re doing the hiring, be willing to consider non-traditional candidates with the right combination of skills and experience. That’s what is going to count.
  3. If you’re not comfortable talking with candidates about agile software development, learn. DevOps, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, these are the things transforming our lives, and now’s the time to start learning about them. You don’t have to become an expert. But develop a general familiarity with newer techniques and technologies. It will matter, and be the differentiator on whose careers and organizations thrive, and whose do not.

Directly or indirectly, we are all stakeholders in this new era of rapid-fire technology evolution. The IoT promises tremendous growth, but its challenges are daunting. Gone are the days when Echo was just something in a canyon and Watson was Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick. “Learn as if you were to live forever,” Ghandi once said. Timeless words for a quickly changing era.

Hugo Fueglein and John J. Keller are both Managing Directors in the Technology and Innovation Practice at Diversified Search, one of the top ten executive search firms in the nation.