The Internet of Things is already here. Does your business have the skills to harness it’s potential?

by Shane Haslem, Head of Network Solutions, eir Business NI

At our most recent CIO Club, we had the pleasure of having Danny McConnell of Deloitte chair the evening’s discussion. We chatted about a number of Deloitte’s Telecoms, Media and Technology predictions that were most relevant to the CIOs of today: the opportunity for Women in IT, the growth in use of Virtual Reality, how Millennials are transforming the workplace, the rise of the Data Exclusives and the Gigabit economy.

Some of these topics threw up interesting insights into how organisations and workplaces are evolving and what these changes mean for CIOs in Northern Ireland. But the one I’d like to share with you first is the one that impacts more organisations than most realise. When Danny asked the room if anyone was currently using the Internet of Things in their business, everyone shook their heads; they weren’t using it and it wasn’t on their agenda. But, when we delved a little deeper it emerged that many of them were in fact ‘doing IoT’.

Some of the CIOs, specifically those in the manufacturing sector, already had machine-to-machine (M2M) sensors in their plants. Not only are the machines connected, they are collaborating with each other via the internet. It’s this communication between machines (or things) via the internet that defines the Internet of Things. But the term IoT has become so all-encompassing that perhaps it has lost its meaning. The worrying thing here however, is not what we call it but how prepared we are for it. What struck me is that companies are now organically doing IoT rather than consciously embracing it. Given the rate at which technology is accelerating, are these organisations equipped to keep up?

Are enterprises prepared for IoT?

There’s no denying it, the Internet of Things is a reality in a significant number of organisations. A recent Gartner survey said it’s in use in 29% of enterprises, with 14% looking to implement in 2016 and 64% planning on using some form of Internet of Things eventually. By 2020, Gartner predicts that there will be 25 billion connected devices in the world.

This begs the question: do Northern Ireland’s businesses have the skills necessary to maximise this new era of technology? IT skills shortage still tops the agenda with coding skills and big data analytics topping the list. But when I look to the skills required to truly embrace IoT within an organisation, it’s more than this. It’s a broader shift that’s required.

Gartner sums the situation up very well. “In the enterprise Internet of Things, the big winners are likely to be workers who can bridge the gap between IT and a sometimes overlooked field called OT (operational technology).” Gartner analyst Chet Geschickter said. “The IT and OT worlds have built up separate bodies of knowledge that they haven’t shared with each other. That was fine until the ones and zeroes of the digital world met the wheels and presses of the physical. In IoT, things like computing and data networking are now entwined with devices running in the physical world. This new combination will require new skills.”

New skills needed to take advantage of IoT

Enterprises looking to implement IoT successfully will need to think about upskilling their IT or OT employees and creating a merging of the two disciplines. As networking extends deeper into devices and systems, businesses will be able to collect more timely and detailed information. Achieving this vision will require closer cooperation between the IT and OT worlds. IT and OT have two different skillsets that complement one another. Getting them to work together is not a technology problem but potentially a people problem, an organisational problem.

Does responsibility for IoT currently sit with the CIO or Head of IT in your organisation? Is that the right place for it? Given the many cultural obstacles that make IT/OT convergence challenging, someone needs to figure out new ways to unify that infrastructure and responsibility. Rather than becoming a turf war, an IoT project team or even a Chief IoT Officer may be required to establish roles, responsibility, common goals and establish role-based training.

IoT is bigger than a single function within the business! It should be viewed as a tool to improve business operations ultimately leading to increased productivity and improved financial performance.