IoT held back by skills gap, say a third of execs

IoT held back by skills gap, say a third of execs

Almost a third of executives at large global enterprises believe that the Internet of Things (IoT) faces a major skills gap, and that this is preventing businesses from being able to exploit new capabilities.

That is the view from a new report by consultancy Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network, working in partnership with The CMO Council, a network for senior marketing decision-makers, thought leadership organization Penton’s IoT Institute, and The Nerdery, a digital strategy, software engineering and design company.

The study, The Impact of Connectedness on Competitiveness, was based on a global survey of 350 executives from large global enterprises such as Airbus, Balfour Beatty, Philips Lighting, GE, Whirlpool and Hitachi.

It found that the majority of large global companies expected the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to significantly impact business performance and competitiveness over the next three years.

However, executives warned that making the transformation would require new skills and management thinking.

This would include new technical skills (51 percent), better data integration and analytics capabilities (41 percent), and rethinking of business models (33 percent). Most agree they have significant gaps in these areas.

Almost one-third of respondents (31 percent) said their organizations face a ‘major skills gap’ in their IoT readiness, while the same proportion suggested the talent gap was ‘large, but improving somewhat’. A fifth of the executives said their IoT skills were quickly improving. Only seven percent said they had most of the skills in place already.

But the need to recruit or train staff was not the top concern for executives when it came to IIoT deployment; security and data privacy are seen as the biggest issues to contend with, followed by the cost and complexity of IIoT adoption. New management and workforce skills and training comes third on that list.

Only 12 percent give their company an ‘excellent’ rating in their ability to develop and deploy applications that use real-time insights and systems monitoring – although over a third (35 percent) rate that capacity as ‘good’. One-third (33 percent) their corporation’s ability in this area as ‘moderate and improving’.

“Global businesses clearly are working to put the needed skills in place to address the opportunity of connected, intelligent products and machines, but those talents are in short supply,” said Dave Murray, head of thought leadership for the BPI Network.

“We can expect for the time being that system integrators, consulting and software engineering firms with the right skills in connectivity, sensor technology, data analytics and complex integration will benefit from the race to keep pace with IoT enablement,” he added.

Read more: Report: Humans need to develop new skills for post-AI world

Wider concerns

This isn’t the first study to reveal concerns among senior executives over an IoT skills gap. In August last year, a report produced by business processing outsourcing management company Capita and IT networking giant Cisco found that businesses and IT managers feared that their staff lacked the skills and understanding to be able to use new technologies like IoT.

One of the key issues for businesses is identifying exactly what skills are necessary to exploit IoT effectively. Unlike other technology trends such as big data or DevOps, where clear roles are required – a data scientist or a DevOps engineer – IoT use cases are extremely broad, as is the entire ecosystem, meaning that businesses are likely to need a broad combination of skills and personnel for each project.

As Zach Supalla, CEO of IoT cloud platform provider Particle, told Internet of Business back in February, a basic IoT team includes: an electrical engineer, a mechanical engineer, an industrial designer, an embedded systems designer, one back-end developer, one front-end developer and a product manager.

It is unlikely that many of these professionals have had experience with an IoT project of their own, and therefore Supalla suggested that organizations should merely bring existing employees with the right skills together to build and manage an IoT project.

The caveat of recruiting the right talent however, is that they could be critical not just for IoT projects but in other areas too. For example, a data analytics specialist could provide support for other big data initiatives alongside IoT-specific projects.

Read more: IT managers fear shortage of IoT skills, report says