As IoT Heats Up, Finding the Right IT Skills is a Critical Challenge
The Internet of Things, or IoT as it’s widely known, describes the “network of physical objects—‘things’—that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the Internet.” As Matt Burgess explains on Wired, the Internet of Things makes it possible to gather and analyze information and use it to learn from a process or help someone with a particular task. Each device collects data for a specific purpose that may be useful to a buyer and impact the wider economy.
Although IoT is not a new trend, it’s rapidly accelerating, and the COVID-19 pandemic has kicked the demand for IoT devices and the workers who can power them into overdrive. As the pandemic hit in early 2020, business models were upended, and day-to-day life as we knew it was drastically transformed. Almost overnight, organizations and employees across the globe were forced to become more reliant on technologies to support them in both their personal and professional lives.
It’s not entirely surprising, then, that though other areas have slowed down as a result of the virus, IoT has experienced an upward trajectory. According to Microsoft’s IoT Signals Report, Version 2, published in October 2020, one in three decision-makers state their organizations will increase their investment in IoT due to COVID-19, while another 41 percent say they’ll maintain the same level of commitment. The few organizations that indicated they would not be increasing their IoT investment tended to be in the early stages of IoT. The report compiled responses from more than 3,000 IoT decision-makers in enterprise organizations across the US, UK, Germany, France, China, and Japan.
Pre-pandemic, Internet of Things was already being used for everything from smart devices such as Apple Watch, and smart home technology like Google Nest and Alexa, to self-driving cars. The arrival of COVID-19 has increased the demand for survival-based applications of IoT, bringing to the forefront virtual healthcare, wearable health and social distance-monitoring devices, and smart building technology, like Honeywell’s Healthy Buildings, which is used to assist with employee social distancing and track-and-trace capabilities to minimize virus spread.
The increased adoption of these technologies in turn increases the production of IoT-powered devices, and Forrester predicts we’ll see increased momentum in the connected-healthcare sector due to convenience, available insights, and reduced costs of managing health at home.
The Accelerating Business Value of IoT
COVID-19 has escalated what once were digital initiatives into digital imperatives, and as Scott Engler, VP, advisory for CFO/CHRO and evangelist for Gartner TalentNeuron™, says, it’s creating immense pressure on HR leaders to work with their CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs to rethink skills needs as business models change at light speed.
IoT is one of the technologies at the forefront of this change, and it’s poised to transform businesses and hiring this next year and beyond. International Data Corporation estimates there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices, or “things,” generating 79.4 zettabytes of data in 2025. IoT is helping businesses become smarter, faster, safer, and more efficient. It’s being implemented for a wide range of uses across industries, chiefly to optimize productivity and operations, and secure the environment. The benefits that enterprises are seeing most often from IoT, according to Microsoft’s IoT Signals Report, are:
- Increased efficiency of operations (54 percent)
- Increased employee productivity (47 percent)
- Increased production capacity (46 percent)
- Cost savings and reducing human error (44 percent)
An estimated 90 percent of decision-makers now believe that IoT is critical to their company’s success, according to Microsoft’s report. IoT adoption for businesses rose from 85 percent in 2019 to 91 percent a year later, and 83 percent of adopters have at least one project that has achieved the “use” stage. And 79 percent of enterprises adopting IoT see AI as either a core or secondary component of their strategy.
As they look ahead, respondents in Microsoft’s report said they believe critical technology drivers for IoT success in the next two years are AI, edge computing, and 5G, followed by digital twins and blockchain. AI and IoT often work hand in hand: 79 percent of organizations adopt AI as part of their IoT solution, and those who do perceive IoT to be more critical to their company’s success (95 versus 82 percent) and are more satisfied with IoT (96 versus 87 percent). The report found that businesses which incorporate emerging technologies into their IoT solution realize more success with IoT overall, since once the value is proven, it’s easier to build buy-in across the organization.
An Uphill Battle for Skilled Workers to Meet the Demands of IoT
Like AI and automation, the increase in IoT roles is predicted to free up employees’ time to do more learning, exploring, and allow them to focus on higher-cognitive tasks. The problem, however, is that companies are having difficulty finding workers with the right skills to implement and support IoT technologies. Brad Ree, CTO, ioXt Alliance, asks, “How do you become an authority on a small, constrained, singular smart product enough to effectively ensure that the safety and security of the devices are handled properly?”
One of the biggest challenges with IoT is that, unlike unconstrained cloud computing systems, these millions or even billions of devices operate in a highly constrained environment. They’re scattered, continuously talking to each other, and will live on indefinitely. It’s difficult to find workers who have combined expertise across wireless connectivity, embedded electronics, and big data—not to mention security, Ree says.
In-Demand Skills and Roles in the IoT Realm
The rollout of IoT infrastructure requires a multidisciplinary approach—which also means a wide array of skills and background are needed, including data and business intelligence, UX design, software, hardware, information security, networks, and mobile development. Microsoft’s report found that system architects and Cloud developers are in especially high demand. And as IoT will coexist with legacy systems in many organizations, there is also a need for IoT workers to understand these systems and have the ability to bridge the gap between old and new.
Business intelligence; data security; application design; mobile applications; IoT hardware; and networks will continue to be critical broad-based skills in the IoT domain. Four specialized IoT career skills that will be expected of those professionals in the space, according to TechGenix, include knowledge of sensors; embedded chips; Cloud computing; and troubleshooting IoT.
Organizations need IoT professionals with a mix of technology, data, and security skills:
Technology experience: IoT projects can be very complex, and workers with the skills to successfully marry software, hardware, and networking knowledge are in high demand.
Data analytics: Data analytics is an important skill, and organizations need workers to be able to gather and analyze insights from the connected environment to use across the organization. People who can bridge the gap between technology and business, such as data scientists and data analysts, are in extremely high demand right now.
Robust security skills: Nearly all respondents—97 percent of enterprises—in Microsoft’s report said they have security concerns when adopting IoT. Cybersecurity professionals are needed to protect IoT devices against outside threats, security breaches, and security loopholes. Engineers with experience in end-to-end security, who are able to apply strong security measures and controls both to IoT devices and to the data they process, are in high demand.
Despite the vast array of technical skills needed to successfully implement and operate IoT in the workplace, technical skills alone won’t cut it. Soft skills like innovation, problem-solving, communication, critical thinking, and empathy are some of the most in-demand soft skills in IT, and in IoT specifically.
Growing roles in IoT may not always include “IoT” in the job title, but professionals will be needed across the spectrum as organizations continue to grapple with doing business during a pandemic, and prepare to adjust to a post-pandemic world in which priorities and customer demands have greatly shifted. Growing IoT-related roles include titles like
- IoT/Cloud software developer
- IoT infrastructure architect
- IoT systems administrator
- Vulnerability/cyber engineer
- IoT solutions architect
- Test engineer
Preparing for a Post-Pandemic Future
IoT professionals with a unique blend of technology, data, and security skills and background—who can meet the demands of an IoT skills boom—are desperately needed by employers, and as mentioned before, that mix can be difficult to find. Fortunately, IT consultants have prepared themselves precisely for this type of challenge. These professionals often have experience in multiple IoT implementations at many different types of businesses. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to your projects, are up to speed on the latest emerging technologies, and can jump in right away on specific deliverables for a short- or long-term engagement. Once those deliverables are complete, an organization can either retain IT consultants for an additional length of time—or hire them as full-time employees.
Finding a candidate with the right blend of soft and hard skills and culture fit for a difficult-to-fill IoT role can be time-consuming and frustrating if you’re not sure where to start, or what you really even need to be successful. Finding an expert to partner with will help you tap into the most qualified pool of IT talent—while guiding you through a rapidly changing IT landscape.
Reach out to us today to get the conversation started.
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Headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Signature Consultants was established in 1997 with a singular focus: to provide clients and consultants with superior staffing solutions. For the ninth consecutive year, Signature was voted as one of the “Best Staffing Firms to Work For” and is named the 15th Largest IT Staffing Firm in the United States (source: Staffing Industry Analysts). With 29 locations throughout North America, Signature annually deploys thousands of consultants to support, run, and manage their clients’ technology needs. Signature offers IT staffing, consulting, managed solutions, and direct placement services. For more information on the company, please visit https://www.sigconsult.com. Signature Consultants is the parent company to Hunter Hollis and Madison Gunn.