The Internet of Things (IoT) is more of a leadership challenge than it is a technology challenge.
As Internet of Things strategies are developed inside corporations, the next big question is who will be leading these projects? I believe corporate IoT initiatives need to be led by the highest-level operationally-focused leader—not a technology-focused leader. In many cases, this might be the CEO, COO, or President. In other cases, it might mean creating a new job, someone who either is or plays the role of Chief IoT Officer.
All leaders know that change comes hard. Entrenched interest, processes that have been used for generations, and people who are afraid of how change will affect their jobs can all impede development and implementation of Internet of Things technologies. In many ways, underlying IoT technologies are mature enough for numerous new products in business improvement applications, making IoT less of an invention project and more of an integration project.
Whether IoT strategy is focused on creating new offerings or creating cost advantages, the big challenges ahead will be in execution and team building. Internet of Things technologies, when applied either to new products and services or as a means to improve business operations, require new workflow, new skills, technology development, data integration, data services, marketing for new products, and an assortment of other team skills.
The broad reach and impact of IoT in a corporation mean it will need to touch virtually every silo to make projects successful. It is for this reason that IoT must be lead from the top; it must be seen as a board-level initiative fully supported by the CEO. Choosing the right leader has more to do with the ability to bring people together than the bits and bytes of technology.
A few years back, we rolled out a new IoT technology for tracking medical oxygen tanks in acute care hospitals for one of the largest healthcare provider in the world. The technology was pretty straightforward; we put sensors on medical oxygen tanks to broadcast the pressure status of the tank and its location inside the hospital to a cloud server that displayed the data on the dashboard in multiple locations around the hospital. The technology itself was practically invisible to the respiratory therapist using the oxygen tank, but it completely changed the workflow respiratory therapy teams used to collect, manage, and store oxygen tanks.
The IoT technology simplified the respiratory therapy teams job and made them more efficient, however, there was one striking event that further emphasized how we think about IoT implementation. The CIO of the healthcare company handed the leadership of the project off to the hospital president. The CIO was completely disconnected from the workflow respiratory therapists use managing the oxygen tanks, so he empowered the hospital president to have full authority over the project. It just so happened that this particular hospital president was a great team builder and an amazing operationally-focused leader.
As part of the project, the hospital president had to take into account not only the respiratory workflow and team training, but also the fact that the technology completely disrupted a long-standing vendor contract. While the overall project was not time intensive, it required plenty of communication from critical process engineering and a hands-on approach by leadership.
When the project finally launched, it was an immediate success with an ROI of less than six months. We attribute project success mostly to the constant communication the hospital president shared with his team regarding the workflow, expectations, and cultural changes that were going to happen. Initially, when the project was handed off to the hospital president, our team was a little apprehensive as the hospital president was not a technologist. Through his successful implementation and teambuilding, we learned that the technology was the smallest part of the project’s success.
This is not to say that a Chief Information Officer can’t lead these types of projects. There are certainly Chief Information Officers who have the leadership acumen and skills necessary to drive the team forward through extraordinary change. But as the CEO and board look at the types of projects ahead, they should take into account that leadership will be their biggest challenge. So, who is the best leader for corporate IoT? The best operational leader.