All hail the next big job, the chief IoT officer

In the near future, you may hear about the appointment of a Chief Internet of Things (IoT) Officer. Before you roll your eyes and chortle at the thought of another chief-of-something, consider the problem.

First, companies are beginning to make and implement smart, connected, data-producing products. That can be anything -- automobiles, assembly line robots, washing machines and even coffee makers. This data can be used in predictive analytics to avoid product failures, as well as to schedule maintenance around when a product actually needs it. These products, mechanical and electronic, will likely get ongoing software updates.

Second, connected products are now part of a broader system. Or as Michael Porter, a Harvard economist, pointed out at this week's ThingWorx conference, you aren't just selling a tractor, you are selling a tractor that is becoming part of a smart farm, a system. Things have to be able to work together.

Infusing connected technology into products means that IT departments will have to work with their firm's research and development organizations as well as with product design groups. That's can be a problem for IT organizations, which historically have not been involved in product development and related research.

One person who sees a potential need for a Chief IoT officer to coordinate connected-product development is Philippe Ameryckx, general manager of remote diagnostics at Abbott Labs, a multi-billion dollar pharmaceuticals and health care products company.

IT departments and CIOs "are focusing on the internal informatics, and not what is going on with the customer," said Ameryckx, who was at the ThingWorx conference.

The person who acts as the Chief IoT officer "should be in charge of informatics projects that go to the customer," said Ameryckx.

The idea of creating a Chief IoT officer is beginning to get attention, but it's unclear whether anyone today holds that title exclusively. More likely, IoT is getting attached to the list of CTO and CIO requirements. But the pressure for a better development model is there.

Micheal Davis, a manager at a firm that makes diagnostic equipment, is working on IoT development. He said part of his job is to act as a "bridge" between research and development and the internal IT organization in developing connected products.

"You are going back and forth between two different departments and that in itself is challenging," said Davis, another attendee at the conference.

But James Brown, the CIO of Crayola, the maker of art and craft supplies, doesn't see the need for a new position.

"For a long time we [IT departments] have been asked to be engaged in the business," said Brown, "I think this is an opportunity for IT to take a leadership role."

In his talk, Porter never mentioned Chief IoT officers, but he does see organizations creating Chief Data Officers to manage IoT-generated data. Firms will create new organizations to deal with this data, "and we're going to see a lot of chief data officers."

The bottom line: Whether your firm ends up with the Chief Data Officer or a Chief IoT Officer or both, a trend toward the creation of more chiefs may be on its way.


Patrick Thibodeau

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