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The chief IoT officer: Not a role for the faint of heart

I have been immersed in the internet of things for some time now. I have had an ongoing dialog about the role of leadership in the context of IoT with my friend Jeff Kaplan from Think Strategies in Boston, as well as my friend and co-chair of the Midwest IoT Council, Brenna Berman, the CIO of the City of Chicago. At issue is both ownership and accountability of IoT initiatives within an organization, as well as the inherent capabilities required for a single person to shoulder that burden.

While one can find structural frameworks to allow the budgets, staff, control and accountability for IoT projects to flow in a certain way that may or may not be acceptable to the organization, finding a single person who brings to the table the talent, skill sets and, most importantly, the understanding of how to drive emerging IoT technologies forward, is a tall order. It is near impossible today and will likely not get easier anytime soon.

Here’s why. Because IoT spans the IT organization — if not most of the operations of a given enterprise — a single person overseeing the IoT initiative would ideally understand technology and architecture very well, such as hardware, networking and communications, sensor technologies, data and analytics, user interfaces and more.

The CIO and the CTO are both fairly far reaching jobs already. A comprehensive grasp of technology doesn’t come easy, and requires ongoing study and interaction to remain current and, thus, effective. It’s one thing to appreciate a publish-subscribe architecture or the possibilities of machine learning. It’s another to appreciate the requirements of street lighting, or the imperatives and considerations in running the police department.

One person cannot know everything. The chief IoT officer would not be expected to understand as much as the chief of police about police safety, or as much as the head of public transportation about the transport system. But the chief IoT officer will need to have a working knowledge of these, along with an appreciation for the potential dependencies and inter-workings of various elements in a given organization.

That is a tough call. That means you need a leader, technologist and constant learner with broad comprehension about a variety of subjects, as well as the ability to both distill this information into a coherent strategy and communicate that strategy to a team in order to execute upon that strategy.

This is not an impossible task, but it is a challenging one. For starters, you have to not only have the experience of an elder statesmen, but also needed is the drive to learn new things like a newly minted MBA. You also need the negotiation skills of a diplomat in order to reach across multiple departments and organizations to be effective.

This is not a job for the faint of heart, but it will become more and more a reality. And because it has such broad and deep demands, this is a role where many will fail. Yet there will be a few driven, smart, talented renascence-like leaders who will rise to this challenge, but it is going to truly require the renascence-like qualities to make that work. That won’t be easy.

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