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IoT training: IoT certifications emerge to close IT/OT divide

Leading tech companies offer educational curriculum that gives IT staffers the IoT training they need to work in connected environments.

For the past three years, most of the training for IoT has focused on industrial verticals -- and for good reason.

Michele Pelino, a principal analyst at Forrester Research serving infrastructure and operations professionals, said there's a tremendous need for IT and operational technology (OT) professionals to work more closely together.

"IT staff is traditionally concerned about scalability, security and how they are going to manage all these new connected devices and sensors," Pelino explained. "At a healthcare facility, for example, the operations people are worried about getting patients through check-in and checkout. There's just a real need for the conversation between IT and OT to happen more."

Many companies -- including Cisco, GE Digital and Microsoft -- are now offering IoT training courses and IoT certifications to bridge this gap and help people succeed in IT/OT convergence.

Cisco's IoT certifications and trainings

Sudarshan Krishnamurthi, head of business strategy for Cisco's educational services, said Cisco teamed up with Rockwell Automation Inc. to offer an educational curriculum that includes training courses on how to use their joint industrial automation platform.

The Cisco Certified Network Associate Industrial IoT certification was introduced as a CCNA option in 2015. Krishnamurthi said the certification, which is geared toward manufacturing, process control, and oil and gas engineers, focuses on the IT side around security, data sciences and managing converged networks.

"We are not teaching them everything about IT, but one thing we do is get them to think about how to take all the connected devices and gather insights from the data so they can make better decisions to create better operational efficiencies and optimize business outcomes," Krishnamurthi explained. "And on the other side, IT people need to understand that they are no longer just managing devices connected to the network; now, they are also managing the plant's LAN."

Cisco began by focusing on industrial verticals such as manufacturing with Rockwell Automation and has since branched into healthcare and retail. The company also plans to work with industry partners in the connected home area to develop an educational curriculum in the next several months.

GE Digital: IoT training inside and out

At GE Digital, Ann Johnston, digital learning transformation leader, said she's had to refocus her approach to training following her four-year stint at GE Aviation.

Johnston said in the industrial arena, once a part gets placed into production, the manufacturing of that product stays fairly consistent. In many ways, industry had a way of producing and training its staff that reflects methods that have evolved over 130 years. Now, industry has entered a new era in which software plays a larger role on the factory floor and requires a different approach. With software, Johnston said, the need for continuous improvement requires ongoing education in how to keep code quality high, develop securely and run automated tests.

"It's very different working on a machine with metal versus developing software," she said. "Everything with software revolves around speed to market and continuous development."

And continuous development takes continuous education. GE Digital meets this need by offering both internal and external training, including training in how to optimize GE's Predix platform. The more detailed technology, software development and analysis courses are geared for the 26,000 employees across GE Digital.

"In essence, we are offering the training horizontally across each of GE's major verticals," Johnston said. "The idea is that every aspect of GE now has a digital component and we need to supply the training to support that. Implicit in all of this new training is that IoT is central to coursework -- all of this is geared for how software developed affects IoT environments."

GE Digital also takes advantage of the staff's expertise. Johnston said she and her team figure that if even half of the 26,000 people they train are good teachers, the company now has access to thousands of subject-matter experts (SMEs) it can take advantage of. So, over the past few years, GE has been really bullish on the ability to scale peer-to-peer learning.

"We get SMEs to do tutorials on five- to eight-minute videos," Johnston said. "The idea is that once one group has learned and mastered a new set of skills, they train the new people who come along next."

Microsoft's IoT training courses

Microsoft also has an educational curriculum for IoT available on edX. Paul Pardi, principal content publishing manager, said Microsoft's upcoming IoT Professional Program will focus on software development, data science and DevOps. Many of the courses will also teach developers how to integrate IoT products into Microsoft Azure.

Pardi said courses will roll out one by one throughout 2017 and the full package that will lead to an IoT certification should be available by December.

"While our offerings can be consumed by the maker community and hobbyists, Microsoft's primary focus for training at this point will be for enterprise developers," Pardi said.

Cisco, GE Digital and Microsoft have clearly made IoT training a priority. What started off as some fledgling offerings a few years ago has blossomed into more robust training IoT certifications that should help industry develop the skilled workers it needs.

However, Cushing Anderson, program vice president for business consulting and IT education at IDC, said though he supports efforts by these major companies to train people around IoT, he still takes a fairly skeptical view of such training. While it's important for people working in IoT environments to be highly skilled, he said he's not always sure they are unique skills.

"Many of the security and data analytics skills taught in the IoT courses are the same that people have been using for several years, they just have to be geared to IoT," he said. "It's just that people are applying the same skills in a new way."

Anderson has a point, at least when it comes to security and analytics skills. On the other hand, developers need specialized IoT training to learn how develop apps in Predix, and certainly the same case could be made for developing secure apps in an Azure environment.

So, whether it's a midcareer person who needs to revamp his skills or someone new to the industry, IoT certifications and opportunities to learn how to develop secure apps in connected environments are now available -- and more are on the way.

IoT training courses

The following are links to courses that are now available, the vast majority of which are geared toward developers:

Cisco's CCNA Industrial Certification

GE Predix Training

Microsoft IoT Training

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