During the last 25 years, organizations have had to reinvent themselves every three to seven years to keep up with the pace of change. Companies that missed one technology transition might scramble to catch up, but missing two meant a slow fade to obscurity, irrelevance, and death.
Consider the rapid evolution in music media: from records, to cassettes, to CDs, to downloadable digital files. Today, the evolution has come full circle as digital streaming services have made any kind of physical media obsolete. (Except for those of us who won’t give up our vinyl!)
Digital technology is disrupting every industry. Just look at retail, transportation, and banking. Even old-line industries like mining and agriculture are undergoing dramatic digital transformation—most often driven by the connection of people, process, data and things made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT).
A new generation of leaders, makers, thinkers, and doers is meeting these changes with flexibility and optimism, and transforming disruption into opportunity. I call these pioneers “Generation IoT.”
Generation IoT is defined first by openness—open standards, open collaboration, open communications, and open, flexible business models. You can find Generation IoT in IT or operational technology (OT). They can run the plant, or be part of the supply chain. They can be vendors, contractors, or CXOs. They can be young or old. You can recognize them not by their age or their titles—but by their willingness to learn and take risks, and to build and deploy agile, flexible business solutions.
Generation IoT sees opportunities instead of threats
New technologies and new processes are at the heart of any Internet of Things (IoT) deployment. They lead to new business models, new organizational structures, and—inevitably—new work roles. While some may see these changes as threats, Gen IoT looks for the opportunities.
Campofrio Food Group, a multinational meat processor, is a great example. Four years ago, the company’s flagship factory in Burgos, Spain, burned to the ground. The company used this tragedy as an opportunity to transform its technology, culture, and business processes by rebuilding it as a connected factory, powered by the Internet of Things.
The changes in work roles were immediate.
In exchange for creating a state-of-the-art work environment, Campofrio urged employees to constantly reinvent their own careers.
“We transformed from an old-fashioned hierarchy where everyone had a siloed job to a more interactive culture where everyone is urged to step up and help shape the direction of the business,” Javier Alvarez, CIO of Campofrio, told me. “In exchange for retaining jobs in a new state-of-the-art facility, we asked our employees to take advantage of training, and refresh and stretch their talents.”
While many people see IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation as a threat to existing workers, companies like Campofrio demonstrate that by embracing changes in technology and culture, they can improve both business processes and employees’ work lives. In exchange for creating a state-of-the-art work environment, Campofrio urged employees to constantly reinvent their own careers, acquire new skills, and engage more in decision-making.
Chasing Gen IoT
Think of the activities associated with IoT — cloud and fog computing, analytics, predictive maintenance, remote monitoring and control, remote asset management, as well as augmented reality, 3D printing, drones, and more. Implementing these capabilities will require qualified workers with a wider range of skills — from collaboration and communication to data science and process design. Like at Campofrio, many of these “Generation IoT” workers will be existing employees, particularly those who embrace change and can learn new skills. So start by cultivating and training your own people.
Next, expand your search beyond the usual places. Of course, continue to engage with four-year colleges and universities, but also check out community colleges, and even high schools. Rockwell Automation, for example, runs a summer internship program for high-schoolers to extend its reach. Partner with educational institutions to build curricula and train people with industry-specific skills—so that instead of a generic data scientist, you get data scientist who is an expert in analyzing manufacturing data. The NEW Manufacturing Alliance in Wisconsin is a great example of a group of manufacturers working with local educators to develop a pipeline of workers with the specialized skills they need.
Be creative in your talent search. German company Siemens, for example, needed more mechatronics experts in its North Carolina facility. So it partnered with a local community college to create a unique four-year apprenticeship program combining on-the-job training with a structured curriculum. The company was so pleased with the quality of its graduates that it has expanded the program to several other U.S. locations.
Developing an IoT-enabled workforce is the key to digital transformation. You could implement IoT solutions and integrate them with your business processes, but if your workforce is not ready (in terms of both skill and culture); your IoT transformation will fail. However, with the right skills and attitudes, your workforce will be ready to take on the dynamic challenges of the IoT economy.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in Connected Futures-Executive Insights.