Do organisations really need a 'Chief IoT Officer'?

We discuss whether the new role of Chief Internet of Things Officer is really necessary and what this individual would actually do

A couple of months’ back we looked at the rise of the CISO in the wake of all those big news security breaches. Now another role that may take a very high-profile position within the enterprise over the next 12 months is Chief IoT Officer.

In fact, a recent study of 500 UK CEOs and senior decision makers entitled “IoT: Risk or Reward?” [PDF] conducted by security company Webroot and data centre organisation IO suggested more than half of businesses surveyed (54%) plan to employ a Chief IoT Officer in the next year.  

But is a Chief IoT officer really needed? And if so, what would they do, who would they report to and how would they fit into the existing organisational structure? Well, to find out, we consulted a range of experts from across the spectrum. Not surprisingly, the feedback was very mixed.


Is a Chief IoT Officer really needed?

There is a clearly a lot of confusion about how IoT will work in practice and as a consequence a lot of people on LinkedIn are jumping on the bandwagon and labelling themselves as an “IoT Evangelist”.   

Yet Clive Longbottom, founder of Quocirca research is adamant that a Chief IoT Officer is not necessary in an organisation. This is part and parcel of his wider mistrust for convoluted organisational structures. As he argues in a piece entitled “The risks of the rising C-level”: “I believe that it is time to fight back against complex hierarches where too many people have drifted upwards into C-level positions.”

“If someone is just focused on the IoT,” Longbottom tells IDG Connect, “then they may not see the bigger picture. They become transfixed on specifics.”

Manfred Kube, Head of M2M at security firm Gemalto takes an opposing view: “An introduction of a Chief IoT Officer is something I’m certain businesses should consider in order to fully embrace the potential IoT has to offer.”

He adds it is: “vital for businesses to have one person dedicated to unlocking that potential and communicating its importance to the rest of the business from the regular staff right up to the CEO.”

Saverio Romeo, Principal Analyst at Beecham Research, on the other hand, is less certain whether the role is required or not but believes it requires some focus:

“The IoT is a transformational vision that will reshape and change the nature, objectives and modus operandi of organisations. Maybe, we do not need IoT officers, but we do need to think about the IoT thoroughly and carefully.”


What will the Chief IoT Officer do?

The most challenging aspect of the Internet of Things is it touches on so many different areas of the business. This is precisely why so many organisations struggle to understand how it will work in practice and what a Chief IoT Officer may be required to do.

“I believe that to extract the greatest value from the IoT there needs to be a strong selling message within the organisation as to what the IoT can do,” says John Fleming, Marketing Director at analytics company, Webtrends. “There is lots of confusion and hype around this and it will be necessary for this individual to be a product evangelist within the business.”

Ed Tomalin, client partner for digital agency Head suggests a more pragmatic job spec: “At this early stage, this role will be about the balance of selecting the right product for the application whilst balancing the danger of getting sucked into vendor lock in at a time when IoT standards are still being worked on.”

He also feels this individual will need to be responsible for creating an appropriate data framework and navigating the raft of international regulations. “Creating a global service is tricky,” he says. “For example regulations on data privacy can vary widely between regions or even neighbouring countries.”

As we have seen time and time again security issues are also critical in any new technology but especially IoT. In this respect Manfred Kube, Head of M2M at security firm Gemalto points out it is “a far from an easy role”.

“Whether it’s coordinating software updates that keep each device working to its full potential, liaising with CIOs and CSOs to create a robust security framework, or co-ordinating with CFOs to unlock further budget and ensure that ROI on the devices is maximised, Chief IoT Officers will have a great deal of responsibility,” he says. 


Who will the Chief IoT Officer report to?

In his book, “Making Social Technologies Work: Leveraging the Power and Managing Perils of Social Technologies in Business”, Ronan Gruenbaum Dean of Undergraduate at Hult International Business School describes six essential elements to successfully implement social technologies. One of these is the need for a ‘Champion’:

“This role must sit in the business side of the organisation, rather than the IT side,” he explains to us. “As the person needs to know the needs of the organisation and the organisation’s strategy: there is nothing worse than a new process being imposed from the IT or IS&T department simply because the technology is there - if the strategy does not come from the organisation, from the board, then you have the tail wagging the dog.”

Scott Amyx a global speaker on the Internet of Things suggests this role should report directly into the CEO. While Fleming of Webtrends believes “the reporting line will be primarily within marketing but they will need to have a good understanding of data and analytics too”.

Longbottom of Quocirca research who is highly sceptical about the necessity of the role adds: “In an ideal world, this would be part of the COO’s remit – however, the COO is not as powerful a person as they should be in most businesses. 

“It would more likely default to a CIO report – and the IoT should not primarily be about IT, but about transforming the way an organisation carries out its business.”


Will the Chief IoT Officer just be an interim position?

“My belief is that this is an interim role as in essence IoT is just another digital channel, albeit one that takes some understanding to get the best out of it,” says Webtrends’ Fleming.

“Once it’s established the data will be homogenised into ‘digital data’ and IoT campaigns will not be differentiated except for real-time messaging triggered by IoT events,” he adds. “Very similarly to the way that Mobile was perceived as different in the early days.”

Gruenbaum disagrees: “Whilst the IoT Officer might need some help in the interim, while implementation takes place, the organisation still needs a central, permanent figure to Champion IoT and take ownership of it.”

Amyx adds: “Depending on the firm, the IoT officer is a critical expansion of the executive team to account and oversee a strategic growth area of the business. I would relate to it as a product category owner.” 

It is clear that many organisations are already hiring – or gearing up to hire – someone to manage the Internet of Things. Yet like most ‘softer roles’ at the leadership end of IT there will always be some debate about how this will actually work. In the end though, the success of the Chief IoT Officer will come down to the personality and skill-set of the individual employed along with the level of true buy-in from the wider business. 


Related reading:

The IoT “time bomb” report: 49 security experts share their views

Fleeting strategic importance? 2016, the year of the CISO