The Liveworx conference was held in Boston from May 22-25. This is one of the main Internet of Things (IoT) conferences, sponsored IoT platform provider PTC. There were almost 10,000 people attending and 99 different companies exhibiting. It was a good opportunity to catch up on the emerging skills that will be needed by a critical part of the new economy (or the 4th Industrial Revolution as some are calling it).

Wandering about the conference, I had the ‘skill conversation’ with a lot of different people. In this conversation, I’d like to touch on three things.

What skills do you need to do what you do?
How did you build those skills?
What skills are you looking for, now and in the future?

As you can imagine, I got a lot of different answers. It was a diverse group of people and I spoke with everyone from deep innovators dreaming of the future, to the metal software engineers, sales people, consultants, and investors.

There we are few themes that emerged.

Integration

Virtually everyone talked about the need to combine different skill sets, both as an individual and on teams. The Internet of Things is a big glorious mashup of technologies and user experiences. That makes integration skills critical but what are integration skills? On TeamFit, when I went to ‘Integration’ I found a rather long list of skills (32 in all) ranging from approaches like ‘Agile Integration’ and ‘Continuous Integration’ to business centric skills like ‘Marketing Integration’ and ‘Marketing Process Integration’ to a few things that seemed more specific to the Internet of Things like ‘Sensor Integration.’ I wanted to dig a bit deeper so I asked the question:

“What foundational skills are most associated with these integration skills?”

Remember that for TeamFit foundational skills are those skills used to develop new skills. The foundational skills associated with technical integration were

Critical Thinking
Systems Thinking
Abstraction
Modeling

When I looked at business integration I got a different result.

Active Listening
Design Thinking
Service Design

 

Machine Learning

So much data is generated by IoT solutions that it is really only manageable by machines itself. Almost all the serious solutions are leveraging some form of machine learning to get insights and find patterns. Many of the leading innovation consulting firms, like Kalypso, have started up machine learning divisions to help their customers make sense of all this data. Going forward, machine learning will become a standard part of the IoT stack and teams will need skills in this area.

Service Design

There were not a lot of people at Liveworx talking about Service Design but I think that this will quickly change. The most compelling IoT solutions have a kind of end-to-end thinking in them. They go full circle from the physical objects through the sensors to the data and the end users and all the way back down to the physical. There is a focus on the interactions within and between each level here. Understanding the flow and making it meaningful to users (and buyers) will be critical. Service design gives a framework to think through this and design a complete solution.

Roles on IoT Teams

One of the more interesting sessions was led by Ayora Berry and Ben Norman of PTC who are leading the development of IoT University. This is going to be a very good resource for people who want to build IoT skills.

I asked Ben what roles they were seeing on IoT teams. In conversation with the group, we came up with six: Business Analyst, Solution Architect, Embedded Systems Developer, Cloud/Network Developer, Full Stack Developer and UX/UI. I can see some of you rolling your eyes. Most people who claim to be ‘full-stack developers’ are not. They are always stronger in one part of the stack or another. It is known that the skills of user experience designers (UX) are quite different from user interface designers (UI). In fact, almost all of these roles could be differentiated further. It is unlikely at this point to find all of the skills needed for any of these roles in one person and, as discussed above, machine learning and data analysis will likely need to be layered into this model.

For me though, a bigger issue is how these roles interact.

In a conventional model, there is a fairly linear flow and hand offs between each role. I doubt this will work for Internet of Things innovation. The more successful approach will be cyclical with people in each role contributing insights and pushing the work forward. I think you can enter the IoT innovation process at any point so long as you work fast and light, reach out to people with complementary skills and build connecting skills across roles. Mapping complementary and connecting skills for IoT teams is going to be critical. I suspect some common patterns will emerge, but there will be important differences across domains as well. The connecting skills for a factory floor project may look quite different from those needed to build an Internet of Things solution with a flight of drones.

Complementary Skills: Skills frequently used together but not generally found in the same person. UI and UX are often treated as associated skills (skills generally found together) but in our experience they are actually complementary skills. Many complementary skills sets are going to emerge from the Internet of Things.

Connecting Skills: Skills that people use to connect different skill clusters. There are both internal and external connecting skills. It is the external connecting skills, the ones that different people use together, that are of concern here. Each IoT team is going to need to build a set of connecting skills as the fabric of their collaboration.

More insights about the Liveworx conference