Cultivating IoT Skills
DESIGNING AND DELIVERING IoT solutions requires a variety of skills, but not necessarily IoT-specific ones. In fact, IT is closer to IoT than you might think.
Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis for industry organization CompTIA, says IoT projects, like IT projects, must align technology with business objectives. Although IoT projects for collecting operational data, real-time asset monitoring, smart buildings, and tracking customer behavior fall outside the standard IT domain, according to CompTIA’s 2019 Trends in Internet of Things report, the required know-how is familiar territory. "Technical skills needed include hardware support, data management, data analysis, and network administration," Robinson says.
In most cases, he continues, companies can use training to close IoT skills gaps rather than hire specialists. Network admins who can tune a network today can learn to tune one that includes IoT devices tomorrow. Network segmentation and assigned priorities for IoT build upon what they already know.
An open mind is required though, according to Ken Hosac, vice president of IoT strategy and business development at Cradlepoint, a leader in 4G LTE network solutions. "IT folks who just look at laptops and printers are not the guys to help you move forward in IoT," he says. "Younger IT guys embrace the chance to grow and work with different customer groups using IoT."
Technical skills aren’t the only ones required, however. "IoT has to solve a problem,” says Paul Smith, owner of Datasmith Network Solutions, a 10-person MSP in Walpole, Mass. "The skill you need is to look for opportunities to keep the solution simple and really hammer the savings."
When a project calls for deep expertise, Smith relies on his primary distribution partner, Ingram Micro. "We use Ingram's professional services and grow our IoT business without using our own techs," he says. "We can sell $100,000 deals and not expand over our 10 people." He relies on Ingram for financing as well in many cases.
Cradlepoint leans on partners too. Hosac looks to Microsoft for IoT skills. When he took an "anyone can do it" IoT project proposal to his boss, for example, he was told to do it himself if that’s true. "With Microsoft's cloud support and our tools, I built an app to manage kiosks in eight hours. If a biz dev like me can do it, a VAR can certainly do it," he says with a laugh.
Hosac goes further. "If your IT folks can login to Microsoft Azure and do things for customers, they can do it for IoT. Same creation process, same billing."
Cradlepoint's NetCloud Service adds IoT to a familiar management interface as well. "You can set configuration details and jobs like upgrades to a group of IoT devices and just hit the button."
Learn by Doing
Finally, Hosac urges IT pros to stop thinking of IoT as something separate and start considering it as just another technology along with SD-WAN, IP, and Bluetooth, adding that they may need to reexamine some equipment such as new branch routers available from Cradlepoint and others. These routers, he says, "are a hybrid of IT and LTE, [with] advanced networking with security, customer Wi-Fi, separate point of sale security, and sections for employees and guests." Furthermore, he says, IoT devices like cameras and temperature sensors are as easy to add “as a new computer on a LAN."
Smith confirms that embracing IoT has been easy for his staff, and Datasmith plans to develop an IoT recurring revenue model in municipal lighting management over the next three years. He says his team has learned that "IoT is a great thing to add to your line card."
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