Your choice of people to join you on your IoT journey is one of the most important – these are the people who will, in turn, make the thousands of decisions that will make or break your project.
So how should you think about this? And how do you avoid costly mistakes and dead ends?
Because IoT is still relatively new and fast-changing, the pool of people who have already “been there and done it” is small. So you’ll probably be bringing in people with expertise from other fields. Some likely candidates with relevant skills include:
- Telco: experience of designing, building and running complex systems and processes. However, note that Telco was very down-top – whereas IoT is very bottom-up: standards, components and architectures are constantly evolving and being replaced so you’ll probably want someone comfortable with Agile methodologies rather than Gantt chart/waterfall project planning
- IT: likewise, experience deploying lots of networked kit. However, the IT world of the 1990’s had a well-deserved reputation for not being very user-centric, whereas IoT is generally about deploying new propositions into a competitive, user-centric market
- Service: most IoT products are in fact services, so people with a service background may be good team members, even without relevant technical experience, because they understand how to build processes and teams which deliver a good customer experience
Build or buy?
This is a key decision which affects everything in your company, especially technical hiring, and needs revisiting regularly as the market evolves. Development is incredibly expensive and can lock you in, so how little can you do?
Whilst previously, any company deploying IoT had little choice but to build a lot of technology themselves due to a large lack of off-the-shelf hardware and software components, today’s burgeoning IoT ecosystem has a growing freedom of choice about where in the stack to play, and “build everything yourself” is an increasingly bad strategy because you’ll end up competing with thousands of vendors who are doing each of the pieces better.
Even if you have some special “secret sauce” hardware or software, you’ll probably want to embed it within off-the-shelf frameworks to ride on the shoulders of giants.
If you’ll be designing and building hardware at the chip/module level, and deploying embedded firmware components such as device stacks directly, then you’ll need a CTO with good “pattern recognition”, someone able to work out what the right questions are to ask of vendors and write a good set of requirements documents for them to deliver to.
Beware hiring early senior technical people who only have one project under their belts – breadth probably trumps depth at this point, unless you’re in a very specialised industry.
Other key roles
The CTO is probably an early hire because R&D comes before the other stages. As you move from early development into trials, then deployment and scaling, several other roles become at least as important.
- Product Manager / Chief Product Officer: it’s within the head of this person that your proposition ‘gels’ – they satisfice a hundred incompatible requirements from the company and its customers to define your one true product, and continue to do so as new features and version 2 products are designed and built. Software people who have migrated out of development into user-facing roles can make an excellent choice. Don’t confuse product management with project management which is a necessary but completely different skill (although in the early days you might find someone good at both).
- Support: the daily job of keeping customers happy becomes bigger and bigger as your customer base grows. Some of this is front-line customer support, directly and engaging with customers 1:1. The other part is taking a higher level view, tracking trends across all customers to plan for the future and spot incipient problems, and this may be termed “Operations”. You may keep these as two distinct roles (CS and Ops) or combine it within one department (sometimes called COPS). For CS you probably want someone who is very good at people management and good under pressure, and for Ops perhaps a slightly more strategic thinker, who is constantly thinking about how to build a process that doesn’t require too many people as you scale.
- Sales: last but definitely not least, is your commercial team. Stereotypically, sales people seem to fall into two camps:
- The vast majority are great at selling existing product into a mature market – just point them at customers and they’ll flog it, with a short-term mindset
- Much rarer are sales people who are great at selling stuff that is maybe slightly unfinished or is an example a completely new category of product. These are often a better match for IoT as new projects tend to be more groundbreaking, making it harder to find customers and involve a more complex sales process thereafter.
In all of these roles, your first hire should have clear “pattern recognition” for your product and customer – even if they haven’t exactly done before. They should have enough experience to go “aha, this is one of those situations. A good interview question might be “what questions should I be asking you?”
Our next blog will follow up with views from Erevena, on general characteristics to look for in view of the scarcity of IoT-specific skills in the market.
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