When you google »Internet of Things« (IoT), you receive lots of statistics about market potentials, the number of connected devices, or the amount of data. Also, there are many stories on how we can benefit from IoT in different aspects of our lives: mobility, energy, health, industry, etc. However, only after a few months I came across a research body assessing a central human and socio-economic perspective – key skills needed in IoT. The study I refer to originates in Germany and is around the smart house as a real-life IoT application. The potential of the German market is 41.5 million households by 2020. I had the chance to talk to Sirkka Freigang, one of the five authors of the study, working for the isw Institute for Structural Policy and Economic Development.
Sirkka, what was the jump start for this IoT study, which was sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and why did you choose the »smart house« as application area?
As one of the major technological and social trends, the Internet of Things will have a significant impact on key skills of people working in adjacent environments. Before we started the study work, the Ministry researched that because of the expected short-term market developments smart house was the most promising one. Other areas on the shortlist were logistics and industrial production. One of the ultimate goals of this type of key skill studies is to assess if curricula for professional education in Germany need to be adapted as new technologies emerging from the Internet of Things find their way in our working world. We agreed to six focal areas within a connected home or building: HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning), major appliances, consumer electronics (TV, gaming, HiFi), security (fire control, alarm), facility management, and service robotics. Based on these areas, we conducted 60 interviews with 76 experts from suppliers and trendsetting companies in the smart house market.
What are the key skills and qualifications for smart home jobs in IoT?
We came to the conclusion that smart house professionals need five skill sets, which are relevant for both: system integration and consulting / sales.
The fundamental skill set is cross-domain understanding. Only if you understand how these areas interact, users will experience benefits from the Internet of Things. IT and telco skills are inevitable, too, as most things will be IP-ready soon. So understanding interfaces and networks is an asset; blended with a very up-to-date topic: The new IPv6 standard and IP addresses.
Decisive for smart house solution selling: soft skills
We found out that there is a new generation of soft skills needed. IoT technology as well as the smart house market are superfast environments. Every week, new suppliers and solution providers pop up; new products are available; people, who are integrating and consulting on / selling smart house solutions need to be open for this agile marketplace. English skills are necessary for a very practical reason: Instruction manuals are sometimes only available in English.
However, I want to point out two observations from our expert interviews: In particular for the people in the system consulting and sales domains, they need fundamental customer care and sales psychology skills. In the end, it is technology you sell – but they need to make their pitches talking in their customer’s language, knowing the living situations in a smart home or the needs of a shopping mall, supermarket or office building. A mom and dad looking for a solution for their family home have no clue about bus systems, servers or operating systems.
And second, because of the fast moving market and technology development, smart house professionals cannot afford to be a jack-of-all-trades – they need to build and maintain a community of experts, whose knowledge they can leverage for certain areas – and they need to blend this with data from online trade media or even Facebook. What we heard in the majority of our interviews is really that these soft skills are considered decisive in smart house solution consulting and selling. We learned that in particular system integrators see room for improvement here.
Which initiatives have emerged from this study?
Based on the results of this study, my institute received funding for the Female Smart House Project –specifically to promote emerging jobs around smart houses and making them attractive for women. When the leader of our institute initially came to me with this idea, I found it rather strange; but soon I recognized one thing: Whenever I was a speaker at an event or contributor in a workshop on smart home, I was the only woman. Everybody in the community knew me, because my gender made me unique. When we pitched industrial players for their membership, only a few told us that they are not yet up for this idea. Most of them were very, very positive and considered our approach as an innovative investment in their future, helping them also in their HR diversity strategies.
What is your favorite IoT application – existing or futuristic?
My very personal IoT dream as an education expert is a fully connected study room: We spend so much time in conference rooms, in auditoriums or at school. I am convinced that the Internet of Things could make our information exchange and learning experiences much more efficient – and more fun.
Thank you for the interview, Sirkka.
For all of you out there in IoT, do you want to add to the list of skills for smart house professionals? Are there any further skills necessary for IoT scenarios in other areas? If you think so, please engage in our discussion!