FEATURE
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With the Internet of Things train leaving the station, a key to staying relevant could be a new "C" in the C-suite.

New eras call for new leadership roles. Back around 2000, Vice Presidents of eBusiness first appeared as companies migrated their business processes online. A decade later, Chief Data Officers and Chief Innovation Officers began springing up to seize the opportunities in big data. Today, as the Internet of Things (IoT) takes off, some observers say it's time for a new C-level exec—a Chief Disruption Officer. Or perhaps a Chief IOT Officer.

"The time is now—we've got to really get serious and more pragmatic about IoT," says Syed Hoda, chief marketing officer at ParStream, a leading IoT analytics platform company in Cupertino, Calif. "With IoT now shifting from hype to reality, we have to start doing more IoT rather than continuing to preach IoT. Where do we generate value? How do we drive change? How do we transform our own operations and the industry using IoT."

"I do believe there needs to be a singular and strong guiding hand to lead companies into their own connected future," says Ken Forster, chief operations officer at PLAT.ONE, an enterprise-grade IoT application enablement platform. "It's a future where products become products-as-a-service, value chains are transformed, and the very notions of manufacturers, service providers and operators begin to blend."

A Pragmatic Dreamer

The role of Chief Disruption Officer or Chief IOT Officer, as Hoda calls it, requires equal parts big-picture dreamer and pragmatist. Hoda says the position calls for a thought leader who can think strategically about the company, industry and the complete value chain in their sector. She must also be a natural orchestrator who can recognize areas of collaboration between departments, functions and partners. And she must be a change management leader who thrives at the intersection of IT and business.

Forster says a Chief Digital Disruption Officer needs to combine industry domain experience with strong business development skills, as well as IT and OT (operational technology) skills. "It's someone that can see the customer, company and industry through broad, holistic lenses, and yet drill down on specific challenges, be they process, social, regulatory or technical," Forster says. "It helps as well to have a good grounding in telecommunications."

After dreaming big to help define what's possible with IoT, a Chief IoT Officer must quickly translate aspirations into action—through a process of what Hoda calls rational experimentation. "I believe in a crawl-walk-run approach," he says. "There's a danger of aiming too high, deciding to solve world hunger and in 12 months having nothing to show for it. Companies get intoxicated with trying to do too much, too quickly. They have to establish achievable goals."

So the job would also include establishing quantifiable metrics to track success—something two-thirds of companies overlook, according to a global survey of over 200 IoT stakeholders sponsored by ParStream.

In addition to threats from nascent technologies and business models, a Chief Disruption Officer can expect to face resistance to the changes she proposes. Forster says this can take the form of organizational inertia and fear, as well as disbelief in the sheer power and speed of disruption inherent in IoT. "Think of Uber and Airbnb," Forster says. "If you were a taxi company two years ago or even a hotel a year ago, would you have believed your business could have been disrupted that quickly?"

An Essential Change Agent

Hoda, who worked at Cisco for 13 years before joining ParStream, sees parallels between what's happening now with IoT and the rise of eBusiness circa 1999-2000. Back then, he says, the leading companies were quick to appoint a senior corporate-wide leader for eBusiness (vice president, for instance), because they recognized the need for a change agent who could serve as a bridge between strategy, process and technology. Those who did not have strong senior-level buy-in were late to the party and often lost market share to their competitors. Hoda expects this trend to continue with IoT and its next phase, the Internet of Everything (IoE).

So who needs to hire a Chief Disruption Officer or Chief IoT Officer? In short, any company that views IoT as a potential strategic advantage or that faces a threat of digital disruption. That cuts a pretty broad swath, Forster says, encompassing everything from service industries and manufacturing to consumer goods and heavy industry.

The role is more critical in some sectors than others. If you're in the home automation industry and somehow underestimate the potential impact of IoT, you'll be lucky to survive five years, Hoda says. "There's a reason Google paid $3.2 billion for (smart thermostat maker) Nest," he adds. Ditto the aircraft engine industry, where GE Aviation now sells jet engines "as a service," adopting the "power-by-the-hour" model pioneered by Rolls Royce half a century ago.

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About Laurence Cruz @zasque5

Laurence Cruz is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.