IoT projects demand new skills from IT project managers

2 months ago 19
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If you think regular IT project managers can run IoT projects, you might be miscalculating. Here's why.

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Image: Metamorworks/iStockPhoto

In June 2021, the State of Indiana rolled out a project management framework that was specifically designed for the Internet of Things. Other IoT PM programs are likely to follow because running an IoT project is different than running a standard IT project, and new skills must be learned

SEE: Edge computing adoption to increase through 2026; organizations cautious about adding 5G to the mix (TechRepublic Premium)

Like IT projects, IoT projects demand managers who have excellent soft skills (i.e. communications, collaboration, negotiation, empathy, etc.), and the ability to manage a multi-disciplinary team through a series of tasks in order to achieve an overall objective. The project manager also tends to be a task-oriented individual who never loses track of the critical path to project success, and who has the ability to shift strategy in order to circumvent the project roadblocks that inevitably arise.

IoT project management has all of that, but it also demands an additional set of skills that IT project managers may not have.

SEE: Future of farming: AI, IoT, drones, and more (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

These skills include:

A more comprehensive security focus

Security is an element of all IT projects, but it is significantly more complex when IoT is involved. This is due to the diversity of IoT solutions in the marketplace. Many devices come with proprietary operating systems and communications protocols, and a majority have weak security at best.

Enterprise resource planning, manufacturing execution system and human resources information system vendors have created middleware platforms of their own to deal with the diversity of IoT so that IoT can be translated and ingested into their systems with the middleware, but that doesn't necessarily solve every IoT security issue on a project.

SEE: Can IoT eliminate the need for ERP and MES in manufacturing? (TechRepublic) 

Sometimes, security has to be manually developed for the IoT being installed in a project. In other cases, security tweaking is needed. In almost every case, security becomes a separate project line item for every IoT solution being implemented and adds to the duration of the project.

With security assuming such a central role on projects, IoT PMs should be as conversant and knowledgeable about IoT security as they are with application development. Some PMs may need to take an IoT security overview course to familiarize themselves with IoT security terminology and techniques.

Skill in vendor management

There are more than 600 different IoT vendors in the marketplace. Many of them are shoestring startups that strive to get their products to market first, without securing or debugging them. This practice impacts IoT projects because there are glitches in IoT devices that affect project timelines Often, resolutions can only be achieved with active support from the IoT vendor.

SEE: Microsoft's Azure IoT platform helps make farming greener as well as smarter (TechRepublic)

IT project managers have experience working with vendors during project problem resolutions, but what's different about IoT projects is that there are more IoT vendors and more opportunities for things to go wrong. In some cases IoT vendor support is poor or non-existent, and you have to come up with your own workaround.

This makes the ability to manage vendor relationships a mandatory skill for IoT project managers. 

Straddling the worlds of IT and operations

Unlike IT project managers who can be engulfed almost solely with IT personnel working on their projects, IoT project managers must work with both IT and operations personnel. If a PM is implementing IoT sensors on a manufacturing line, the IoT project team will contain a mix of IT and manufacturing staff.

SEE: IoT, AI, analytics and telematics can help small businesses improve their efficiency and bottom line (TechRepublic) 

The IoT project manager must understand the needs of both the IT and operational sides of the project so he or she can bring both sides of the project team together to get the project done.

Training as a scheduled project line item

Many IT projects don't formally contain training as a line item. IT considers a project complete as soon as installation is achieved, and team members move on. Not so with IoT projects.

In an IoT project, there are major changes in operational processes created by the IoT. Employees need time to adjust and feel comfortable with these work process changes, and training is required to do that.

Conducting effective training should be a major milestone in every IoT project. Any attempt to understate training as a project line item in an IoT project will put the entire project at risk for failure.

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