IoT Hiring Spree: Solution Providers On The Hunt For Team Of 'Problem Solvers'

Solution providers are going on a hiring spree to keep up with the Internet of Things, looking not for employees with a strong technical background but those who are problem solvers and can specialize in line-of-business IoT solutions.

CRN spoke with a number of solution providers at the XChange Solution Provider 2017 conference, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company, and they all said they are looking to build up their IoT business by acquiring new talent – specifically, engineers who are also strategic problem-solvers.

Luis Morinigo, practice lead and business development director for the Internet of Things and Advanced Analytics Group at New Signature, a Washington D.C.-based solution provider, said he has worked to build up a team that could pinpoint business issues, as opposed to merely having technical skills.

[Related: XChange: The 'Fractured' Internet Of Things Market Desperately Needs Channel Players]

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"When building the right team [for IoT], I like to say I hired business problem solvers because I can always train them about the technologies," he said. "For solutions, you have to sit down with customers and look at what the business needs."

New Signature helped The Hershey Company save hundreds of thousands of dollars, decrease waste and create a leaner operation through connecting its infrastructure so that popular candy – like licorice – could be tracked digitally for weight and other factors along every stage of the production and packaging processes.

New Signature used Microsoft's Azure technology for the IoT solution, but Morinigo said his team was more focused on pinpointing the problem that Hershey faced – waste across its production line – than the actual technology. "We have a well-rounded team with a diverse set of skills," he said.

According to a survey of vendors, service providers and solution providers by 451 Research, 46 percent of respondents said they face an IoT skills shortage. Meanwhile, 71 percent of IoT survey respondents will train existing IT administrators on IoT security and 50 percent will hire new staff.

"You have to fill in the blanks, like it or not, because IoT is so complex and as you're waiting for those skill sets to come on, you'll have to hire someone to help you," said Laura DiDio, research director at the IoT division of 451 Research. "We're seeing nearly three-quarters of organizations are increasing their staffing levels. We haven't seen until now a real recognition and movement on the part of the majority of enterprises to up their staffing levels – now they have to because they're looking for data analytics, security, compliance specialization."

Ron Brown, vice president of operations at Digital West Networks, a San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based MSP, said the company is hiring strategically around IoT, particularly around app development and those who are able to translate their skills to line of business.

Digital West Networks started talking to a vineyard about its environmental controls, including keeping track of temperature and soil data across the vineyard. The process involved sitting down and talking about how to improve the vineyard's business, as opposed to merely desktop support or selling printers, Brown said.

"We sat down with an existing customer and asked the owner what problems haven’t you been able to solve from a business standpoint? He gave us a huge list, and we could dial in on the soil sample and moisture readings," Digital West Networks' Brown said. "That's been interesting – it's almost less about the tech and more about the business."

Tolga Tarhan, founder and CTO of Sturdy Networks, an Amazon Web Services partner based in Irvine, Calif., said the company built up a team with hardware, firmware and software engineers, as well as DevOps engineers, who understood the "landscape" of vertical markets for IoT solutions.

"The opportunity is huge, but you need someone who is going to help deploy that predicted 20.8 billion devices by 2020," he said. "You need solutions architects that understand the landscape."

In addition to problem solvers, solution providers are looking for employees who have experience in certain vertical markets and understand the challenges they face.

John Sutton, federal account executive at Zones, an Auburn, Wash.-based Internet of Things solution provider, said the company hired employees who will bring their vertical expertise to its IoT division.

Zones specializes in building automation – the solution provider has worked to build up a couple of large facilities, as well as implementing smart lighting, heating and air conditioning systems. The company hired a facilities manager to better help its IoT practice understand the business challenges building managers face.

"We hired an employee who was a facilities manager and who did work with facilities and knew the market," he said. "We then built a team with a combination of engineers on the network or IP side. Part of IoT is starting with hiring knowledgeable employees."