The Internet of Things Is Really the Internet of People

By Mark Hurd - Originally Posted on LinkedIn

As I speak with CEOs around the world, our conversations invariably come down to this central question: Can we change our corporate cultures and the ways we train and reward our people as rapidly as new technology is changing the work we do, the products we make and how we engage with customers?

It’s a critical consideration given today’s pace of disruption, which already is straining traditional management models and HR strategies. Winning companies will bring innovation and vision to their employees and partners by attracting people who will thrive in this emerging world of relentless data, predictive analytics and unlimited what-if scenarios.

So, where are we going to find employees who are as familiar with complex data as I am with orderly financial statements and business plans? I’m not just talking about high-end data scientists who most certainly will sit at or near the top of the new decision-making pyramid. Global organizations will need creative and motivated people who will devote their time to manipulating, reviewing, analyzing, sorting and reshaping data to drive business and delight customers.

This might seem evident, but my conversations with business people across the globe indicate that only a small number of companies get it.

In the past few years, executives have been busy keeping pace with seismic upheavals, including the rise of social customer engagement, the rapid acceleration of product-development cycles and the relentless move to mobile-first.

But all of that, I think, is the start of an uphill climb to the top of a roller-coaster. Today, about 10 billion devices across the globe are connected to the Internet. In a couple of years, that number will probably double, and not because we will have bought 10 billion more computers, smart phones and tablets.

This unprecedented explosion of Big Data is being triggered by the Internet of Things, which is another way of saying that the numerous intelligent devices touching our everyday lives are all becoming interconnected. Home appliances, food, industrial equipment, pets, pharmaceutical products, pallets, cars, luggage, packaged goods, athletic equipment, even clothing will be streaming data. Some data will provide important information about how to run our businesses and lead healthier lives. Much of it will be extraneous.

How does a CEO cope with this unimaginable volume and velocity of data, much less harness it to excite and delight customers?

Here are three things CEOs must do to tackle this challenge:

1) Take care of your employees, take care of your customers.

Larry Ellison recently noted that the two most important priorities for any CEO today revolve around people: Taking care of your employees and taking care of your customers. Companies in today’s hypercompetitive business environment simply won’t be able to survive unless they’ve got world-class people at all levels of the organization.

CEOs must demonstrate a commitment to employees by becoming champions for HR systems that empower every employee to fully understand his or her job, how it ties into the corporate framework, what’s expected of them, what training is available, and how they can use an embedded social network to communicate, collaborate and excel.

Over the next several years, many of the world’s top industrialized economies will see a turnover in the workforce on an unprecedented scale. Across the United States, Europe, China and Japan, the “baby boomer” generation will be retiring and, by 2020, we’ll see turnovers in those regions ranging from 10 to 30 percent.

How will companies replace all that brainpower, experience and know-how? How will CEOs perpetuate the best elements of their corporate cultures in the midst of this profound turnover?

The challenge will be daunting, but it can be met with world-class HR technology. As companies begin replacing up to 30 percent of their workforce, they will need thousands of new types of data-native workers to exploit the Internet of Things in the service of the Internet of People. The shift in corporate mindset here can’t be overstated. The CEO has to be at the forefront of this new way of recruiting, training, motivating, aligning and developing truly 21-century talent.

2) Start thinking today about the Internet of People.

Some forward-looking companies have begun pursuing the “democratization of data.” This allows more people within a company greater access to data that can help them make better decisions, move more quickly and keep pace with the changing interests and demands of their customers. As a result, we’ve seen organizations flatten out, growing numbers of well-informed people authorized to make decisions without corporate approval and a movement of engagement away from headquarters to the point of contact with the customer.

These are profound changes, and I’m a huge proponent. As I think about what the next few years will bring as companies become deluged with unprecedented streams of data, I’m convinced that we’ll need dramatically different organizational structures, decision-making models, risk-management profiles and reward systems.

For example, if a car company’s marketing department mines incoming data to determine that customers are shifting rapidly toward neon-green models, how many layers of approval, review, analysis and sign-off will be needed before the factory starts cranking out more neon-green cars? Will we continue to have organizations where too many people are empowered to say “No” and too few are allowed to say “Yes”? If so, how will those companies be able to compete in a world in which customers have more choices, instant access to more information and less loyalty than ever before?

That’s why I think CEOs need to begin thinking about this problem right now, not in a year or two when competitors are already reshaping their organizations to match the marketplace’s new realities.

3) Partner with universities to help create a new type of highly skilled workers.

Several years ago, universities introduced new undergraduate as well as graduate-level programs in analytics and informatics as the business need for deeper insights into the booming world of data began to explode. Today, as the growth rate of data continues to soar, we know that the Internet of Things will only intensify that growth. Moreover, as Big Data fuels insights that can be shaped into products and services that generate revenue, the demand for data scientists and data specialists will go on unabated.

Beyond that top-level expertise, companies are going to need data-native thinkers at all levels of the organization. Where will this new type of worker come from? I think it’s incumbent on the business community to collaborate with universities to develop new curricula designed to turn out graduates who can capitalize on the data-driven world that the Internet of Things is surely going to create.

These new workers will create opportunities to help their companies in fields as diverse as product design, customer service, marketing, manufacturing and distribution. They will become innovative leaders in fashioning an entirely new type of workforce and organizational structure optimized to fully exploit the Internet of Things so that it becomes a high-value enabler of the Internet of People.

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Mark Hurd is President of Oracle Corporation and a member of the company's Board of Directors. He joined Oracle in 2010, bringing more than 30 years of technology industry leadership, computer hardware expertise, and executive management experience to his role with the company. As President, Mr. Hurd oversees the corporate direction and strategy for Oracle's global field operations, including marketing, sales, consulting, alliances and channels, and support. He focuses on strategy, leadership, innovation, and customers.

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