Top 5 skills needed for the industrial IoT

A blending of technologies to create new IIoT products and services will call for new expertise.

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Over the next five years, the demand for IT workers will get a big boost from an unlikely source: manufacturers looking for networking pros who can help them run the industrial internet of things (IIoT).


Manufacturers in the US, Germany, Japan and China are on the cutting edge of something called Industry 4.0, which is digital transformation applied to manufacturing – bringing with it all the change, opportunities and challenges that represents. And it includes IoT devices that contribute to the manufacturing process.

+Related: What is Industry 4.0?

According to the PwC's 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey, manufacturers across a broad spectrum of industries plan to invest $907 billion per year for five years into Industry 4.0 initiatives.

"A major focus of this investment," the report states, "will be on digital technologies like sensors or connectivity devices, as well as on software and applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES). Companies are also investing significantly in training their employees, hiring new specialists and driving organizational change."

 Needed: broad IIoT skills

To make this vision a reality will take skilled IT people and technologists. And it won't be just programmers and developers: network engineers will be needed to connect everything together and make sure it keeps working. Then, of course, there is a massive cyber security component. Every newly connected device potentially represents another vulnerability.

Agood way to envision all the skills that could be required to bring about an Industry 4.0 transformation is to think about IoT in the context of a highly-autonomous assembly line. It could include 3D printers and other additive manufacturing techniques running alongside computer numerical controlled (CNC) lathes and newer machines capable of executing highly variable, multi-step processes using robotic vision and artificial intelligence.

Add in cobots – collaborative robots that work alongside humans -- and you have a technology landscape that calls not only for multiple skills sets but, in many instances, the blending of those skills to cut across silos and specializations to create whole new categories of technology professionals – ones who understand the convergence of operational technologies and information technologies, said Tanja Reuckert, executive vice president for SAP's IoT & Customer Innovation Unit and the vice chair of the Industrial Internet Consortium's (IIC) steering committee.

"I believe now is the time we have to think cross-discipline or multi-discipline," said Reuckert. "When you talk about the internet of things, people say it is about digitizing the thing. It's actually about digitizing the business process. So I think engineers, network specialist, application developers, big data architects, UI [user interface] designers, business people need to talk to each other and understand each other."

Because of this, many employers will have trouble defining exactly what skills or set of certifications they will need. Industry 4.0 is going to demand that teams of people come together to solve interrelated challenges. Specialists will still be required, of course, but they will also have to broaden their knowledge base to include not just other IT technologies but also the operational technologies like robotics and process automation that make factories and assembly lines work.

According to a 2016 Boston Consulting Group survey, this already is a major challenge. "[R]egardless of company size, respondents cited hiring talent and acquiring new capabilities as the most critical enablers for Industry 4.0 adoption. As one executive explained, 'The needed capabilities don’t currently exist in our company, and we believe they’ll be hard to find.'"

So, with that in mind and in no particular order of importance, here is a short list of the in-demand IT skills manufacturers will need as they begin their Industry 4.0 transitions.

Top 5 IT Skills Needed for Industry 4.0

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