To succeed in IoT, hire a chief data officer

For many businesses, ownership of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies within a number of C-suite titles. At Coca-Cola Enterprises, the CIO oversees IoT. At Amazon, it’s the CTO. At GM, the Chief Infotainment Officer and CTO co-manage IoT.

But IoT demands an interdisciplinary approach, whether the desired outcome is to streamline internal processes, introduce new customer experiences or uncover new revenue. This requires collaboration among multiple business units, some of which traditionally work independently from each other, such as IT and operations.

Many have proposed an addition to the C-suite — the Chief IoT Officer — to ensure IoT remains a top priority. Machina Research predicts that at least one Fortune 500 company will appoint a “CIoTO” in 2016. But, aside from being a mouthful, the title is insufficient for narrowing cross-departmental divides. The CxO that businesses need in today’s connected world is the Chief Data Officer.

The data deluge

From sales and marketing to finance to engineering to actual customers, all parts of a business — no matter how divided by geography, culture or function — produce data, often in larger volumes than they know what to do with. To make matters more difficult, the quantity of information gets multiplied with the connected revolution.

What determines any company’s success is its ability to democratize information across all business functions, roles and levels.

Whether the world will have 20 billion, 34 billion or 50 billion connected devices by 2020, the industry hasn’t reached a consensus. But analysts can agree that those devices generate massive amounts of data — to the tune of 44 trillion gigabytes — so the more important issue is what companies do with all the information, whether they harness it to develop new services, improve internal collaboration processes or find fresh ways to interact with customers.

Earlier this year, EVRYTHNG and Avery Dennison announced they will manufacture 10 billion pieces of connected clothing. Will the apparel line take off? Only time will tell, depending on how effectively EVRYTHNG and Avery Dennison can put these billions of products (read: new data sources) to use in a way that brings value to the consumer’s life.

Data-driven IoT innovation

To move from simply producing data toward deriving value from it, companies should establish a data SWAT team within every business unit. Each team would be responsible for managing data, analyzing it and collaborating with their counterparts within other units. The Chief Data Officer would oversee these SWAT teams, ensuring relevant data gets in the hands of the people who need it most — whether that’s a developer working on a new product, the customer success team checking on the health of customers in a specific geography or IT verifying that systems are running properly.

Effective big data programs promote customer success tracking and accelerate iteration on existing offerings. These are well-documented advantages. A lesser-known benefit of big data analysis is its role as a built-in R&D tool for generating unexpected new product ideas.

Take, for example, home automation and security company Vivint and its doorbell camera, a video monitor that activates a live feed on the homeowner’s phone app when the doorbell rings. Vivint observed the doorbell camera’s popularity among families with young children, particularly those without cell phones, and found that usage spiked on weekdays in the late afternoon. This insight inspired an entirely new IoT product with proven market demand: Vivint Ping, two-way video chat for kids to talk to their working parents after getting home from school.

The data-driven mindset also can help streamline day-to-day operations, saving hours or even days of productivity. Efficiency and agility enable companies to make the most of their IoT investments, while recovering valuable time, money and personnel that can instead be put toward developing new IoT programs or expanding existing ones.

Air Liquide relies on sensors and real-time data analysis to track gas tank stock. Armed with precise inventory information, the industrial gas company knows where and when to send truckers for propane fulfillment. By eliminating unnecessary, time-consuming trips to remote tank sites, Air Liquide frees up resources that it can redirect toward improving and building new IoT capabilities.

Ultimately, what determines any company’s success is its ability to democratize information across all business functions, roles and levels. The right data — across every source and connected device — needs to reach the relevant people, whether it’s within a company or directly to users. That responsibility is more difficult, yet more crucial than ever, in our increasingly digital, connected world. Today’s experts in data management, governance and analytics are best equipped to bring about that success.