How to Talk to Your Executives About the Internet of Things

October 20, 2015

For developers tasked with researching IoT technology, there’s no shortage of homework. At some point, you’ll have sorted ZigBee from Bluetooth, and built a test project with a Raspberry Pi board and some connected sensors. You’ve identified IoT platforms like ThingWorx that can enable accelerated application development, and pack the punch of additional features, like big data analytics and distributed computing.  You may have even taken the software for a test drive, building sample IoT applications. If you’ve finally found the solution that’s right for you, then comes the hard part: convincing the rest of the company that the platform is also right for them. That means conveying strategic value, rather than technical features.

The good news is that your executives understand that their business will be changed by the Internet of Things (even if they haven’t fully committed to leading the charge rather than following the pack). If you’re a developer or tech leader looking to influence executive buy-in on IoT, here are some tips that can tilt the balance in your favor.

Execs value customers over technology

Senior management sees technology as a means to an end. Focusing on technical selling points will lose your audience. Instead, work backwards from the customer to your technology. Can the IoT application you’re proposing change your relationship with your customers, or is it just an impressive software stack? That may require you to do some additional research on IoT applications for your industry.

Remember that case studies and industry reports can be more persuasive than technical information and benchmarks. Any important technology requirements you do call out should be couched within the broader requirements they support. For example, you might be gung-ho for out-of-the-box bidirectional data transfer. Meanwhile, your CEO might be more impressed with the billions an automotive manufacturer could have saved by being able to push software patches out, rather than issuing a physical mass recall.

Execs value business transformation over ROI

C-level execs view ROI as a core requirement, but they lose more sleep over entering new markets, portfolio expansion, and competitive disruption. Instead of hyping a 6-month ROI plan, communicate your IoT platform’s ability for the company to pursue innovation—like turning a product offering into a capacity-driven service, or redefining your industry’s gold-standard for customer service. Not only is an ROI commitment a highly dubious pledge to tie your fortunes to, it doesn’t address transformative solutions that are being presented to executives as key to IoT success; if you can tie competitive transformation to your projects, all the better.

Understand the IoT’s effect across the organization

From predictive maintenance to usage-based product engineering, the IoT will change your business (read how here). For example, if you once sold mining equipment, you may find yourself marketing mining solutions, generating performance and environmental data that will be as valuable to your customers as physical products. Expect the IoT to change your entire business—not just one or two departments. Even Marketing and Human Resources departments will feel the impact by the time your business has fully operationalized IoT. Specifically, the data created by connected products will supercharge the all areas of business.

Understanding this impact should shape both how you communicate IoT strategy, and what requirements you demand of an IoT platform. Your job is to communicate business transformation potential was part of your IoT evaluation, but that you aren’t prescribing what those lines of business changes should be.

Think like a developer and a business leader

It’s important to understand what your executives will be listening for, and how to frame your discussion to have the most influence. But this exercise is also important for you as a developer. As mentioned previously, executives don’t care about many of the technical features; they want to know that a platform investment will meet strategic goals—goals that will likely evolve over time (sometimes quick rapidly). You should be evaluating the software with one foot planted in a business leader role. At the end of the day, your platform has to meet not just immediate technical needs.

What does the partner ecosystem look like? Is there a rich marketplace for sourcing preexisting apps? Does the company share case studies that demonstrate success? Do they have customers that have similar business challenges to yours? Will you have control over device and cloud programming options—including platform as a service and direct hosting options? How quickly can you iterate applications? Is the platform future-proofed against inevitable changes to the IoT?

If you can look at the big picture of business requirements that an IoT platform is meant to solve, you’ll likely find a better platform, and do a better job communicating its value to the entire business.

Ready to start your IoT journey with ThingWorx? Join the Developer Zone and start building today!