How Executives can start their journey with emerging technologies: My Interview with IoT Business Strategist Dimitrios Spiliopoulos

Today, I welcome Dimitrios who is a passionate IoT business Strategist. He helps companies to start their IoT journey, either for adopting IoT solutions or building IoT enabled products (smart connected products). Dimitrios offers training, mentoring and consulting around the business subjects related to Smart Cities, Connected Manufacturing & Constructions, Connected products and services and in the broader Industry 4.0 space. He is Adjunct Professor in the MBA of IE Business School where he offers his business focused Internet of Things course. He is also offering services to O2-Telefonica as contractor for activities related to Client Consulting, Business Development, Propositions and Partnership.

In this interview, I have asked Dimitrios to provide his perspective about the main challenges for Executives to embrace emerging technologies.

Based on your experience as IoT Business Strategist, what are the main challenges that executives face when it comes to embrace emerging technologies, like Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, for their business?

When it comes to embrace emerging technologies, like IoT, Big Data, etc. there are several challenges that Executives face.

The challenges of course depend on the company, the industry and even the country. These challenges are related to both technical and business issues. The technical challenges can be resolved sooner or later in the most cases. However, the challenges related to leadership and people are the difficult ones, which usually become the reason of not starting a tech project or even if a project starts then it fails. The challenges also vary based on where each company is in the journey.

I would like to focus on Executives in companies that now start their digital journey, they operate in industrial B2B markets, such as constructions, manufacturing, supply chain, oil and gas and more. I feel that the challenges there are the most.

First, there is so much buzz around emerging technologies such as IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, etc. Often, Executives struggle to understand from where to start, how and even why to start. Vendors are trying to sell their digital services, without demonstrating any clear differentiation and focusing mainly on the short-term results, approaches that definitely do not help the Executives to start their Digital Transformation initiatives.

Executives are also under pressure to innovate, but without having the time and mindset to analyse what problem they need to solve, why and how. In addition, there is often the perception that a company can start and deliver many different tech projects at the same time, which is not possible in reality for the most companies. As you can easily conclude, there is lots of confusion and even frustration when a company try to start its digital journey.

Moreover, Executives often face the issue of not having the people with the right skills in their company or teams who could help them analyse what are the key needs they have to solve, which technologies can serve these needs and how to start. Even if there are few employees with tech skills or mix of tech-business skills, they are busy with their everyday work and they don’t have time and energy for ‘innovation’. If you add that in almost every company there are many silos, among departments, culture and even data silos then the challenges are significant. The Executives are required to break the silos and create an open and collaborative culture, but this is very difficult and takes long time to achieve it.

All the above doesn’t help Executives to prove the ROI and a positive business case as there is no collaboration, limited knowledge and time and lack of clear strategy. This creates a continuous problem which is the lack of trust to the employees, to the vendors but also to the leadership team. In these circumstances, innovation can be considered as a painful exercise.

Thanks. These are issues I see every day too. As resistance to change is very common in organisations, what advices would you give to Executives to be more comfortable in starting using technology to improve their business?

Resistance to change is very common, but if you ask Executives today almost everyone understands the need to embrace emerging technologies and in general digitalisation. However, as discussed above the challenges for a leader are plenty and vary.

There are no magic solutions or advices, but I would focus my recommendations on three main pillars which are also interconnected.

  • Create and support culture of innovation. By innovation I don’t mean to start bringing technology in the organisation. For example, to connect existing products to make them smart (IoT), just for the sake of technology. By innovation I mean the Executives to create the environment that will empower and foster curiosity, continuous learning, experimentation and recognise the employees who take risks. This means that Executives need to give time to their employees to learn, experiment and try new things in or out the organisation. It means also that the Executives need to review the incentives, KPIs and how the company approaches change. Executives would be good to get support from external advisors to help them create this kind of culture.
  • Up-skill existing talent and recruit new and diverse talent. Create a recruiting strategy that will bring in the organisation talents from different industries who understand how emerging technologies can solve old and big problems. It is also very important to enable the existing employees to learn new things, to understand the benefits and challenges of emerging technologies, what new business models they can create, etc. etc. This can be considered as up-skilling or even re-skilling. How to achieve the continuous education within the organisation? Well, in our days there are many ways. There are so many online platforms that offer courses, but there are also experts on the business of Emerging Technologies that can offer internal seminars or workshops customised to the needs of the organisation. Moreover, methods that motivate and reward the employees who are trying to learn new things during their work or at their free time. Maybe designing clear career paths or showing trust to these motivated persons by giving them opportunities to lead some exciting digital projects.
  • Promote open collaboration among internal teams, but also create a dynamic partner ecosystem for Co-Innovation, Go-To-Market and Product Development. Easy to say but difficult to do it, I know. However, this area should be a focus of each executive and it is directly related to the culture of the company. Innovation is a matter of collaboration as there is no person or company that can create innovation in short time without collaboration. Internally, executives could try to adapt the KPIs, incentives and organisational structure in a way that supports collaborations across departments and rewards the collaborative people and projects. Externally, it is good the company to start building relationships with start-ups, universities and corporates that are looking for partners and not just clients (from transactional model to partnership model). Participate in pilots, in Digital Catapults or even alliances that are aiming to collaborate, learn from each other and co-innovate. In many cases, it may be good even to work together with a competitor in order to speed up R&D, or market development. This is what we call coopetition instead of competition. Partnerships also with coaches and digital strategists who can understand the pain points, the culture and the needs of an organisation can also help executives start smoothly their digital journey.

Thank you so much Dimitrios. Such an important topic with very good insights! 

Andrea Petrone

Strategic and Leadership Advisor, Executive Coach

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