2016: The year of the Chief IoT Officer?

If you search for it on or LinkedIn Jobs, you won’t find any openings. Early last year, Gartner called it a “Unicorn role” – “a mythical role that either never existed, or fewer than 10 people ever managed to get it on their business card as a full-time job”. But still, companies from Dell to Machina Research are saying that 2016 will be the year of the Chief IoT Officer (CIoTO), with Machina predicting that this year “at least one Fortune 500 company will appoint a Chief IoT Officer.”

Some baulk at the idea of yet another role being added to the C-suite, but it’s clear that the complexity of the Internet of Things is creating the need for new job functions (and therefore probably titles too).

Systems within systems

The IoT roar coming out of CES in Las Vegas recently shows that we’ve moved from the visionary  pie in the sky to pragmatic consumer and enterprise offers and solutions. The IoT is happening and it’s a serious business.

We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg of what’s possible and what things will need to be connected in creative new ways in the future. It’s not just about delivering a smart lighting device, and the ecosystem of parties involved in providing that service. It’s about ecosystems of ecosystems: That smart lighting device interacts within the smart home ecosystem, which itself will be linked to the connected car ecosystem, which operates within the smart city and so on. It’s the roadmap of challenges idea again, focusing on developing a roadmap of IoE challenges rather than ‘end state’ systems and solutions – because it’s non-stop change, innovation and problem-solving, and  it’s very difficult to determine where things are going to go.

Follow the leader?

Capitalizing on current and future IoT opportunities depends on swift action, a clear strategy and strong leadership. Who is going to provide it?

Traditionally, it was very clear: You had your product manager and your salesperson and they would come together and sell to a customer, whether a consumer or another company. But in today’s complex value fabric, it’s not always clear who is the buyer and seller, and many players are both. And that goes for job roles too. Who would you call at a service provider or Home Depot to set up a connected home collaboration?

How does a business manager manage the technology when it’s a two or three-sided business model? I think that’s where the CIoTO comes in; they can bridge these gaps.

Too many C-Levels?

Don’t we already have enough C-level roles to manage IoT, though?

IoT is all about data, as reflected in the emergence of another relatively new position, the Chief Data Officer but that role is distinct in most companies – managing the overall data strategy, data governance, metadata management, data security and more.

What about the CIO and the CDO? As Simon Wardley notes,

“IoT requires a different set of practices (from design to construction), a different set of techniques and a mix of attitude from ‘pioneer’ to ‘settler’. The underlying components might be quite commodity, but what is being built with [them]is often a process of discovery and exploration. Though there are common lessons, there’s a very different mind-set and value chain relationships to IoT…What I’m saying is Physical + Digital is not the same as Digital.

“Now, if you’re one of those very lucky organizations that have a strategic CIO then you’re ok, they’ll adapt and muddle through. If you’re not and you’ve had to bolt on a Chief Digital Officer, then you might have a problem. Digital is not the same as IoT and unfortunately I’ve met quite a few Chief Digital Officers [who]are about as un-strategic as the CIOs they were meant to replace. If you’ve got one of these (and don’t be surprised if you do) then you’re going to need a Chief Internet of Things Officer.”

Chief IoT Officer: Vacancy

The CIoTO role/person description could include:

  • Has a deep understanding of the company, industry, customer and the complete value fabric – enabling them to act quickly on the threats and opportunities presented by the IoT
  • Owns the IoT strategy and manages progress against it
  • Orchestrates collaboration between departments, functions and partners
  • Understands the intersection(s) of IT,  business and marketplace
  • Understands and manages the process, cultural, regulatory or technical challenges of capitalizing on the opportunities offered by IoT

Maybe the Chief IoT Officer job function goes by another name at the moment – maybe it’s being rolled into the CIO/CDO job for now? Maybe companies haven’t assigned clear responsibility for these things and they’re just getting by?

In any case, organizations are adapting to the IoT and the new demands of managing the Physical + Digital.

I’d love your take on this. Who should manage these complex IoT issues? Do we need Chief IoT Officers? Do you know of any already in place?

Or, do we need to take a step back and call in the Chief Simplification Officer to prevent the organization chart getting even more complicated?

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About The Author

Craig Bachmann is Senior Director, Open Digital Program, at TM Forum.


  1. Personally, I think CIoT is rather silly. IoT is just another iteration of how technology is evolving, no different from digital, then Cloud. The CTO and CIO are sufficient – both need to be strategic enough to keep ahead of the curve and how the business will need to evolve to leverage each cycle of innovation.

  2. Hardly. IoT is nothing but the unneeded sticker for ICT applications which have existed for decades, continuously developing with HW & SW means available. Only those who can’t do anything, publish their no-results with such stickers.

  3. Hmmm… definitely maybe.. for some companies… at some point 🙂

    While Jeff Kaplan makes some compelling points in his article, and certainly some savvy companies will look to take an early lead in exploiting enterprise-wide IoT, I am not sure most companies need a new position, at least in the longer term.

    In thinking about this, I gave myself about 3 minutes to write down all the ‘new’ CxO positions vociferously called for in the last few years. Off the top of my head, I came up with 15 new C-level positions. It seems every time something gets interesting, we need a new C-level. If companies actually hired all these people, would they realize the hyped return on investment?

    Almost two years ago I wrote a small book on customer experience. During the research phase, I asked a successful CEO if he planned to hire a Chief Customer Officer. He immediately said no, that focusing on the customer was the responsibility of all of the management team, and he had told them this and restructured their performance criteria and incentives accordingly.

    I think organizations would do well to look at IoT (and other emerging areas) and ask themselves 4 questions.

    1. what’s the business value?
    2. what competencies do we need to achieve this value?
    3. How can we develop these competencies in a timely manner?
    4. How can we measure progress and insure success?

    There will likely be lots of different answers to these questions. If one answer is “we need to go unicorn hunting” then so be it, but to me, this is really more about developing competency than finding the newest Superman

  4. Christian Legare on

    I am sorry to see the feedback you got.

    I am an embedded systems manager. I develop and sell embedded software. I have been in touch with companies to answer their IoT requirements.
    I can tell you the IT guys (CIO first) don’t understand the “Things” in IoT. There is a huge gap to fill between the embedded devices technology (also referred as Operation Technologies / OT) and the Information Technologies (IT).

    The C levels we have now, don’t understand these two realms.
    Call it CIoTO or other, the current C levels need to learn fast or get the right people on their teams.

    I am a C level executive in my own organization and I understand what is missing.

    There are no technological roadblock to IoT (Security, latency and all the other things all have solutions coming up).
    The obstacles to IoT are building a positive business case and understanding of what needs to be done. And, this all starts at the management level.

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      Craig Bachmann on

      Very interesting comments – I am sure I will hear more this week at the IoT Tech Expo in London. From what I see, Christian is correct – OT and IT have a gap and senior management has to come up to speed. Right now, given the hype curve, most think IoT is very easy or very difficult. Thanks, again for the thoughts!

  5. Current legacy Operators have mostly legacy Organizations which may include CTO’s and CIO’s, both had key roles in the traditional world. But as current Wireless Operators evolve and re shape, there will be a need to cut across traditional functionality and delivery. As the speed of new development is been driven by the Customers Ap requirements demand in new “future proofed” organizations will increase also. Hence new titles for new futures is de facto.

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