Anna Vega discovers how women are contributing to the Internet of Things (IoT).
“IoT is a tool, an expertise, and an enabler that’s set to impact across all sectors, which is what makes it so interesting and also potentially very disruptive,” said Lorna Goulden, director at Creative Innovation Works.
Svetlana Grant, project director, Future IoT Networks at GSMA, agrees: “The IoT is likely to apply to every single business out there, in the same way that the internet currently does.”
IoT-enabling ‘control and sensing’ capabilities are taking up residence in a new layer on top of the current internet infrastructure, which in turn is comprised mainly of ‘information and communication’ capabilities.
The new layer allows for “unprecedented levels of insight into every aspect of our lives”, according to Goulden. We will have insight into our bodies, homes, cars, schools, farms, businesses, cities and even our planet – with the ability to exert varying degrees of control based on these insights.
The new capabilities necessitate a wide diversity of perspectives, mindsets, and skills. “Not just on the technology front, but also economically, environmentally, socially, legally, and politically,” said Goulden.
Goulden argues for a shift away from the predominantly technological, and often quantitative, discussion surrounding the IoT, such as how many ‘things’ will be attached to the internet believing instead that more qualitative questions need to be asked. What does the IoT mean for vertical sectors? What will they be doing differently? What value will the IoT provide, for whom and how? And how will people’s activities, behaviours and experiences change?
Goulden is asking questions that many women in the Internet of Things are likely to ask.
M2M Now decided to investigate further, interviewing some of the key women in our sector.
Is the IoT an interesting sector for women to work in?
The sheer diversity of applications is hailed as the most interesting aspect of working in the IoT space by our interviewees, who say that device connectivity provides them with ‘endless’ application opportunities.
“IoT is one of the most diverse fields you can work in,” said Andrea Sroczynski, head of region Germany at horizontal IoT infrastructure provider, Telenor Connexion. “By having an open and creative mind, you can broaden your horizon and
get insights into so many different industries. Every day is a day to explore connecting new things.”
“It is very fulfilling to be a part of cutting edge technology that impacts our lives and businesses every day,” said Terra Bastolich, VP of sales North America at NetComm Wireless.
“The IoT is on fire with new entrants and new ideas,” observed Laura Taylor, director of marketing communications at Ethertronics. “I see it as an untapped market with a diversity of applications that will translate into major opportunities for us to integrate our solutions.”
The growth in the market is causing excitement. According to Sroczynski, the industry has moved on from “boring sounding telematic data and M2M topics” where machines were the focus, to centering more on services and “the end users of the machines”.
“Until recently, technology products have been the preserve of early adopters, largely male, niche-end. That is changing because the smartphone sits in our pocket now, and the technology is available to everyone,” said Nina Bhatia, commercial director at British Gas.
So why is IoT interesting for women particularly?
“The question is rather, why should it not be? Women constitute half the world’s population,” said Sroczynski.
“Being a highly male dominated industry (as most technology is), women have an advantage to stand out, have a voice, and empower others to do the same,” said Bastolich.
Women are set to play a huge part in delivering the IoT vision. A range of abilities the IoT requires are traits often naturally attributed to women, such as practical problem solving, networking and multi-tasking. Creative thinking, especially around product development and service delivery, is an integral part of the IoT proposition.
“New players, especially women, have the ability to really make their mark in this sector through creative, outside-the-box thinking – whether through research, product development and design, or marketing,” Taylor explains.
“I find that women are strong problem solvers, networkers, and multi-taskers; which are all critical to successfully putting these solutions together. It’s a natural fit!” Bastolich said.
“Women have an important voice on the kind of products and services that need to be developed, particularly as they relate to in and around the home. Many of these products and services have traditionally been developed by and for men,” said Bhatia, who also leads the Connected Homes division of BG, which she set up last year.
“There is room for women to contribute to the functionality, design and delivery of these products and we’re absolutely seeing that in Connected Homes today,” Bhatia continued.
According to Laetitia Jay, VP M2M at Gemalto, the IoT appeals to women’s sensitivity and curiosity. Jay argues that women are “sensitive to what the market tells us.” By paying attention to “new needs popping up,” women are able to find “the proper way to technically satisfy them”. Jay says curiosity helps women better anticipate needs, because as women, we “always keep an eye on what happens around us.”
The ecosystem and understanding the customer
Women who are not so IT-focused can still find a space in this IoT ecosystem, according to Sroczynski. The IoT is not only about technical issues, but also about finding creative business models, designing services and new products.
It is this ecosystem which makes the IoT particularly appealing compared to other IT related sectors, according to many of the women interviewed.
“It is an entirely new capability provided by the combination of different technologies, from sensors and actuators to data transfer, storage and analysis,” said Goulden.
According to Bhatia, the appeal is in understanding the customer problems that applications can solve. If you just present applications as technology or ICT, it can be limiting.
“IoT plays to people who have a strong design aesthetic, to understand what customers need, and who are prepared to work in multidisciplinary teams,” Bhatia explains. “It’s about making a difference. Hive makes a significant difference in the ways people run their homes and that’s exciting.” Hive Active Heating is a Connected Homes initiative from British Gas, to control heating and hot water remotely.
So, in order to generate creative ideas for building services around customer’s products, it’s important to get input based on knowledge from experiences throughout the ecosystem.
“Coming from real IT development engineering and now heading up business development, means I need to be out in the field meeting a lot of diverse customers from different departments,” said Sroczynski. “It’s not only the IT department, but also the company’s services, operations, marketing, R&D and accounting.”
“It’s all about creating these efficiencies and solving the customer’s problems,” said Bastolich.
Opportunities in business models and user cases
“One of the biggest opportunities I have experienced is the growing recognition that IoT innovation requires technology integration and development to become more user-case driven, facilitated by multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder and often multi-company engagement,” explains Goulden.
Goulden argues that user-cases need to be complemented with dynamic, value-driven business models that are designed to grow and develop over time – as the IoT value proposition itself evolves.
“IoT is so new that a lot of business models are not very well developed so you have to go in and do a lot of work in building the value proposition,” notes Grant.
“At Telenor Connexion, when we design solutions, we always start with the end user in mind. What benefits should it bring, who are the different stakeholders, what are the company USPs we can promote? The technical solution behind this is then tailored for these needs, with the infrastructure at the heart of the solution,” Sroczynski said.
Delivering IoT projects is challenging due to ecosystem complexity, which requires established partnerships and a solid understanding of the issues involved.
“It takes time to evolve yourself in the industry. It’s not a quick break-into area. Most applications involve numerous partners to accomplish the solution,” Bastolich explained.
As a cellular hardware provider, Netcomm Wireless collaborates with carriers, operators, platform providers and application developers. Bastolich doesn’t believe that the IoT will ever be a one-stop shop because of its complexity. Breaking into the space requires “substantial knowledge and connections with these ecosystem partners”.
Kelly Gay, president, security solutions at Numerex, backs up this view, emphasising that “so many elements” of the value chain need to align in order to deliver effective solutions. Although this presents a challenge, Gay believes women are able to distinguish themselves here through “capably delivering innovation.”
Another tricky area is understanding and educating clients that are new to IoT. “Many established industries still operate within a predominantly closed or siloed organisational mindset, with little experience of their customers playing an active participative role in their business,” Goulden explains.
“In most cases you need to think through the design and security issues, who you are going to share the data with, how you are going to handle your customer’s data. You need to understand a lot of issues,” said Grant.
Opportunities to redress the imbalance
The IoT is unfortunately a male-dominated industry, as with IT, telecom and engineering. Women can, however, take advantage of opportunities in the IoT to start redressing the gender imbalance. The client base itself is changing from what it was in pure M2M, with a growing proportion of female clients. As such women are key if we are to cater to this part of the market.
Then there is overlap between the IoT and sectors that are traditionally better represented by women, such as education and marketing. As collaboration increases between the two you will see higher female representation in the IoT, according to Grant.
“It could be that we need to do a bit more to earn the same level of recognition,” said Jay, pointing out that sometimes there is a feeling that as a woman you need to justify your position.
A big challenge is encouraging younger women to look at engineering and coding as core skills rather than niche skills.
“We have an opportunity to create much more surprise around women engineers and designers. I’m very keen to make these sorts of careers accessible, exciting, and interesting to women who might otherwise go to the more traditional occupations like marketing or commercial professions,” said Bhatia.
Bhatia believes that to point girls towards engineering, science and coding is vital, by showing them that they can develop the products they use on their smartphones (from which they can’t be separated). “I’d rather my two teenage daughters learn code than French. If they suddenly found these careers interesting, that would be terrific. Because speaking from personal experience, the opportunities are huge,” she explained.
“There is a lot of job opportunity in this sector going forward. To have the skills that everybody is going to need is going to position them very well for the future,” said Grant.
Grant believes there are ways of bringing women into coding, writing apps and thinking about the connected economy. “There’s software out there that helps to write apps in a very visual way, Dragon Draw type of programming and that can be the entry point to something more complicated later on. It’s not massively scary but it looks very real, and then that set of skills can be built on.”
“Like all tech sectors, this industry could use more role models – whether through professional women’s networks that encourage and motivate, or through education,” Taylor said.
Advice for women considering entering the IoT space
Delivering IoT cannot be done by one person alone, says Vinnett Taylor, head of M2M and IoT sales specialist within Enterprise at Telefónica UK (O2). “It takes a team of people to deliver an IoT solution and I believe every successful team will have an even split of men and women. At Telefonica today, nearly 40% of staff are women and 50% of my team are women,” she said.
“An innate curiosity for the IoT and technical world should be part of your character if you want to enter this sector,” Sroczynski said. Then it’s a matter of identifying the part of the value chain you are most interested in, be it on the technical or communication side, with business cases or products and support.
“You need to be able to code, you need to be able to design in an online world and you need to know your way around mobile, but those are learnable skills,” said Bhatia, who set up Connected Homes with no technical background so there was a steep learning curve. “If I stopped to think that I didn’t have any of these skills when we set it up I would never have done it.”
It is not a case of needing to leave your current area to join the IoT, rather the other way around, according to Goulden: “Move beyond a purely technological perspective to understand the broader implications, in particular from a system thinking perspective, a user perspective, and how this is set to impact the sector you are currently in.”
“I would say go for it! This is an especially exciting time for the IoT market. The opportunities are endless as long as you have the drive and come with innovative ideas, a passion for the industry and drive value wherever you see the chance,” Taylor said.
“The IoT is set to become one of the most dynamic and potentially disruptive shifts of the coming decade – across all sectors. This also makes it an incredibly exciting area to be in right now, as much as it will be an unavoidable aspect of our future. So the sooner you get involved the better,” Goulden concluded.