September 2014

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Talent Development In The IoT World

Clients Demanding Building Automation Systems be Leveraged as Enterprise Decision Support Systems for Their Energy Optimization and Operational Effectiveness Objectives

Richard K. Warner, PE

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A big part of operating a successful engineering services company for the automated or “smart” building market is the development of talented, versatile team members.  In addition to the applied engineering sciences like thermodynamics, electrical circuits and control systems, the latest foray by the industry into Big Data technologies requires skills in data science, human factors and higher-order mathematics. To compound things, information technology skills in programming, operating system configuration, network design and cyber security are absolutely necessary.  These diverse talent requirements are overwhelming for many and are creating a very interesting series of events in our industry.

Unless you have been under a rock or at a minimum, not reading regularly, the concept of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) has now permeated our space as a way for some to define the technology changes and also as a marketing entrée for IT solutions providers.  In a global market that is projected, by the research firm Markets and Markets, to grow at a stunning compounded annual rate of 35% over the next five years, it is no small wonder why Big IT is interested.

The industry is certainly changing rapidly and the environment for developing and maintaining talent is as well.  The environment that seemed to work for the past 15-20 years in this industry is no longer effective.  Clients are demanding that building automation systems be leveraged as enterprise decision support systems for their energy optimization and operational effectiveness objectives.  The level of client dissatisfaction with existing talent is at an all-time high.  Traditional solution providers face a dilemma as better, cheaper and openly available products hit the market.  Brand loyalty is also fading as the boomers retire and pass their existing systems over to a younger generation possessing very different expectations.

In the early days of OME’s developing business, we spent a significant amount of time understanding the nuances and complexities of managing Gen X/Y folks.  For the most part, the standard environment and methods utilized traditionally seemed to work with the majority of individuals.  As things progressed over the then next several years, there seemed to be a higher than usual incident of what I call the “talent gap” and even more troubling, a true lack of innovative synergy between the team members.  Additionally, as I honed our optimum position description and qualifications, employed a more tailored onboarding regimen and cast a much wider net, I was shocked at how few of the experienced applicants were actually qualified candidates.  We quickly came to the conclusion that we would need to almost exclusively grow our own talent; a devastating thought for us as a small business since we traditionally tend to rely on “pre-trained” or experienced talent that is generally frustrated with the bureaucracy of a larger organization.  Additionally, it also meant that most of our new team members would likely be recent graduates who are much younger than the Gen X/Y folks we had grown accustomed to managing.

When I first heard the term “Generation Me”, I really didn’t it give it much thought.  In my mind it was just another cliché term or label that made it easier for some to collectively self-identify.  As I started reading up on it, I came across some information that I can only describe as “disturbing”.  When psychology professor Jean Twenge coined the term “Generation Me”, she described them this way:  “the most narcissistic generation in history.”  She went on to say that “Narcissists have a positive and inflated view of themselves.  They think they are more powerful and more important than they really are.  It affects their personal relationships:  They often lack other basic human requirements such as stable close relationships, a sense of community, a feeling of safety, a simple path to adulthood and the workplace.”

Knowing what we needed to undertake as a business, this initial information was discouraging to say the least.  I will spare everyone the details of our catharsis, but after doing more investigation into this curious new crop of individuals, we discovered there was a tremendous upside if we modified our processes and environment.  In his book, Grown Up Digital, Don Tapscott has termed them “Net Geners”.  His research project uncovered that the Net Geners possess eight (8) distinctive attitudinal and behavioral norms that differentiate them from their baby-boom parents and other generations.  They are 1) Freedom; 2) Customization; 3) Scrutiny; 4) Integrity; 5) Collaboration; 6) Entertainment; 7) Speed; and  8) Innovation.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place when we discovered a research project conducted by a university engineering school regarding collaborative work environments.  The solution is based on a modified agile workspace model that allows for a collaborative and immersive environment.  The results with the students were incredible with collaboration, speed and innovation scoring off the charts.  The environment supports very free and comfortable processes where the objective is to literally “fail faster” which in turn supports expeditiously finding the right solution.

contemporary It also wasn’t lost on us that our most successful employees had participated in our internship program.  However, our legacy internship program wasn’t very well organized or results oriented.  Several years back, we decide to change everything.  We started a direct and targeted relationship with a major university that possessed high results in turning out “working” engineers.  We spent the time educating the students and faculty about our industry, the exciting challenges and the differences they can make.  It has been one our most rewarding experiences to date, and we have discovered some of the finest talent.  The students are aware, engaged and looking for us at the semester career fairs.  It was a rewarding privilege to spend most of this summer working with one of our interns.  He seemed challenged and almost compelled to work some very long days grinding through complicated technical challenges.

We are on the cusp of a major war for talent, not only from within our traditional industry, but from outside.  It is incumbent on us to create an environment that attracts, develops and maintains this talent.  We can’t rely on bureaucratic or political programs that try to encourage STEM awareness.  The reality is that even though there are a record number of under-employed in this country, the available STEM talent doesn’t seem to be aware of the opportunities that exist in our industry.   To make matters worse, any efforts to market to the prospective knowledge workers seem to get drowned out by social network IPO startups and comedic movies about being interns in “silicon valley”.

These are exciting and challenging times in our market but also a time for great prosperity for those who can captivate and maintain the best knowledge workers.  In the new IoT world, proper talent development has never been more critical.

About the Author

Richard K. Warner, PE, CEM, CxA, DCEP, EBCP, LEED BC&D
is the President & CEO of OME (, an industry leader in innovative solutions for the facility automation industry.  His experience with Fault-Tolerant and Mission Critical facilities spans more than 25 years with some of the largest organizations in the world. 

In recent years, Mr. Warner has focused on solutions for large-scale system integration in the areas of real-time information analysis, data visualization, actionable information intelligence, cyber security and demand response.


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