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Skills shortage holding back IoT innovation in agriculture

Steve Rogerson
January 24, 2018

Skills shortages in the agriculture sector are holding back IoT innovation, according to satellite communications company Inmarsat. Its research found that more than 60 per cent of agritech businesses need additional skilled employees to take full advantage of opportunities offered by the IoT.
The potential for IoT technology to drive innovation, efficiency and increased productivity in the agricultural sector is at risk, as agritech businesses must urgently upskill current employees and embark on recruitment drives to ensure they have the capabilities to deliver the technology. According to independent research commissioned by Inmarsat, while the vast majority of agritech companies are moving towards IoT, a significant proportion lack the staff and skills needed to take advantage of the technology.
Market researcher Vanson Bourne interviewed respondents from 100 large agritech businesses across the globe and found that while over 46 per cent of agritech businesses reported full deployment of IoT services and a further 16 per cent have initiated a partial deployment, many lack the skills needed to do so effectively. Additionally, agritech businesses require an uplift in skills at the strategic level, where 65 per cent of respondents identified a shortfall, as well as the management and delivery of IoT deployment, where over half of respondents said they lacked staff.
The research also revealed the specific IoT skillsets that agritech companies are lacking. Just over half of agritech companies reported a shortage in cyber security personnel, with analytical and data science skills coming in second in demand at 53 per cent.
“The IoT is the frontline of the Fourth Agricultural Revolution, providing a digital nerve system with a network of connected and automated devices and sensors,” said Chris Harry-Thomas, director of agriculture sector development at Inmarsat. “Farmers are leveraging these technologies to dramatically improve the efficiency and precision of their operations, automating irrigation systems so that water is only delivered to where it is needed, and optimising fertilisation to improve yields.”
He said the automation of these processes was reducing the need for manual intervention on the ground, but creating new requirements for staff skilled in areas such as data analysis and cyber security, which the research showed was lacking.
“With the digital transformation in full swing, many traditionally mechanical-physical industries, such as agriculture, find themselves in a race to recruit digital specialists to support their IoT ambitions,” he said. “Competing with the likes of Silicon Valley tech companies for skilled staff will be a challenge for the agritech industry, but as these businesses look to take on the burden of data security to build market share in the agriculture sector, it is critical that they recruit staff with the capability to do so.”
He said that forming strategic partnerships with third parties could help agritech companies bridge the gaps in their IoT skills portfolios.
“Argitech businesses must upskill their existing staff and attract new talent if they are to develop successful IoT solutions,” he said. “However, longer term, the focus needs to be on establishing strategic partnerships with IoT specialists. With greater economies of scale, specialist partners can draw together complex IoT solutions across multiple communication networks, including satellite and cellular data, to deploy sophisticated, automated IoT networks across the agricultural industry.”