Learning with IoT platforms while strategizing business ecosystems


< Project overview >


This project team has created and tested executive education materials to improve firms’ understanding of how IoT can be used to generate value within an organisation and within its ecosystem. Drawing on relationships in existing industry collaborations, the curriculum was developed with input from individual experts in both the IoT technology sector and organisations which have already implemented IoT projects.

The team tested the course materials in two pilot courses delivered online, collecting data from participants to refine and improve the materials each time. IfM Engage supported the recruitment of pilot participants from existing contacts in all three target sectors: healthcare, smart cities and manufacturing.

The team is now building on relationships with the experts and course participants from industry to develop a programme of ongoing collaborative support for IoT projects in the target sectors; is seeking to publish case studies written during the project for use by other universities; will be disseminating research findings at a conference in July 2021; and will be running the executive education course multiple times each year.

Between April and June 2021 an in-person pilot was planned and executed; and further dissemination activities were completed, including a case study and film led by IfM Engage. Two funding bids have emerged from relationships developed during this project and are now being drafted in collaboration with parties external to the University to develop/promote IoT solutions/adoption.

Project aims

The project targeted five Pitch-In barriers:

  • (6b) Lack of understanding of the full landscape of possible architectures for a possible IoT solution.

  • (6c) Lack of understanding in how IoT will/can generate value in a given application domain.

  • (8a) Incorporation/streamlining of IoT based applications/decisions with existing business processes.

  • (8b) Lack of IoT adoption by other dependent organisations (eg supply chain) and internal process owners.

  • (8c) Who pays for data.

These five barriers all concern firms’ ability to value, optimise and monetise an investment in IoT technology. To justify prioritising an investment in IoT firms need to be able to identify the value for the business.

The overarching goal of the project was to improve firms’ ability in this area by developing systematically an executive education course. The aim was to support understanding of not only the potential for efficiency gains from IoT in an existing organisation or ecosystem but also the potential for new business models supported by IoT in that ecosystem.

The principal beneficiaries would be organisations in the healthcare, smart city and manufacturing sectors and their stakeholders.

What was done?

Using the existing IfM executive education business ecosystem mapping workshop as a foundation, the project team drew on the literature on platform business models and IoT technologies to propose a curriculum. Interviews were conducted with individual experts in existing industry collaborators, to ask about their organisations’ learning needs in this area and to gather expert advice on the curriculum. These included a large company in the technology sector, a large healthcare sector organisation and a medium manufacturing enterprise.

Publications in the Service Science, Management and Engineering (SSME) field provided support for combining the teaching of strategy with the teaching of technology in a single course and the team developed an introductory curriculum in IoT strategies and technologies for non-technical senior management to be delivered as an online, synchronous course.

During September and October 2020 the team designed hands-on practical learning tasks using widely available, off-the-shelf computers and sensors for the technology modules, collected data for and drafted a new teaching case for the strategy modules, recruited the first cohort, and designed the data collection for evaluating the course. The first online pilot course of five 90-minute sessions was delivered to a small group of six participants in November, predominantly from the healthcare sector.

The data was reviewed, materials were revised and further industry input on the curriculum and organisations’ learning needs was collected from a masterclass delivered to Digital Manufacturing Week, before recruiting and delivering a second pilot course in December 2020 for 12 participants from 10 organisations covering all three target sectors: healthcare, manufacturing and smart cities.

Data collection and analysis continued in January 2021 and formed the basis not only for further revision of the course materials but also for a full conference paper which was submitted in February 2021.

Between April and June 2021 the executive programme was revised and further developed in to a three day in-person course, compliant with COVID restrictions in force at the time. Nine participants from the manufacturing sector were recruited for a third pilot which was delivered successfully in-person in June.

Further dissemination activities were conducted, including collaborating with IfM Engage on the making of a film and writing of a case study about the project; and two funding bids for research ideas emerging from this project are now in development with parties external to the University.


Through engagement with industry and with the support of Pitch-In the project has:

  • Developed a baseline of tried and tested teaching material which can be deployed in a modular manner either online or in the classroom.

  • Generated significant interest in such teaching material from a network of organisations in multiple sectors.

  • Developed hands-on teaching of technology to executives in a remote, online course and in person.

  • Created teaching cases for publication which can be used by other universities.

  • Disseminated findings about the learning needs of organisations in this area through contributions to conferences.

  • Generated insights into how academic institutions can support industry organisations through the adoption of IoT.  

Deliverables and other tangible outputs

  1. The identification of technology suitable for teaching IoT to non-technical senior managers online or in the classroom: teacher-led activities using off-the-shelf technologies, including Raspberry Pi computers and sensor learning activity kits, which are suitable for posting as well as for classroom delivery (training material).

  2. A tested and refined curriculum for an online course to provide an introduction to IoT strategies and technologies to non-technical senior managers (other: curriculum).

  3. Materials for teaching an online course to provide an introduction to IoT strategies and technologies to non-technical senior managers (other: Moodle page with PowerPoint presentations for each module, suggested further reading resources, etc).

  4. Two Harvard style case studies (case studies, being submitted for publication).

  5. The identification of potential stakeholders and Cambridge ecosystem actors (other: data set of individuals/organisations interested in the course, of related courses/experts/research projects in Cambridge, of contacts in existing industry collaborators, of case study organisations, of pilot participants/organisations etc).

  6. Two conference papers co-written with a team conducting a similar project at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany on the effective transfer of knowledge from higher education institutions to organisations for IoT digital transformations (proposals accepted for AHFE 2021; full papers submitted and due to be peer reviewed).

  7. Practitioner report of the project (other: practitioner report to the organisations, experts and participants who have supported the project).

  8. Led by IfM Engage, a film about the project (video).

  9. Led by IfM Engage, a case study about the project (case study).

  10. A tested curriculum and teaching materials for a three day in-person course to provide an introduction to IoT strategies and technologies to non-technical senior managers (training materials and other: curriculum).

  11. From the three pilots combined, pre- and post-course surveys and session feedback surveys for 27 executives in total; impact interviews for 18 participants were conducted during the main project and a further nine for the third pilot will be conducted in September 2021 (dataset of learning needs and individual/organisation impact of sessions/course).


The project has created impact external to the team in two ways (dissemination and knowledge transfer to individuals) and can reasonably be expected to have an impact external to the team in the future in three ways (dissemination, knowledge transfer to individuals, competency building in organisations). Eighteen people participated in the first two online pilot courses. A further nine people participated in the in-person pilot in June.

At an individual level, the second pilot participants’ self-rated confidence on IoT strategy and technology topics increased roughly between 30–100% across all ten topics. The course developed during the project will be delivered multiple times each year via IfM Engage, creating future individual level impact and in turn, building IoT competencies in organisations.

During the course of the project dissemination of our research findings included a presentation to the other Pitch-In project teams, delivering a Masterclass for Digital Manufacturing Week (oversubscribed), participation as a panel member at edX ACCELERATE Education 2020 and a presentation to IfM colleagues.

During the project extension April to June 2021, dissemination of our research findings included sending the practitioner report, promoting the third pilot to local business networks, presenting to a Pitch-In webinar on 19 May for Pitch-In colleagues and industry, helping with a case study led by IfM Engage and appearing in a film about the project led by IfM Engage.

By disseminating our findings on the effective transfer of knowledge from academic institutions to industry the project sought to influence the design of similar programmes at other universities and technical institutes. Future dissemination activities include the presentation and publication of two papers co-authored with a team at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany to AHFE 2021 in July.

In addition the project has created impact within the team and IfM. The data collected during the project will form the basis for a PhD thesis for one team member and all members of the team are expected to benefit from at least one publication, in the form of Harvard style teaching cases or conference publications which will ultimately be developed in to journal publications.

Two collaborative funding bids concerning ideas emerging from the project are being developed with parties external to the University and may provide resources to continue the employment of team members. The insights gained on the delivery of executive education online have been shared with IfM Engage and will be used in the delivery of future online executive programmes. Finally, content developed for the project has been incorporated in to undergraduate and graduate courses.

Next steps

With the continued support of Pitch-In to the end of June 2021, the project will be undertaking further dissemination activities, including the trial of the classroom version of the course in which participation is provided free of charge to UK participants (subject to COVID regulations) and the establishment of a consortium of organisations interested in continued support from the IfM, University of Cambridge for their IoT transformations. An indicator of the level of interest is that 76 people responded to an IfM Engage email inviting applications for 12 places on the second pilot course.

The project has generated a number of expressions of interest in future activities and the team is using the research findings about the learning needs of organisations and the effective transfer of knowledge in this area to design a new consortium offering to support organisations adjusting to Industry 4.0 in the healthcare, smart city and manufacturing sectors.

Lessons learned

The project has benefited greatly from and is grateful for the time given by all the expert interviewees, case study subjects, focus group participants and pilot course attendees. New relationships between the IfM and industry have been established and the engagement, particularly with the qualitative interviews, at all stages of the Project has generated insights about the learning needs of organisations beyond the anticipated scope of this project.

It appears that new enduring relationships with industry have been established. Example evidence from the project extension includes two participants on pilot two from separate organisations recommending pilot three to their colleagues who then attended that in-person course; the discussions for two collaborative projects with industry.

The project timetable was disrupted by the demands on people’s work and home lives created by COVID, particularly with respect to the speed of recruitment of the team and the capacity of people (within and external to the University) to contribute to our project. Integration, both within the team and with related projects could, and probably would, have been greater and more efficient in more normal circumstances. We are, again, enormously grateful to all those who have given their time in difficult circumstances. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear we were not going to be able to test the classroom delivery of the course before the end of March 2021.

We have observed that the majority of course participants have some nascent interest in or responsibility for IoT already. While they may be non-technical mangers, they are often not complete beginners. The idea of attracting complete beginners has proved difficult. In practice we attracted people who had started to investigate IoT and the course has been refined in the light of their feedback, to best serve the learning needs of the people sent on the course by their organisations.

A notable challenge and drain on our time in the delivery of the online pilot courses was the purchasing and preparation of kit for the hands-on technical learning sessions, as well as the distribution to and collection of that kit from pilot course participants.

When the team is no longer working from home and is geographically closer to the IfM it would be sensible to investigate how the team can work with the specialist support services already provided in the IfM. Second, as the demands on executives to face the twin challenges of COVID and Brexit reduce, the team will engage further with industry partners to finalise the consortium design.

Access to deliverables, resources and media content

A description of the introduction to IoT executive education course developed during the project.

A video of a presentation about the research project made to the Pitch-In project group.

A description of the Digital Manufacturing Week masterclass ‘IoT for senior management’.

Details of the edX ACCELERATE Education panel three session

It is anticipated that the full conference papers will be published by July 2021. The timetable for the presentations of the two conference papers with our research findings for AHFE 2021 on day two in session 90 is available on this page.

What has Pitch-In done for you?

This project thanks Pitch-In for supporting the work of the team. In particular Kate Price Thomas’ series of webinars supported our efforts to include examples from/links to other Pitch-In projects in our course materials. Her Pitch-In virtual stand at Digital Manufacturing Week supported our efforts to find pilot course participants, to build new relationships with external organisations and to gather data on industry learning needs for IoT projects.

Finally we are grateful to Pitch-In for extending the project to the end of June for dissemination activities.

Project lead

Dr Florian Urmetzer – University of Cambridge

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