Public Services > Central Government

Bracing for a more mature public sector IoT environment

Published 28 March 2017

As IoT technologies move from high profile concepts to real world solutions, public sector bodies must decide where clear gains can be better demonstrated and realised, argues Innovate UK's Jonny Voon

 

I’ve lost track of the number of Internet of Things (IoT) trade shows I’ve attended over the past three years. Each promises to be “bigger and better” than last time, but what does that mean? And does “bigger and better” reflect the state of the Internet of Things (IoT) right now?

IoT has finally passed its troublesome adolescent growth phase where it had been questioning its place in the world, its relevance to society and existing industries and its need for an identity away from machine-2-machine (m2m) and cyber physical systems.

Now, in the early adulthood phase, IoT is understanding the role it plays in our cities, industries, economy and society by being used in real-world scenarios. Conversations are less about the art of the possible and more on existing implementations and learnings.

Two years ago, if someone asked a business leader if they “wanted to IoT” there would have been looks of confusion followed by fear of missing out. Now, the response tends to “we already are”, or “we’ve got a strategy in place”.

This is backed up with evidence from The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Internet of Things Business Index 2017 report, which reveals that of the 825 senior business leaders (of which 412 are C-level) surveyed, 55% had formal or structured conversations about IoT at least monthly (with 33% at least once a week). An additional 21% were having conversations annually or semi-annually. 

Large IoT conferences, such as IoT Tech Expo, SmartIoT London, and IoT World Europe now feature exhibitors from manufacturers, transportation, safety, health and social care, all demonstrating practical and existing implementations of IoT in use.

What does this mean for the public sector?

The first challenge is to identify the area where outcomes can be defined. Broadly speaking, these areas are:

Economic

This could be through industries, sectors, businesses, or just pure savings - this tends to be where the value of IoT is most easily explained and calculated. For example, providing real-time monitoring of public sector buildings, occupancy and the external environment could yield a significant reduction in energy bills.

Often the economics of an IoT solution are intertwined with correlating industries. If a local authority were to measure and monitor temperature, energy usage, humidity and pollution levels within social housing it could determine which properties needed maintenance sooner, saving time and the cost of repairing a more-damaged property. But it would also reduce the chances of sickness amongst its occupants, thus having a positive impact on local health and social care budgets to name but a few.

Societal

A key element of IoT is to help us make informed decisions. In an age of ever-increasing amounts of data being generated it is important to remember that data and insights aren’t just about a monetary figure. Charles Montgomery in his book “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design” concludes that one attribute above all else – trust for their neighbours – leads to a happy, connected and resilient society. Using data from sensors and city data stores to help design open and more connected urban spaces provides higher positive social connections and a better quality of life.

Environmental

With increased urbanisation and industrialisation comes a greater impact on our environment and its resources. The World Health Organisation has reported an 8% increase in outdoor pollution alone over the past 5 years, and this is likely to increase as our cities become more populated.

Using data and insights from intelligent bicycle lights such as a See.Sense’s Icon together with city data and smart infrastructure can drastically improve the most congested- and pollution-heavy roads through traffic flow control and better road maintenance and refuse collection planning, for example.

All of these challenges can’t be tackled by the public sector alone, and with an increasing strain on budgets, new types of partnerships need to be established. Procurement has long been used as the main tool for acquiring new “systems”; however how do you procure an outcome when the technology and problem space is complicated and tightly interwoven with other industries?

The key here is to understand the value that data and its insights unlock, and the potential commercial partners that might be willing to subsidise, or even pay for, infrastructure and or technology systems that will help your organisation. Look at the IoT cities demonstrator project “Cityverve” as an example – 21 partners from industry, academia and public sector, and of all sizes helping Manchester City Council achieve its aim of providing a safer, more connected city delivering better healthcare and transport, more jobs, and safer streets.

Now is the right time to be looking at how IoT can be used in your organisation, and in particular the economic, societal and environmental impacts it could have.

The world is changing. Are you?

Jonny Voon is the innovation lead for Internet of Things and distributed ledger technologies at Innovate UK.







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