You might’ve already heard the phrase Internet of Things floating around. An in-the-know friend mentioned it in passing or that annoying brother-in-law who always seems to be a step ahead of everybody else when it comes to technology. Public Sector, get ready.
But what exactly is the Internet of Things (IoT)? The answer is simple: It’s a network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity. These objects are therefore enabled to exchange data. These objects are also uniquely identifiable and operate through the normal infrastructure of the Internet.
Here’s an example. Remember that slow cooker your sister just purchased, the one with Wi-Fi embedded? Remember how excited she was that she could turn it on remotely from work? That slow cooker is part of the Internet of Things, as are—
- Heart monitoring implants
- Biochip transponders on livestock
- Cameras sending live feeds of glacier movement
- Vehicles with built-in sensors
- Thermostats, refrigerators, and lamps
- DNA analysis devices for pathogen monitoring
- Electronic toll collection systems
- Drones tracking wildfires
This sector is already large, and growing larger still. Experts estimate that, by 2020, IoT will consist of about 30 billion (with a B) objects, and the global market value of this sector will reach $7.1 trillion. Ignore at your peril.
The Role of the Public Sector
Governments everywhere—federal, state, and local—are under quite a bit of pressure to implement regulations on the IoT. They are also expected to be cooperative with the private sector. However, the regulatory framework is quite underdeveloped, since this is such a new field.
One of the primary roles of the public sector, particularly at the local level, is to establish a data hub that will gather data from a wide variety of sources in IoT. These data can include
- Static open city data
- Dynamic data from sensors owned by individuals, government, and private firms
- Data about energy consumption, water consumption, and transportation
- Data acquired through satellites
- Crowdsourced data from social media or specialized apps.
In other words, a “City of Wheaton” mobile app is for the benefit of both citizens of Wheaton and the municipality of Wheaton. It’s a reciprocal relationship between citizens and public-sector employees (as police officers have long reminded us!). In fact, smart cities like this are increasingly the wave of the future. Songdo, South Korea is the world’s first “smart city” built on an entirely IoT framework.
Most of the world’s municipalities, however, don’t have the option of being built from scratch. Nonetheless, if you are a public-sector employee, please know that the IoT will bring many potential benefits:
- Real-time monitoring of buses and trains and traffic analytics
- Monitoring and operating infrastructure improves emergency response coordination
- Healthcare efficiency increases as tracking of medical supplies is automated, and tiny sensors (perhaps placed in a person’s clothing) will detect irregularities in health
- Child immunization management programs will be systematized
- Public utilities will improve services via automated notification of leakages in public water pipes
- Personal information easily updated on electronic identity bands
- All this barely scratches the surface of the ways that the Internet of Things will change public sector for the better.
Challenges for the Public Sector
One issue is that there is an obvious capacity gap between the public sector and the private sector. In other words, with extremely high compensation, private businesses attract the most promising minds in this field. Governments will need to find a way to address this if they are to fulfill their duties to protect the public interest.
A second challenge is that, in the past, governments have often given up their duty to serve as regulators in such new, untested areas of society. But the regulatory aspect of the public sector shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, a report published by the FTC in January 2015 made the following recommendations in the areas of data security, data consent, and data minimization:
- Data security – IoT companies should ensure that data collection, storage and processing would be secure at all times. This should be baked into the design, not included as an afterthought.
- Data consent – users should have a choice as to what data they share with IoT companies and the users must be informed if their data gets exposed.
- Data minimization – IoT companies should collect only the data they need and retain the collected information only for a limited time.
Enforcing these recommendations is another important function of the public sector.
Suggestions for Governments
Successful regulation of the IoT does not necessarily equal punishment and fines. Instead, most of the pilot programs that have worked well have been public-private partnerships. Because this is such a multifaceted social and technological change, cooperation between the public and private spheres will be crucial.
Governments can look at pilot programs in other cities and regions of the world and determine what ideas can be adapted to their communities. Then, in their own communities, it’s better to start small. A short pilot program is recommended before launching into a larger endeavor.
Maintaining protocols and processes will be important. Because this type of large-scale data tracking is fairly new to the public sector, keeping a firm hand over the process will be vital. This will be for cybersecurity reasons as well since these honey pots are likely to attract malicious actors from around the world.
Furthermore, governments can also provide crucial investment into portions of IoT, particularly in those areas in which impacts take years or even decades to be seen. The public sector has often played this role in other advancements, including the development of the Internet itself! If you’re in that space, don’t hesitate to be forward-thinking. That’s exactly what IoT is.
Author: Richard Van Staten