Governments Need an Internet of Things Strategy

From smart drones to smart homes to smart cars that drive themselves, the world is dramatically changing all around us. So are governments ready to take advantage of these new innovative opportunities emerging within the Internet of Things (IoT)? Or, as almost everything gets connected to the Internet, could these newly connected devices become “Trojan Horses” that inadvertently bring the next generation of data breaches? What’s being done globally in the public sector with IoT right now?

by / October 24, 2015
Credit: Shutterstock/Macrovector Shutterstock

Is your government ready for the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The news media has been full of stories of self-driving cars being tested around the world and drones being used in diverse places. But a quiet global technology revolution is now occurring that is transforming the way we live and work in almost every area of life. And while robots at Amazon and smart home devices seem to be getting regular media attention, much more is happening in cyberspace.

We live in exciting times with vast technological possibilities merging our online and offline lives. Consider these two business scenarios using IoT technology.

BankingUsing IoT, the bank can explore giving an option to the new home buyers to install a sensor in their new homes, which will inform them (and the bank) when there is a dampness in the wall above a certain % or there is significant internal damage to the walls / roof due to say an earthquake?”

Medicine: “Patients recently discharged from a hospital can be issued a device to monitor vital signs (heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and temperature) and any other necessary readings, such as glucose levels. Data would be sent to a patient's health-care provider via a cloud-based service, and an alert would be triggered if the readings fell outside the acceptable range.”

And in government, the term “smart cities” is becoming a hot buzzword that is taking global governments by storm. A few months back, I offered these smart cities resources from various public- and private-sector organizations around the world.

And yet, the challenges ahead for IoT in most local, state and federal governments are daunting. With current cybersecurity concerns regarding data breaches, insufficient technology infrastructure resources and difficulties in attracting and maintaining staffing talent, the majority of CIOs still see IoT as a future development that, while on the long-term road map, is not an immediate opportunity or concern to address.

Lack of Government IoT Plans

There is no doubt that IoT applications will have a huge impact on society over the next five years. According to leading research organizations like Gartner, by 2020, 30 billion devices with unique IP addresses will be connected to the Internet, and IoT will have an economic impact of more than $14 trillion.

Nevertheless, earlier this year, a team of technology experts from The Brookings Institute pronounced that federal agencies were behind the curve on IoT and BYOD. Here’s how that article begins:

The rate at which technology evolves has increased rapidly in past years. The pace of change presents a challenge to all levels of government that must quickly react to nascent technologies. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are two such technological trends that have transformed how business operates in the United States and should change the way that government functions as well.

Why the concern from Brookings? “We found that IoT was not mentioned in a single plan. ...”

In May of this year, Venturebeat.com made the direct claim: It’s time for government to get involved in IoT.

Intertwining the public and private sectors is critical. The government needs to play a role in the development of IoT, not just to enact and execute on strong policies to foster innovation but also to provide a sense of security to our citizens when they are confronted with privacy and security issues.

And while some government organizations have cited budget costs or other higher priorities as the reasons to not currently engage in IoT, Information Week recently highlighted eight ways that government can actually save money using IoT, which details coming from a Cisco study. For example: “Federal civilian agencies worldwide could realize as much as $472 billion in savings and efficiencies through better disaster relief, fleet management, and cybersecurity. ...”

Government Opportunities and International Models to Emulate

One of the best government approaches I’ve seen comes from the United Kingdom, with this “review” (white paper) called, The Internet of Things: making the most of the Second Digital Revolution. British Prime Minister David Cameron opens the forward this way:

“It is clear that we live in a world of permanent technological revolution. Countries like the UK will only succeed if we show a relentless drive for leadership and innovation.

At the CeBIT trade fair in March 2014, I restated my ambition to make the UK the most digital nation in the G8. Part of achieving that goal is making the very best of today’s digital technology. But it also means being ahead of the curve for tomorrow’s.

That is why I asked Sir Mark Walport, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, to write this review. The Internet of Things is a transformative development. Technologies that could allow literally billions of everyday objects to communicate with each other over the Internet have enormous potential to change all of our lives….”

The UK Prime Minister announced his National IoT Strategy to coordinate investment, research and new opportunities using the Internet of Things.

The UK has been getting serious about promoting the Internet of Things in recent years. In 2014, the government announced more than £40 million ($60 million) in funding for research in the area, and just last week it created an umbrella program, IoTUK, to coordinate the efforts of the various organizations that are receiving a cut.

IoTUK brings together elements of the Future Cities Catapult and the Digital Catapult, both part of a larger effort to stimulate the nation’s up-and-coming industries. The program will work with the technology and business communities, as well as the public sector and academia.

The main elements planned for IoTUK are:

  • Choosing a “city demonstrator” to deploy and test IoT technologies in the urban environment;
  • Creating a research hub focused on security and trust in new devices and emerging networks;
  • Forming a hardware accelerator to launch new products and devices; and
  • Building a “test bed” for exploring the use of IoT technologies in health care. 

Meanwhile, the Australian Government is set to tackle the Internet of Things with a new National IoT Strategy. The Brisbane Times reported that Australia needs to be the “vanguard of IoT.”

And the U.S. FTC released this report earlier this year that urged U.S. companies to adopt best practices regarding security and privacy when rolling our IoT products and services.

No, it is not a U.S. national strategy on IoT. However, the report does cover a series of recommendations for companies to seriously consider.

Another IoT resource worth considering is a National Science Foundation-supported, Semiconductor Research Corporation- and Semiconductor Industry Association-sponsored report titled, Rebooting the IT Revolution: A Call to Action.

Federal Computer Week (FCW) highlighted this NSF report earlier this year. Overall, the number of studies and reports coming out of various U.S. federal agencies is encouraging, yet still not unified as a coordinated IoT approach in my opinion.

IoT Recommendations from Industry to Government

Deloitte University Press offers this free white paper which describes numerous ways that IoT can dramatically improve government innovation. I really like their diagrams which describes how IoT-enabled actions can change the way data is used and processed. This video on security is also well-done.

On the other hand, it is also clear that skepticism still abounds in some circles regarding IoT. An article in the UK Guardian newspaper pointed out that Vint Cerf, the Google executive, is skittish about IoT.

At a news briefing in late August in Germany, the Google executive said he was sometimes “terrified” by IoT. His employer may develop the Nest smart thermostat and ply its employees with benefits such as massage chairs, but he avoids them. Why?

Because those chairs are run by software, he says: “I worry they will fold up on me”.

It was a lighthearted crack, but his broader attitude about the device class is anything but. He thinks it’s an area rife with both technical and legislative concerns – and he’s far from alone.

Wrap-up: Governments Need a Strategy for the Internet of Things

I believe that the U.S. Government needs a national strategy on IoT. State and large local government enterprises need to include IoT in their technology and security strategies as well, if not develop separate IoT strategies.

Back in March, several U.S. Senators also called for a U.S. National Strategy.

A few issues to be covered include the overall business cases, opportunities and perils of collecting data with sensors, privacy and security of the data, data sharing and data retention policies. Just as important are the new innovative opportunities to change the way governments work and serve citizens. The UK model should be studied.

A few weeks ago, I moderated a panel at the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) Annual Conference in Salt Lake City, on the challenges of securing IoT in government. While it is clear that IoT activities are heating up in state and local governments around the country, it was also clear that IoT was not a central focus currently – as compared to cloud computing and mobile computing.

The expert government panelists from North Carolina, Washington State and Minnesota are certainly well aware of many new IP-enabled devices that are showing up on their networks, and they were taking appropriate steps to monitor and manage those devices.

But they were most concerned with what they don’t know is going on within their enterprises regarding “shadow IT” and business areas acting in uncoordinated ways with IoT devices. What data gathering, data sharing (or lack of sharing) was occurring that they did not know about? The opportunities and ramifications are immense, but resources to dedicate to the challenges seemed scarce.  

Bottom line: The time for your government to build an Internet of Things strategy is now.