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IoT and the Public Sector

· March 25, 2015

At yesterday’s hearing on “The Internet of Things: Exploring the Next Technology Frontier” before the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee, Members of Congress questioned panelists about the impact of Internet-connected devices, now often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), on our economy as well as how Congress or regulators could protect consumers’ personal information.  Bijan explained two months ago how the IoT is garnering increased attention from regulators like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  An interesting aspect of the hearing concerned how IoT devices can improve the efficiency of local, state, and the Federal governments.  IoT devices can help us improve our daily lives, but they may have a greater impact on how governments deliver services.

Cities and states have made great strides in using Big Data to maximize services.  One of the most notable government executives to embrace Big Data was former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.  While serving as Mayor of Baltimore, his administration created a system called CitiStat to track all sorts of data on city government services like monitoring civil servant overtime and sick leave; response times for filling potholes and trash collection; and crime statistics.  (You can find out more about CitiStat in this report.)  CitiStat saved Baltimore an estimated $350 million during O’Malley’s mayoralty, and he later expanded the CitiStat model to the state level while Governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015.  IoT devices provide the kind of data that could take such government data analysis and service delivery to the next level.

A 2013 Cisco study on how IoT technology could transform the public sector estimated that governments around the world could benefit to the tune of $4.6 trillion.  Consider some of the basic services that we often take for granted: roads, clean water, schools, parks, firefighters and police.  Citizens expect their governments to provide these services, but many governments are still reeling from the slow economic recovery and often struggle to provide these essential services while also maintaining balanced budgets.  The plethora of data from IoT devices could help governments reduce costs, improve deployment of resources, and promote economic development.

Embracing IoT technology and the real-time data provided by a network of sensors in all sorts of public infrastructure will help governments improve efficiencies.  For example, one of the key aspects on IoT integration will be using sensors and location data to pinpoint problems.  Network-connected water meters would generate data on residential water usage and the vulnerability of water mains.  Indeed, Cisco estimates that smart buildings would provide the greatest cost-savings for cities.  Sensors on roads and in cars could monitor traffic and improve the timing of stoplights to ease congestion.  Some localities have already developed apps that provide users and the government with real-time data showing the progress of snow removal.  Similarly, Cisco highlights smart parking technology that can show drivers the locations of open spots, thus, decreasing the amount of time wasted circling blocks.  (On the other hand, citizens might not like that such technology would improve parking enforcement.)  IoT can also help localities share data and pool resources leading to more cost-savings and better coordination of services.

Beyond improving efficiency, IoT technology can also help education.  The Internet is vital for classroom instruction and student research.  Cisco estimates that over the next 10 years using IoT devices to foster collaborative learning in classrooms could generate $258 billion.

Along those lines, governments can play a crucial role in promoting IoT innovation.  Programs like the UK’s “Innovate UK” and the EU’s “Horizon 2020” provide crucial funding for those with innovative ideas to begin R&D or form partnerships with other entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to market.  Cities can allocate funding for and establish tech incubators providing low-cost spaces for young developers to begin working on their ideas.  New York City, in particular, has sponsored numerous incubators and shared workspaces.  Governments can also foster innovation by making data, like what could be collected by IoT devices, publicly available for app developers.

Just as the Internet of Things could revolutionize how we do our laundry, monitor our fitness, and power our homes, the technology could provide significant benefits for governments.  Governments have the ability to foster innovation in this area while also enjoying the potential of improving services with data collected from IoT devices and realizing significant cost-savings.

John Howes, Jr. is a Law Clerk at CCIA and a 3L at American University Washington College of Law.

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.