The Internet of Things won’t give us a smarter government

By Steven George-Hilley

With predictions of up to 200 billion connected devices in circulation by 2020, the UK government has much to fear from the wider implications Internet of Things

The UK government has a less than glamorous record in the delivery of ambitious technology-driven initiatives. From billions wasted on the infamous NHS IT project to the clumsy implementation of the Department of  Work and Pensions universal credit programme, digital projects often appear to do more harm than good.

Take for example the uptake of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives in local and central government. The rationale behind such programmes is to enable workers to use a device of their personal preference, whilst simultaneously saving the organisation money. On paper it’s a great idea, once the necessary encryption and email synchronisation is underway and the device passes the basic IT hygiene tests.

Yet research into government uptake shows ‘pitiful’ implementation of BYOD in local government, and next to nothing in central departments. Examining key boroughs in London and you will find statistics such as Wandsworth Council’s two devices in operation, look at the other end of the spectrum and you’ll see Camden Council leading the charge with nearly 300 personal devices in use.

But if the public sector is to reap the financial rewards of schemes like BYOD, these adoptions should be entering the thousands instead of the hundreds.

That leads me on to an even more ambitious trend heading the direction of Whitehall Mandarins and officials, the rapid rise of The Internet of Things (IoT).

It’s an industry that analyst firm IDC tells us will be worth 1.7 trillion by 2020. Other researchers tell us that the total number of devices in use will reach an eye-watering 200 billion in four years’ time.

Just imagine that? Billions of connected devices offering the UK public sector the opportunity to consolidate services, share information and make better decisions.

Imagine what it can do to our great cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham, with IoT connecting cars and services through sensors and exchanging critical information. Our transport systems will run smoother, our economy will grow faster, and our country will quickly become a more attractive place to start a business.

But the problem with IoT in government lies with the responsibility of the public sector to securely manage millions of devices, crunching gazillions of pieces of data.

Let’s face it, if deploying a couple of personal mobile phones on the company network is a the best the public sector can muster, how on Earth will IoT ever deliver on its promises in a security conscious, culturally slow public sector infrastructure?

With Accenture telling us that roughly 87 per cent of consumers still don’t understand what the IoT market is and what it’s for, its probably time for a bit of public awareness from the government if it wishes to stay ahead of the curve.

But like it or not, IoT is coming, and the sooner the public sector recognises and recalibrates for a hyper-connected world the better. Begin developing the awareness campaign and roll-out strategy now, before the Internet of Things turns into the government’s worst nightmare.

Steven George-Hilley is Director of Technology at Parliament Street

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