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Transforming government services with the Internet of Things

by Chris Huckstepp •
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The Internet of Things (IoT) is already redefining community expectations of government service delivery, according to Glenn Archer, Research Vice President of ICT research and advisory firm Gartner and former Australian Whole-of-Government CIO.  

Traffic management, water allocation, garbage collection and public lighting control can all be made more efficient through IoT technology. “Many cities see IoT technologies as immediate opportunities to drive efficiency,” said Archer.

Supporting his claim, over 60 per cent of 300-plus organisations participating in a recent survey commissioned by Microsoft and produced by Telsyte have reduced the cost of their day-to-day processes by an average of 28 per cent through the deployment of IoT solutions. 

IoT, also sometimes referred to as the Internet of Everything or the Industrial Internet, refers to a scenario where sensors attached to ‘things’ monitor their external environment and interact with one another.

Gartner estimates that the 4.9 billion internet-enabled devices that will exist in 2015 will balloon to 25 billion by 2020.

Despite the popularity of fitness trackers, smart-TVs, watches and glasses, IoT still elicits confusion.

Archer compares the IoT confusion to that which existed around cloud computing 5 or 6 years ago. “I remember having to explain to senior executives what cloud meant and there was often this confused or dazed look... Nowadays, most people are comfortable with the concept of cloud.”

While the IoT has been labeled ‘the third industrial revolution’ and the ‘Internet’s next wave’IoT for government is currently at the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ on Gartner’s Hype Cycle*.

At this peak, according to Gartner, “early publicity produces a number of success stories — often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.”

Those that are likely to take early action at the Federal Government level include the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Randall Brugeaud, currently Acting Deputy Secretary, Intelligence and Capability at the Department, told Intermedium last year that “smart packages, smart containers and sensors that allow us to track assets such as vehicles or even our officers have the potential to radically enhance our operations.”

Another likely early adopter is the Australian Capital Territory.  The ACT will undertake a ‘smart parking’ trial in late 2015 where drivers will be alerted of parking spaces ahead of time via their smartphone’s interaction with sensors.

“Sensors would…use an infrared beam or radar to detect a car above, or…[be] installed at the curb side at around knee height,” according to the discussion paper. “Installation of traffic signs at key intersections would also inform motorists of available parking and guide motorists towards areas with parking availability.”

The ACT trial underlines the importance of the enabling infrastructure, as devices need uninterrupted internet accessibility through either a wireless or wired network connection.

ACT’s ‘smart parking’ trial is intended to use the CBRfree Wi-Fi network currently rolling out across Canberra at a cost of $4 million. Once completed, it will be Australia’s largest free outdoor network providing users with downloads of 250 megabytes per day. 

Global investment trends in IoT technologies mirror the local-government led experience in Australia.

The Boston Bump app uses a citizens’ smart phone to detect the “smoothness of the ride” while driving. GPS data is communicated to the City of Boston and feeds into road maintenance and planning. “Likely road problems are submitted to the City via Open311, so they get fixed (e.g. potholes) or classified as known obstacles (e.g. speed bumps),” according to the City of Boston’s website.

New York City’s ‘midtown in motion’ (MiM) project features active traffic management guided by microwave sensors. The project has been attributed to improving NYC driver traffic time by 10 per cent in the midtown core of the City.

In addition to the infrastructure requirements, the IoT needs a set of standards that are yet to be established, according to Archer. “There are issues around addressing IPv6… [It’s] still a work in progress.”  

Among the other challenges to arise from IoT and yet to be resolved, are the data storage implications and privacy concerns.

Archer compared the storage requirements arising out of the proliferation of internet-enabled ‘things’, to the data volumes of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, an international scientific partnership that is building a ‘next generation radio observatory’.  Each radio dish will transmit approximately 160 Gigabits (10₉) bits of data per second according to the SKA organization.

“There is so much data being generated that we don’t have the technology to store it.  The biggest challenge is trying to work out what not to throw away. IoT will present government with that same challenge,” says Archer.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle provides “a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities.”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Many thanks to Justin Hendry for his in depth research for this article.

The Australian Information Industry Association will host the Navigating the Internet of Things Summit at the National Convention Centre in Canberra on 26 March 2015. 

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