Policy issues and their impact on the Internet of Things

National and international policy makers and regulators have already played major roles in the history – and success – of the M2M sector. The inspirational role that the EU’s eCall directive played in bringing large scale location service deployments to the automotive sector is widely recognised. However, the long story behind the implementation of eCall has involved much uncertainty in the industry and we can see both the positive and the negative sides of policy making and regulatory processes and their impact on technology development and deployment. Policy and regulation can act as a strong driver – but also be a strong inhibitor if the processes involved become drawn out, tedious, and mired in excessive bureaucratic and sometimes political mechanisms.

Saverio Romeo, Principal Analyst Beecham Research
Saverio Romeo,
Principal Analyst
Beecham Research

However, as the Internet of Things (IoT) starts to transform industries and societies, debate on the role of policies become even more relevant. It is not simply about acting on specific sectors – automotive with eCall, energy with smart metering and others – but goes beyond that to look at the interconnection of systems. The IoT creates a ‘system of systems’ that impacts ways of working across all the systems, interconnecting many different types of processes – and that interconnection is based on data. It has been said in the IoT policy debate that ‘data is the infrastructure’*.

In this systemic scenario – and assuming that policy is important for the future of the IoT (and there’s not necessarily a consensus here), the question is: what type of policy framework is necessary for the IoT? And an even more radical question is: are current policy making processes equipped to respond to the transformation being brought by the IoT vision? The different speeds of development in technology and policy making processes have been evident in recent years. For one glaring example, just look at how policy making organisations have struggled to keep up with the rapid development of social media. The IoT, being based on similarly fast moving technologies, will widen that difference – unless the current debate on IoT policy also involves how we can change policy making processes at all levels to cope with the speed of the industry’s development.

Despite those fundamental questions, the current debate around IoT policies is taking place along the following lines:

  • If ‘data is the infrastructure’, then data will influence all kinds of economic, social, and civic activity so, therefore, data security in the IoT becomes of critical importance. How do we enable security in the IoT and what policy initiatives are required? Topics for discussion here are security by design and security standards.
  •  As a consequence of the previous point, the debate on data privacy is obviously also very relevant.
  • Defining policy frameworks to support the adoption and diffusion of Internet of Things strategies in organisations, with particular attention on small and medium enterprises.
  • Defining policy frameworks to support research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the IoT.
  • Defining policy frameworks around the IoT in specific sectors – see Industry 4.0 in German, Smart Factory in the EU, Farming 4.0 in Germany and so on.
  • The development of the IoT should be designed with the objective of ensuring sustainable development, ensure easy accessibility for the disabled and underserved, and encourage wider civic and democratic participation.
  • Further themes revolve around the relationships between humans and connected spaces. Will we have a right to remain unconnected in tomorrow’s intelligent spaces?

All these themes are currently under debate in what will hopefully evolve into a truly collaborative debate between all the parties: academia, government and business. Beecham Research – also in collaboration with IoT Now – will continue to explore the issues around IoT policies in order to understand their longer term impact on the IoT community and our wider civilisation.

*Ellen P. Goodman. The Atomic Age of Data: Policies for the Internet of Things. Report of the 29th Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy. The Aspen Institute


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