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The tortoise and the hare of IoT
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The tortoise and the hare of IoT

Posted by Zenobia HegdeFebruary 15, 2016

The UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser recently highlighted the opportunities IoT brings to the public sector: “The UK is well placed to be amongst the emerging world leaders reaping the benefits from the Internet of Things.”

According to Juniper Research, by 2020 there will be 38 billion connected “things” in use, and the opportunity for the UK government is clear.

IoT technology is capable of helping organisations achieve many public policy goals, including delivery of public services, increased economic growth and improvements in environmental sustainability, public safety and security.

Earlier this year, George Osborne, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (senior minister at the Treasury) pledged $58,094,200 (£40 million) towards the research and development of IoT, which will be offered to business incubators driving initiatives to connect domestic appliances to the web and the government’s “smart cities” initiative. Additionally, the UK government recently launched its national IoT UK programme to “convene and amplify” the UK’s IoT industry by advancing the UK’s global leadership in the IoT. Its aim is to increase adoption of IoT technologies and services in the public sector by improving the quality of people’s lives through everything from better healthcare to education says, Joel Dolisy, SVP and CTO/CIO, SolarWinds.

For example, sensors on roads and in cars will be able to tell drivers of dangerous driving conditions ahead; in hospitals, patients will wear medical devices that will communicate data remotely to their doctors; in cities, street lights will inform maintenance crews which bulbs are out and rubbish disposals will tell crews when they’re ready to be emptied. In frontline defence, connectivity will improve situational awareness and create connected command centres able to better position vehicles and manage supplies. By driving this innovation, the UK government will build on its status as a leader in the digital economy, yet a number of hurdles to adoption of IoT in the public sector remain.

The public sector lacked the head start of the private sector in terms of deployment and industry experts are unanimous in their recognition that it is the private sector which is leading the way in IoT adoption. However, the public sector can use this as an opportunity to learn from the experiences of the private sector, and face the challenges of IoT adoption head on.

Locking down IoT

A recent HP Research study found that 70% of IoT devices are vulnerable to attack with at least one security flaw. This research encapsulates the biggest challenge facing IoT across both sectors, security. As more devices connect to the network, the public sector needs to ensure it is prepared for IoT. Expanding networks and new security procedures present a new challenge for IT pros; from mobile and smart devices connecting through the network to firmware updates. Connected devices would have their own proprietary operating systems that can’t be managed in the same way as traditional systems. These devices are often not designed with security at the forefront of mind which presents a real challenge to those adopting them.

For firmware, automated updates would not have the same level of control as other manual systems, while manual results necessitate manpower and attention to detail. The public sector has an opportunity to learn from the security challenges the private sector has faced. Learning from the private sector, the government should approach IoT differently, factoring in its impact on securing the network and secure data, and ensure it has the right tools in place to monitor and manage the underlying infrastructure.

Pricing up IoT

While $58,094,200 (£40m) is a huge figure in a sector constantly battling budget constraints and cuts, it is dwarfed by the amounts venture capitalists are able to provide. The public sector needs to face the financial challenge of IoT smartly, with many calling instead for greater incentives for early adopters such as tax breaks. The public sector is also often faced with red tape and the requirement to provide a strong return-on-investment argument, which is challenging in a fairly unproven area. The government’s recognition of the importance of IoT will help to open doors for the adoption of technologies with value to be gained in everything from employee productivity to connected militarised defense, cost reduction to increased revenue.

The potential for growth and innovation in IoT in the public sector is obvious. As the UK government Chief Scientific Adviser highlighted, the government “needs to foster and promote a clear aspiration and vision for the Internet of Things.”

IoTUK marks the exciting start of a three-year programme which will coordinate the organisations tasked with delivering public funding for an IoT city demonstrator, a research hub focused on security and trust, and health and care test beds. The public sector can overcome the hurdles in order to capitalise on this opportunity, learning from the private sector before it.

The author of this blog is Joel Dolisy, SVP and CTO/CIO, SolarWinds.

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Zenobia Hegde

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