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Public authorities ‘need business models for IoT’



RAND study commissioned by BCS and IoTUK points to government as a prime player in promoting the internet of things

Public authorities can play a significant part in encouraging the adoption of internet of things (IoT) technologies, but they have to go further in showing the potential return on investment, according to a new report on the issue.

Title Accelerating the Internet of Things in the UK, it has been compiled by not-for-profit research organisation RAND and commissioned by BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT and IoTUK, the programme body supporting the UK industry in the field.

It aims to cast some light onto some of the unknowns around the development of the IoT – the array of internet connected devices that provide the technology to support smart places – and makes clear that the potential in public services is making government a leading force.

But progress has been piecemeal and many authorities are still cautious about investing in the IoT as the technology is new and the business case unproven.

The report uses a number of public service projects as case studies, including smart parking in Westminster, controlled street lighting on the south coast, telehealth in the North-East and smart bins in Nottingham.

Strategic purchaser

RAND’s investigation of the projects showed that there are big challenges in developing the IoT market and that it needs to be used in projects that can show a solid return on investment. But the public sector can play an important role as a strategic purchaser, encouraging the take-up of the technologies, as long as it ensures that the SMEs that are developing a lot of new solutions have a good shot at the market.

In addition, anyone using the data has to create the confidence that is secure, and there have to be unambiguous and standardised processes for the governance.

It also draws on a survey of informed users of the technology, who put across the view that the public sector could do more to increase take-up. They identified the priorities for support as ensuring interoperability, investing in the relevant skills, and encouraging multi-stakeholder collaborations - for example among businesses, universities and government.

The technology users saw these factors above as more important than boosting business through public spending, which provides a contrast with the case study research.

Buy-in problem

This could be related to another element in the report, which points to the difficulties faced by public authorities in introducing any new technologies in delivering services. It can be difficult to get buy-in and justify the investments, especially with the level of uncertainty around new solutions.

In the majority of the case study projects there had been a cost-benefit assessment to demonstrate a potential return on investment, and most of the projects were prompted by a need to reduce costs in the short term and manage demand in the medium to long term. But in most of the cases the authorities were still searching for the right model to make the projects sustainable.

In its overall findings, the report says it is time for the policy community to look at shaping the development of the IoT to meet business needs and public preferences. The first steps could involve setting the right framework conditions and placing an emphasis on funding, standards, evidence and trust.

David Evans (pictured), director of policy at BCS, said: “IoT has enormous positive potential for the public and the economy, but we need to consider the legal, moral and ethical issues surrounding adoption.

“Not only must we get privacy and security right in order to realise the benefits, we need to understand and evaluate whether the realities of deployment are consistent with the social good we’re aiming for.

“There are numerous challenges around, trust, data privacy and security that, while not new, are incredibly heightened by this technology. Government has to look at this strategically and in a broader context rather than simply responding to individual issues.”

He also emphasised the importance of commissioners and users of IoT technologies being involved in decision making and policy development.

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