The U.S. government acknowledges that the Internet of things (IoT) has advanced past the research and development stage. However, even with this acknowledgement, there is still a gap in how the public sector is connecting to the IoT and how it should be connecting.
Imagine if agencies could arm flood zones with sensors able to detect rising water levels and provide early warning to citizens. Or deploy sensors on highways that alert the necessary authorities when they are iced over. Or connect irrigation systems in national parks to smartphone applications that stream scheduling and maintenance data.
Policy makers, for their part, should be taking steps to update security, data governance, and regulations that enable the swift, full adoption of IoT and associated technology.
However, while some agencies, like NIST, already have established programs in place, IoT adoption among public sector agencies is in the very early stages due to extreme shortages in security, talent and logistics. Here are a few ways the public sector can swiftly overcome these hurdles:
Build secure endpoints and consider blockchain integration
A new bill introduced in early August by Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) attempts to set standards for both public and private sector IoT-linked devices. Meanwhile, government technologists are taking extra time to explore secure hardware options and survey connectable platforms, from the Pentagon to the famously breached Office of Personnel Management. For good reason, the public sector must take a security-first mindset when designing solutions that employ the IoT. We all remember the botnet that broke the Internet, so we must design systems and solutions with military-grade cyber-defense capabilities.
To fully address IoT security concerns, as well as ensure completeness and integrity amongst entities, agencies need to be thinking about blockchain integration. Just as blockchain can be used in the healthcare sector to track medical records securely and in real-time so that everyone involved in a patient’s care has the same accurate view of the patient’s situation, government agencies that famously manage data records, like OPM, could use blockchain to avoid future breaches.
Recruit talent that is familiar with the technology
The public sector needs to complement IoT research and development with targeted talent recruitment. Specifically, agencies need to develop IoT-centered programs and incentives that attract data scientists to analyze trends and guide implementation, UX teams that can match a complex network with a seamless experience for people working with data, and field service professionals who can keep tabs on the performance of sensors attached to millions of points in the public sector’s network.
In practice, a typical IoT deployment requires engineers who install and activate sensors in warehouses, farms, and vehicles. McKinsey points out that there are also many sensors in place that could be connected to the IoT but are inactive. As a first step, the public sector will need to onboard trained engineers who can take stock of the government’s connectivity potential. Once the sensors are deployed, data from the sensors needs to be collected and analyzed in a central data repository by software developers and data scientists. Finally, the results of the data analysis need to be presented to government stakeholders so they can take action on whatever the IoT devices are telling them. Hence, the need for user experience experts.
Lay the foundation for a connected public sector
Large-scale government IoT projects will require significant Other Direct Costs (ODC) to procure sensors and activate (or reactivate) infrastructure. And current regulations pertaining to data capture and information assurance need to be refocused to provide firm controls and clear guidelines for IoT deployment. Agencies also need to recruit – and retain – the types of staff I’ve mentioned above.
Despite these roadblocks, the benefits of public sector IoT are substantial, particularly as it relates to emergency management and planning.
IoT, when implemented correctly, has the power to solve problems before they even happen at all levels of government.
Kris Tremaine is a Senior Vice President at ICF, leading the firm’s federal digital practice. She has 25 years of experience providing strategic and digital counsel to government, nonprofit, and private sector organizations.