Brian McCarson, Intel’s chief IoT architect ended his talk at the AIIA IoT conference in Canberra last month with some advice for Australia. “My simple observations for any geography, but especially Australia, is that there are three things that need to be done to help IoT become a major economic driving force for this country,” he said.
He listed these three things as being
• Focus your investment dollars
“If you take an approach where you are trying to accommodate everything you will spread yourself so thin that you are going to be unable to win in key areas. So pick your winners based on what you know Australia can do really well and potentially already has leadership in.”
He added that these choices should be made in the wider context of overall goals. “If the end goal is global competitiveness through innovations in technology, that is a very positive way to be focusing those resources.”
• Identify the barriers to and the partnerships needed for success
“It is important to understand, in the chosen focus areas, what are the government and private sector partnerships and alignments that need to be implemented to enable competitiveness and to look at each industry and decide what are the key limitations.
“For example, it could be that the cost of importing and exporting goods is going to be cost prohibitive because of the logistics and that would be an area where the government could try and work on infrastructure improvements with private companies.”
• Develop an appropriately educated workforce
“The third area is science technology engineering and mathematics. To me this equation is very simple. It starts at age five and goes to 50 plus. It can’t be just a process where you make sure that individuals in their junior year of college choose to stay in engineering programs.
“There has to be an entire culture of innovation and making sure that the workforce and the future workforce are embracing the need for technological innovations in these four key areas. Those are critical to make sure you have a competitive workforce for the future of IoT.”
Another speaker, Ros Harvey, chief strategy advisor at Sirca, and also responsible for strategy at the Knowledge Economy Institute, launched at the AIIA event, also stressed the importance of government involvement in IoT.
She talked of a ‘triple helix’ representing the idea that “government, business and researchers have a really important role together to help create transformation, and we will do better if we collaborate.”
“What does it mean for government having 50 billion things connected to the Internet?” she asked. “There is an enormous opportunity out there. There will be an enormous tsunami of data and 40 percent of it is going to come from sensors. Change is going to come from the new business models that drive disruption from technology.”
She added: “There is never going to be enough people, enough money, enough technology. So how do we make that work – through collaboration.”
Government involvement needed
You could sum up both these presentations by saying that if IoT is going to be as important and as disruptive a force as some predict then government involvement needs to be more than piecemeal, it needs to be visionary, strategic and long term. It needs to ensure that, where resources are under government control, they are focused and the areas of focus carefully chosen.
If that seems like too much ‘Big Government’ then there at least needs to be some forum or mechanism, in which Government is involved, for developing some kind of IoT strategy and goals for Australia and for encouraging and facilitating their implementation and achievement.
Communications Alliance’s recently announced IoT think tank seems to go part way towards that. Comms Alliance said that it would be a forum “in which industry heavyweights and other expert parties will work with Communications Alliance to focus on:
– identifying and addressing regulatory and other enablers and inhibitors, to help create an environment that allows the full potential of IoT services and their cross-sectoral benefits to be realised in Australia;
– the opportunity for Australian companies to be early beneficiaries of new business models through IoT and for Australia to become a significant exporter of business solutions enabled by IoT.”
The Government appears to be in agreement, at least in part.
Opening the AIIA IoT conference, communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said: “Obviously the Government has a role in promoting and investing directly in research and new uses for the Internet of Things.”
But he seemed to suggest that Government’s role would be more about creating the right environment to let an IoT ‘industry’ develop that about being strategic. “At a higher level, we also want to make sure we are setting the right regulatory environment for these technologies to flourish,” Turnbull said.
“That is why we are working with bodies like the ACMA and Communications Alliance to ensure that we get the settings right. As a Communications Alliance board paper in December noted, ‘Consideration [needs to] be given to where and to what degree Australian policy and regulation needs to be developed and aligned, to best support and encourage the development and growth of Internet of Things in Australia.'”
Singapore’s IoT vision
Australia would not want the extent of centralised control that the Singapore Government exercises but it has a clarity of vision around IoT that seems to embody much of what McCarson was recommending for Australia.
In June 2013 ZDNet reported a speech at CommunicAsia by recently appointed Infocomm Development Authority executive deputy chairman, Steve Leonard, saying “The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore believes the country has the unique opportunity to be the world’s first ‘smart’ nation, in wiring up every corner of the nation and fully embracing the Internet of Things.”
The IDA’s own newsletter, in December 2014 reported the launch by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong of “a wide range of collaborative government initiatives to transform Singapore into a Smart Nation.”
These included a Smart Nation Programme Office to be set up within the Prime Minister’s Office “to bring citizens, the government and industry players together to identify issues, co-develop solutions, prototype ideas and deploy them effectively.”
The IDA has produced an Infocomm Technology Roadmap that “charts the vision, trends and developments of the technology landscape in Singapore … to help the industry keep abreast with future directions and trends, and to assist the industry to identify business opportunities for competitive advantage.” Included in the roadmap is a comprehensive overview of IoT. It dates from January 2013 – showing how forwarding thinking the IDA was on IoT.
It’s very unlikely we will see anything in a similar vein from the Australian government, so it will be largely up to industry to push the IoT cause.
AIIA’s communiqué issued on conclusion of its IoT conference commits the organisation to some initiatives in the right direction. It promises to “Encourage the Federal Government to consider how smart IoT capability can be used to achieve the business, social and economic objectives of government supported industry growth centres; promote partnerships between government, industry and academia to drive innovation of IoT solution development and where required, the scaling of IoT applications; and build awareness of IoT capability across Government (federal and state).”
If some of the predictions for the importance and impact of IoT are anywhere near the mark these initiatives could be crucial.