Last month Intel Australia sponsored a National Summit on the Internet of Things in Canberra. A common theme emerged from the event: that, like all governments, Australia stands to benefit enormously from all IoT has to offer.
Aside from to the “wow” factor of smart coffeepots, cars and thermostats, IoT has the potential to achieve something much grander that can result in a legacy most politicians only dream of: serving the public better on a dwindling budget.
IoT can, and should, supplement the belt-tightening of government budgets, not add to the tally. In fact, it has been estimated that governments around the world stand to gain $US4.4 trillion over the next ten years if they integrate IoT into their service delivery. This is a beautifully evolving proposition, especially for policymakers who were elected to solve big problems without big resources, and that would include all of them.
None of this RoI for government will require building new roads, hospitals, runways or ports. Rather, imagine a device no bigger than a tennis ball attached to an existing vehicle, road, hospital, runway or port, that can produce measurable improvements in crime, traffic congestion, pollution, energy costs, failing infrastructure or response to a terrorist attack. But these solutions cannot be realised through private sector innovation alone. It will require the political will and initiative from policy makers to get things done.
Take traffic as one “big problem small budget” example. If governments have a choice of whether to outfit their public transportation system with miniature sensors at a cost of less than a thousand dollars per bus, or launch a multi-million dollar road construction project, the budget implication is clear. Not to mention the minimal disruption required to achieve the goal. And this is just one piece of the IoT pie. More examples like this loom large and are not only within reach, they are happening around the world today.
The need for governments to embrace, and indeed spur, the adoption of IoT should not be a subject for partisan debate. In fact, IoT could help mend fences. The IoT ‘pie’ is big enough for all policy makers to champion a piece based on their constituency. Consider enhanced agriculture exports using less water, enhanced mining or manufacturing operations with less pollution, or easing urban crowding without more trains. IoT offers a cost-effective solution never before witnessed in the realm of public service, with potential results that will last for generations.
Rarely is there something as close to a silver bullet as IoT could be for some of these most difficult challenges in our society today. To achieve this success, however, governments need to collaborate with industry so they can identify the most pressing social problems, such as population growth, and work with the experts on what is technically possible in a one, three, five or 10 year timeframe.
Similarly, when it comes to policymakers pondering the regulation of IoT, it is critical that there is a sensible balance between oversight and overregulation. We have to get this right lest we miss the IoT opportunity. The US Congress recently held hearings on a bipartisan (yes, bipartisan) resolution calling for a national vision for IoT. This is but one example.
To be sure, IoT also brings its own challenges that will need to be addressed. Security, privacy and safety are all fair game for the IoT policy debate, and should all be discussed like any good policy discourse. The key consideration is to ensure any regulations do not hamper innovation.
No country today is immune from political tension and exasperation. Political consensus on how to invest scarce government resources to provide better public services is elusive at best. Rather than IoT creating debates over how projects will be funded or whose electorate gets what share, IoT has the potential to bring about a new and welcome political dynamic where policymakers can all have a piece of the pie, regardless of their partisan leanings. This is a good thing because there is enough of that pie to go around, and even more to come.