With a myriad of possible applications, the Internet of Things has become an important part of modern life, and has revolutionised the way that we live, work, and interact as a society.
Capable of delivering instant insights via real-time reporting that allow for more proactive responses to be made, IoT has the potential to enhance many aspects of the public sector and the services it provides – not only in terms of the quality of those services, but also in enabling local authorities’ to save costs and allocate resources more efficiently.
Though a small number of councils across England have already started to recognise the benefits that IoT can bring them and the communities that they serve – a report by IoT UK, for example, found that roughly 40% of local authorities have made some form of investment in health-related IoT solutions – the technology still faces an array of considerable challenges before it can be adopted on a significantly wider scale.
Lack of understanding about how IoT works
One of the biggest challenges involved in the rollout of IoT relates to the lack of understanding about how the technology works.
A possible reason for this could be the widening digital skills gap within the public sector, which is highlighted by a recent report published by the Cloud Industry Forum [CIF] that found that 40% of public sector organisations still do not have the right skills to adapt to ongoing digital transformation.
Without sufficient technical expertise, therefore, many councils struggle to comprehend how IoT-enabled solutions operate and the benefits that they could bring, making key decision makers less inclined to consider integrating the technology into their services.
If local authorities are to overcome the digital skill shortage that they face, council leaders must place more emphasis on nurturing a community of talented digital specialists who are equipped with the skills necessary to help them succeed in an increasingly digitalised space.
Once a greater level of digital literacy has been achieved within the public sector, the more likely it is that councils will understand the advantages involved with using IoT.
Lack of evidenced results
Besides the public sector’s digital skills gap, many councils are hesitant about adopting IoT simply because they do not believe there is enough evidence to support that the solutions truly do work.
This presents something of a Catch-22 situation in that the amount of evidence depends largely on the number of local authorities that are willing to trial solutions, though that is not to suggest that evidence is not already available.
For example, a Smart Parking project driven by IoT has been delivered with one local authority and has secured benefits across multiple departments, including revenue collection and traffic management, at the same time as delivering lifestyle improvements for local residents
Results such as these certainly help to support the case for IoT, but a larger number of forward-thinking, pioneering councils must demonstrate the courage in piloting IoT solutions before they can be adopted en masse.
As more local authorities agree to trial the tech, the amount of evidence in favour of IoT will likely grow, making the task of persuading council leaders to embrace solutions considerably easier.
Concerns over data protection
It is not only within councils that there is scepticism around IoT; many end users appear to have concerns about data protection and privacy.
This is a particular problem associated with the adult social care sector, seeing as a large number of those the solutions support are elderly and do not use technology on a regular basis, making them hesitant about doing so.
A common misconception seems to be that, when people think of IoT solutions used in the public sector, their minds are immediately drawn to the likes of Amazon Alexa and Google Home, both of which can record private conversations and track personal data to deliver more targeted ads to users.
It is important, therefore, to clarify that some IoT-enabled solutions used, for example, in the care sector, only collect atmospheric data and are designed to monitor the wellbeing of residents without intruding on their privacy.
By explaining this and allaying any concerns over data protection and privacy, residents can get a clearer understanding of exactly what data is being collected and gain confidence that the technology is there to promote their independence rather than infringe on it in any way.
IoT-enabled solutions use low-power, wide-area networks [LPWANs] that are capable of meeting their small data requirements and remove the reliance on internet connectivity in order to function.
The largest LPWAN in the UK is Vodafone’s NB-IoT network, but as this only covers 70% of the population, other networks, such as Wireless Network Developments’ [WND] Sigfox, are required to plug the gaps.
This makes taking a uniform approach to rolling IoT out to councils across the country impossible, and means that companies supplying solutions must tailor their strategies around implementing the tech based on location.
In order to make this workable, councils must ensure that they have the infrastructure in place to facilitate IoT adoption and make it available to all relevant end users in the local area, but at present this is not the case across the board.
Widespread implementation of public sector IoT solutions will continue to be hamstrung until this problem is addressed and more councils put the necessary measures in place to allow IoT to work to its fullest potential.
Value chain complexity and resultant costs from margin stacking
IoT solutions are made up of a number of key building blocks or components, each of which forms a part of the IoT value chain.
These components each add value to the solution, and ultimately to the end user, but the fact that they must often be sourced separately deters many councils from doing so, especially given the various costs resulting from margin stacking.
Councils must understand, therefore, that some suppliers can deliver all aspects of the value chain– right through from developing and installing the tech, harvesting the data, and providing reports on its results – so as to keep costs down and remove the complexity that is often associated with the value chain.
Taking this single approach to sourcing the necessary components also means that solutions are more likely to integrate more seamlessly into councils’ existing management systems, making IoT adoption appear a less drastic change from current practices.
Transforming the public sector
While significant strides have already been made in rolling out IoT to larger parts of the public sector, there is still much that must be done before the technology can become truly commonplace among local authorities.
This will require a more in-depth dialogue between solutions providers and council leaders, so that a clearer understanding of how IoT works and the benefits it can bring can be established.
Through collaboration, suppliers and councils can harness the power of IoT to revolutionise the public sector and make services fit for purpose in a world that is constantly evolving alongside digital advancement.