How the Internet of Things Will Transform the Public Sector

The Internet of Things was once only imagined in fictitious worlds. Long before the rise of modern mobile devices, Captain Kirk used the handheld “Communicator” device to share real-time information across technologies in the 1964 Star Trek series. Today, we are able to start our cars, check food shortages in the fridge, and sync our health data to our cell phone at the touch of a button.

Modern advancements in artificial intelligence and digitization offer a gateway to a more interconnected world that senses and adapts to human needs. As we step from the world of science fiction into the reality of technological advancements, the public sector is beginning to explore how the Internet of Things will transform government to be more efficient, reduce waste, and better serve the public.

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing devices able to autonomously sense and communicate data (i.e. without human-to-human or human-to-technology interaction). These exchanges connect a gamut of technologies – from smartphones to cloud computing devices – to aggregate data and ultimately manage the needs of its end users. These embedded sensors and wirelessly connected devices can be seen in smart homes, self-driving cars, and integrated security systems today.

Applying the Internet of Things to Public Service

While the U.S. Government has begun migrating to cloud-based computing and leveraging artificial intelligence (see WBD’s defense contract AI tool under development), the Internet of Things offers greater advancements in smart public infrastructure, efficient transportation systems, enhanced emergency preparedness, and tailored communications.

In fact, these connected technologies are already beginning to infiltrate the public sector. Notably, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has deployed a network of more than 275 interconnected sensors along the Colorado River in Texas to monitor stream levels in real time and forecast floods. The Department of Homeland Security has since granted LCRA funding to further investigate this technology. In the future, these early stage sensors may geo-target citizens’ smartphones to advance emergency preparedness and save lives.

These real world applications set the model for the possibilities of IoT in the public sector.  From flood forecasting and reduced pollution to more integrated healthcare and connected militarized defense, the application of these technologies are limitless for public service.

Government Considerations for the Rise of IoT

The Internet of Things will enable the Government to increase efficiencies, reduce waste, and tailor solutions to their unique mission requirements. However, with this new wave of automation, the U.S. Government will need to take preliminary steps to harness and scale emerging capabilities.

The U.S. Government will first need to focus on capacity-building in order to integrate such interconnected technology. Senior leaders will need to adapt organizational structures to support these technologies and reskill their workforce in data analytics as well as emerging technologies. While the cost of cloud computing is lowering, the Government will also need to account for technology maintenance costs and procurement timelines. Although other transaction authorities have expedited the procurement of certain technology, the red tape surrounding federal acquisitions hinders the Government’s ability to rapidly adopt emerging technology.

Another key public concern is the standardization of security practices. While the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a 2019 report pertaining to IoT Cyberecurity and Privacy, holistic security practices and common frameworks that protect individuals’ privacy and secure corresponding data is still under development. NIST Computer Scientist and an author of the report said, “IoT is still an emerging field. Some challenges may vanish as the technology becomes more powerful. For now, our goal is awareness.”

While we have yet to develop all of the technology imagined in the world of Star Trek, the Internet of Things will offer industry and public sector alike opportunities to enhance their operations and better adapt to their stakeholders’ needs. The question is – how will U.S. Government adapt alongside it?

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