digital

Internet of Things – an opportunity for Government?

When the world’s mobile telecoms movers and shakers gather in Barcelona next week they will inevitably be thinking about the next wave of the technology revolution. The Internet of Things and Machine to Machine have been talked about for a while and there will be an impatience for the commercial impact to really be felt.

Aside from commercial judgments, what about how governments should exploit the potential of digital to solve today’s challenges. In Barcelona I will be discussing with ministers how we can realise the potential of this new technology across the public sector.

A starting point is the urgent need for governments to do things differently.

The old ways of delivering public services were forged in the post war industrial economy. They are no longer affordable. By contrast, communication with citizens has never been more affordable thanks to social technology. And the problems are now so complex that the only practical way to solve them is collaboratively with citizens.

So this is the right time to argue for a new mindset, learning from the commercial world and finding new models of service delivery. The Internet of Things offers some interesting examples.

I have been using wearable technology to monitor my health for 18 months and know it changes my health behaviour for the good. In doing so I am conscious of the trade off in terms of that health data also going to a third party. If we can find a way of building public trust in the use of their data there is huge potential in public health to save on care and on chronic diseases like diabetes.

There is plenty more. Driverless vehicles can help with congestion, and smart meters can help with affordable heating and tackling climate change. Prof Stephen Heppell has been doing very interesting analysis around the ideal learning environment – the right levels of light, heat, sound and air quality for learning – a smart school can deliver these things. There is also the great learning potential from analysing the huge amount of data created by the Internet of Things.

But I must also sound some warnings.

I have already touched on the growing concern about personal data. Connecting objects appears to be all about creating more data points. Some of that will be data about me that I may not want others to know. If my smart meter is hacked into, could thieves then surmise when my home is normally empty? How safe is my health data and my shopping data?

The technology revolution is creating economic growth but it is not evenly distributed. Recent reports suggests that the richest 1% now own 99% of the wealth. That is not sustainable. The rise of extreme politics and terrorism has to be related to a sense that the status quo is not delivering for many, and so people are looking for an alternative. Will this next technology wave of the Internet of Things lessen or exaggerate that problem?

As a schools minister in the UK, I was responsible for a huge spend on classroom technology. Unfortunately the element of the budget for training got stripped out and so we had a limited return on investment. We had become so be-dazzled by the potential of technology enhanced learning that we had forgotten about the people.

People must be at the heart of this new technology. And here I am impatient to see genuine attempts to design co-creation into public services.

In the commercial world we have seen the technology journey from producer efficiency to consumer personalisation, to now co-creation.

So the challenge is to combine the ability to connect things, with people generated design. Ministers in Barcelona would be wise not be too dazzled by the Machine to Machine technology until the loop is closed of people to machine to machine to people. Then they can get the consent and to harness technology to deliver what the people want from their public services – more for less.

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