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How Governments Make IoT Work for Them

The Internet of Things (IoT) is now a reality, resulting in all levels of government racing to create programs they once dreamed of.

IoT is the network of physical objects that can connect and exchange data, providing possibilities limited only by what items can become embedded with the right equipment. As more governments try using the technology for themselves, where should their peers start when approaching IoT’s potential for them?

“IoT becomes the bridge between computing power and real-world applications,” Dr. Sokwoo Rhee, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Associate Director for Cyber-Physical Systems, said during a recent GovLoop online training. “That interaction between the physical world and the logical world is really what IoT is.”

Hardik Bhatt, Leader of Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) Smart Cities and Mobility Vertical, said that governments considering new IoT investments should start by recognizing how it helps their citizens.

“Today we are seeing government leaders evaluating what their highest priority problems are,” he said. “What’s the return on investment they’re looking for? Technology is an enabler now for lots of savings and lots of innovation for improving customer service.”

Rhee said that agencies should recognize one of IoT’s main benefits is generating new forms of data that ultimately produces savings.

“They’re being asked to do more with less,” he said of governments. “Budgets are not exactly growing exponentially. This is where IoT is becoming useful.”

Kansas City, Missouri, for example, has deployed 328 Wi-Fi access points, 178 smart streetlights and 25 video kiosks. This array was combined with pavement sensors, video cameras and other devices along a two-mile stretch of the Kansas City Streetcar infrastructure.

The streetcar program collected, correlated and analyzed sensor data through a holistic cloud infrastructure, helping city officials accurately predict traffic infrastructure and patterns that resulted in monetary savings and improved convenience and safety for citizens.

“When we’re talking about IoT, we are talking about massive amounts of data,” Rhee said. “We are thinking holistically about how we can collect and arrange these sets of data and create new value.”

Bhatt said that some governments have avoided implementing IoT over security or data privacy concerns, adding that many of those obstacles are increasingly manageable as the technology improves.

“Security is a journey,” he said. “It’s never a destination. You need to continue marching towards a more and more secure state. There’s also the security at the level that data is being stored and secured.”

Rhee said that governments should realize how partnering with one another on IoT increases its benefits for all parties.

“Municipal governments are more siloed than you think,” he said of one example. “Even if they’re only 50 miles apart, I’ve seen cases where smart city programs are completely isolated. They could probably benefit from economies of scale as they’re in the same region.”

Bhatt said that such teamwork improves public services, citing Louisville, Kentucky as one instance due to its traffic analysis system. Louisville’s IoT-driven program used open source coding, making its traffic information available to every municipality nationwide.

“I’m seeing a lot of collaboration,” he said of where IoT’s heading next. “That’s a huge game changer.”

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