IoT: what it means for government and citizens


Once the outlandish dream of sci-fi writers and mad men, the age of intelligent systems has not only arrived, it has been invited into the home. And while there, has offered to do the washing, entertain the children and lock-up at night-time.

This emerging reality, known as ‘the internet of things’ (IoT), refers to the relationship between operating systems, data and machinery.


While most people think of IoT in terms of their domestic applications (as in the above example) few could guess at that the multitudes of ways in which IoT currently affects life. And fewer still could guess where these developments in technology will lead us. The scope is mind-boggling, having not only the capacity to completely change our everyday lives, but also transforming a wide variety of industries and potentially generating significant economic growth.

At the core of IoT is connection; how systems connect with each other, but also the role technology will play between people, processes and organisations.

Connection is also one of the primary aims of good governance. The relationship between government and citizens affects every single aspect of life. Therefore it is critical that the public sector has an understanding of how these developments are going to change the way it relates to its residents and also how they can best harness its potential in order to ensure that the changes are positive for all.

The citizen experience

According to Cisco, there are numerous ways in which IoT will affect the way the public sector functions, from cost reduction to the work environment. But the most exciting and meaningful among them is the way technology will fundamentally change the relationship between a government and its people.

One of the big focuses in this transition is the promotion of a better standard of living, which incorporates concerns for the environment, savvy use of available assets, and positive community contribution. In order to do this, dozens of urban areas, known as ‘smart cities’, have installed such systems across a range of sectors.  

For example, London is rolling out a significant smart city initiative, which encompasses installing solar panel systems on homes to both generate energy and reduce footprint; testing electric bikes; and the creation of the London Datastore, a platform to make data open and available to the public.

Barcelona, voted the smart city of 2015 has implemented a programme that spans integrated traffic systems, transport networks, free emergency services for elderly, disabled or sick citizens, and the ‘telemanagement’ of irrigation.

Several cities have been trialling smart parking – drivers can use an app to find vacant spaces as well as parking metres that are price sensitive; it can take into account the current volume in a car park, and can also communicate with other networks to ascertain whether there are public events happening and price accordingly. India has also announced a hugely ambitious 100 smart city plan. These projects are looking at areas as diverse as polling, population, disaster services and tourism.

Cost reduction and value

All these initiatives will have a significant impact on government bodies. One of the clearest outcomes is cost reduction and economic growth. Cisco highlighted ways in which governments have already saved money with some early initiatives including:

  • 7 percent crime reduction based on smart lighting (U.K.)
  • 15 percent travel savings due to immersive video (high-definition video collaboration, U.S.)
  • 30 percent reduction in waste-collection costs driven by usage of sensors (U.S.)
  • $950 savings per court appearance through use of video technology (U.S.)

Looking at the bigger picture, there could be substantial cost reduction in other areas including:

  • Resource management: This includes water systems (assessing pipelines, water flow, more accurate readings) gas and electricity (sensors to track energy use).
  • Monitoring infrastructure: Bridges, roads and railways to both detect signs of early damage, but also to ensure regular maintenance and repair.
  • Employee productivity: Lessening/ending the commute through teleconference, better IT monitoring, programmes that will allow senior staff to better manage performance reviews and HR queries.
  • Roads and traffic:  More nuanced toll monitoring, interoperable systems that can direct traffic flow, more accurate traffic offence readings

While it is difficult to assess the bearing of these activities, research done by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that there is a wealth of potential.

They have looked at 150 instances of where IoT is used and have projected that the economic impact could be anywhere between $4 trillion to $11 trillion a year by 2025. The overall outcome of this research leads them to venture that rather than IoT being over-hyped, we may have drastically underestimated its uses and potential.

The future?

Wim Elfrick, The Chief Globalisation Officer at McKinsey, says that it is not only unwise and risky for government and business to ignore the possibilities of IoT, it may be catastrophic:

"As technology enables a host of new services over common platforms, we’re going to see whole new industries arise and new waves of innovation. The future of competition will be among cities, and the ones that thrive will be those that have overall sustainability—economic, social, and environmental. From a sustainability point of view, it’s a good thing for the planet. And it’s probably the only way out."

IoT is changing and will continue to change the relationship between the public sector and the populace. In order to best serve their citizens, to help bring them into the future and help them to realise a better way of life, it is vital that the public sector not only understands the ways in which IoT can be applied, but also make a commitment to applying it to their own environments. If it does not? Rather than realising the dream of those sci-fi writers and mad men, we risk being left in the stone age.