Milton Keynes Council has highlighted the success of its bespoke approach to the Internet of Things (IoT) and has called on the public sector to follow its example.
Geoff Snelson, director of strategy at Milton Keynes Council, said during an IoT panel discussion chaired by V3 at TechUK's Public Services 2030 Conference that the use of the IoT needs to be tailored to the specific needs of local public services.
"Many of these solutions are known, but they need to be bespoke to the particular environment or circumstances of the place," he said.
"And that requires a degree of interaction - people spending time together working through a solution collectively, rather than turning up with products expecting a city council, for example, to buy stuff.
"There are very few examples of the actual implications in the field of IoT technologies in the public sector."
Snelson talked about some of the council's IoT projects, including trials of driverless cars (pictured), parking sensors, smart bins and expanding the low-powered wide area network that provides IoT connectivity across the city.
Smart bins, in particular, have yielded results for Milton Keynes. Monitoring the use of recycling bins in the city allows better fleet management for the council's waste disposal contractor by sending trucks to areas where they are needed rather than following a set route.
This use of the IoT helped the contractor to avoid buying a new truck to cope with areas that are particularly prolific with recycling.
Snelson also outlined a new project using the accelerometers in smartphones in conjunction with a council app to track the movement of people around the city.
"We're building a city motion map which is a real-time live feed of traffic and pedestrian movement across the entire city which people can use to develop value-added products around things like satnav," he said.
Milton Keynes is continuing to embrace the IoT, but other councils and the wider public sector tend to lag behind.
The panel said that the public sector needs to figure out how it can embrace connected technology on a case-by-case basis with an emphasis on the results the IoT can deliver, not the technology behind it.
Dan Byles, MP for North Warwickshire and Bedworth, praised the bespoke, outcomes-led approach Milton Keynes is taking towards the IoT and believes the rest of the public sector needs to follow suit.
"The public sector isn't a single homogenous sector, it's a whole series of different sectors and levels of national and local government," he said.
"The technology is there. This is no longer a question about whether the technology is available to do the exciting stuff. It comes down to business case and real use case at the end of the day.
"No-one wants to live in a smart city, nobody wants to have an IoT-enabled council. They want to live in a city or town where the bins are emptied effectively, the transport flows work well, the energy works well. It's about the real outcomes."
Byles explained that such an approach will help the public sector to make better use of the IoT and the information it provides.
"You need to do this is because in the long run it's going to reduce your costs and make your services more efficient, more targeted and better," he said.
"People will get the services they need delivered where they need them, when they need them and at the appropriate level, because you're doing it through knowledge, through data and innovation, rather than through the blunderbuss [approach] of putting services out there and hoping the local people will pick them."
Byles noted that the government does not have to mandate IoT technologies for public sector use, but could set up a procurement policy where technology suppliers must explain how their products are going to deliver results for public services.
"It's not about technology, it's about business process and mindsets. If the government can do that and get it right, with a relatively light touch they can really provide an added momentum to this," he said.
Robert McNamara, associate director at TechUK, said that the technology industry also has stumbling blocks to overcome in providing the products and services to support IoT adoption.
"There are much broader challenges the industry faces. The IoT has been discussed for many years, but it is still pretty nascent and there is very much a need to create a new IoT ecosystem in the UK," he said.
These hurdles include concerns about IoT security and the skills needed to support its development, and uncertainty about whether the UK's communication infrastructure can support widespread IoT networks.
McNamara explained that the technology industry needs to support the standardisation of IoT networks, devices, services and their application if its potential is to be realised.
The panel concluded that the IoT's role in the public sector is unavoidable, particularly in yielding cost and efficiency benefits.
However, the public sector and technology industry must work together to find the best applications for connected technologies if the widespread IoT adoption by 2030 as touted by ARM is to be realised.
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