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The four divisions within the public sector that are “really hot and happening,” according to IDC, are transportation, public safety, energy and the environment and tourism.

In the wake of a string of tragic shootings involving police officers across the United States, the idea of body cams and wearables turning the police and other responders into connected officers is becoming more appealing to governments.

The Internet of Everything (IoE) is a broad term that refers to devices and consumer products connected to the Internet and equipped with expanded digital features. IoE is essentially the networked connection of people, process, data, and things.

Overall, cities all over the world are becoming increasingly aware of how IoE can help make them more efficient and safe while helping them save money or increase revenue. And as a result, the concept of adding connectivity to create value is taking off in the public sector.

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Global spending at all levels of government for IoT will reach US$1.2 trillion in 2017, according to a recent IDC Government Insights forecast.

“Government overall is one of the fastest-growing sectors with respect to IoT,” said Ruthbea Clarke, IDC's smart cities research director. “I think there’s starting to be less confusion around understanding what it is.”

Traditionally, governments worldwide have been slow to adopt IoE due to a variety of reasons.  In developing countries, governments are usually dealing with typically not enough infrastructure, notes Clarke. They are busy building new cities and trying to scale to demand quickly and safely. In more developed countries, such as the United States, that are quite urbanized already, the infrastructure is in place but is often old and in need of modernization.

“In a lot of cases there’s still infrastructure in the United States that needs to be built up so that cities can transmit data and manage data flows,” Clarke says.

 

Tom Kerber, an analyst at Dallas-based Parks Associates, believes many governments struggle with getting funding for IoT initiatives and must prove how they can help lower costs or improve revenue.

“The approval process in the public sector can be a challenge,” Kerber says. “Many different verticals within the public sector such as water and electricity can benefit from a combined infrastructure but are used to working independently. The very bureaucratic process has to be adjusted to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.”

Still, smart cities’ usage of connected things is expected to climb to 9.7 billion by 2020, up from an estimated 1.1 billion in 2015, according to a recent Gartner report.

The four divisions within the public sector that are “really hot and happening,” according to IDC’s Clarke, are transportation, public safety, energy and the environment and tourism.

Sensors in particular are a mechanism in which cities can gather and analyze data.

“The question a lot of cities have is which physical assets get sensors and why. But I expect we’ll be seeing them on everything from light poles to trash cans to park benches,” Clarke said. “Cities are also asking how can we use sensors to more efficiently manage the infrastructure that we have right now.”

Some cities, for example, are installing smart lighting that includes capabilities that would improve both traffic and public parking.

“Parking is an issue with many cities,” Kerber says.  “A lot of the initiatives on the city side include having access to data where you know spots are, or can dynamically adjust parking on meters.”

Some cities are using trash bins equipped with sensors that collect data on which bins are empty or full. The sensors then transmit the data to city computers so officials can more efficiently dispatch pickup crews and trucks.

Smart meters are also increasingly common among utilities. EPB, formally the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, is an electricity distribution and telecommunications company owned by the city of Chattanooga, Tenn. EPB made headlines in recent years when it installed a fiber optic network that passed through every home and business in the city’s 600 square mil service territory for a total of 9,000 miles of fiber optic lines, according to EPB spokeswoman Danna Bailey.

In addition to that effort, EPB has integrated its meters with the city’s Smart Grid Management System, and as such, six billion data points are collected annually. This data provides automated meter reading and billing, outage and voltage anomaly detection, automated connect and disconnect and theft detection. Customers have online access to their power usage in 15-minute intervals. 

Also in 2009, EPB installed interrupter switches all over the power grid in an effort to identify and fault or a problem in the power grid.

“These switches can communicate in milliseconds, so we’re able to reroute the power around the problem,” Bailey said. “What that means is a lot of people, homes and businesses that would have in the past experienced a lengthy interruption actually had zero interruption. This IoT initiative has already resulted in an average reduction of power loss duration of 55 percent.”

For now, Chattanooga seems to be more of the exception than the rule.

When IDC in a recent survey asked divisions within the U.S. government how actively they were pursuing IoT initiatives, one-fifth said they were in production or in the pilot stage while one-fourth were in the research stage,” IDC’s Clarke said. “Over half – about 55 percent – were not even considering initiatives at the time of the surveys. Our belief is that they need to start moving into that group that is researching because IoT initiatives are going to have a really broad impact on our future.” 

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About Mary Ann Azevedo

Mary Ann Azevedo is an award-winning journalist based in Austin, Texas.