While technical concerns have been raised in the past, slow adoption of the internet of things (IoT) is now more likely to be due to a lack of clarity on what it offers and how it can be harnessed.
In recent years, battery life, underlying connectivity and processing power have all improved, supporting the development of better performing devices and applications for the IoT. The increasing maturity of the technology has also led to further adoption, sometimes to quite advanced levels, but only in pockets of the consumer and enterprise markets.
The UK, however, has not seen the level of adoption that was expected. The lack of large-scale IoT deployments in the UK is partly to blame. Low levels of confidence remain due to limited experience with the technology and procurement processes in a UK-specific environment. This is particularly apparent with local authorities, where fragmentation and differences in municipal structures globally mean experiences in one place do not translate to another.
The UK cannot afford to sit back and let the IoT revolution pass us by. The recent Made Smarter Review outlined that industrial IoT alone could boost the economy by £352 billion by 2030. This can only happen if we provide the right environment to develop IoT concepts. Connectivity is a key part of this. According to EEF, representing UK manufacturing, just over 50 per cent of manufacturers believe their current internet connection needs to be improved for their expected needs over the next five years.
The IoT can deliver incredible benefits, enabling better health services, cleaner and safer public spaces, more efficient infrastructure, and generating more innovative businesses and business models.
Boosting support for domestic IoT suppliers will also open the door to an incredible export market, driving growth and investment into the UK, with the global IoT market set to be worth up to $15 trillion in 2030, according to Accenture.
The business case is strong, but an IoT-enriched economy cannot be driven by industry alone, and government must work collaboratively with businesses to steer the way. There are several ways to do this.
Government, in conjunction with industry, should aim for more demonstrators and funds for IoT concepts. These demonstrators need to help prove business cases rather than retesting technology. This is an area of current market failure. As well as investing, the public sector needs to use procurement as a tool to help scale solutions. To embrace more innovative offerings, procurement should adopt challenge-based, outcome-focused approaches to new technologies.
Trust remains an issue with the IoT. Government interventions should focus on the framework within which the value of IoT is determined, encouraging industry-driven, consensus-based standards. Industry and government, including agencies, should collaborate to develop IoT security and privacy policies that enable customers to understand and trust IoT products and solutions. Government should also be mindful of the IoT-specific data challenges and standardise data governance, data collection and dissemination by mirroring global best practice. These actions will help increase trust and drive adoption.
As Steve Jobs said: “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” With this in mind, we must keep people at the centre of devices and systems design. Industry should engage better with users to raise awareness about how to use new devices and services, enabled by the IoT, effectively and securely.
Government should explore how it can better educate users on IoT security. It’s important users understand they can help prevent vulnerabilities by ensuring their devices are updated and patched.
The IoT market in the UK has not developed as quickly as we thought it would, but the potential benefits are vast. The IoT can improve the lives of our citizens as well as increase our productivity and boost our earning power. If the UK is to experience these benefits fully, government and industry must work together now to galvanise the market and drive greater adoption.
By Julian David, chief executive of techUK