Rise of the machines: A future the public sector can’t ignore

Analysts are unanimous: The Internet of Things is going to reshape the way our public services are delivered. Gartner has forecast a 30-fold increase in internet-connected physical devices by 2020, up to 26 billion devices. Governments are backing it too. In March 2014, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I see the Internet of Things as a huge transformative development. We are on the brink of a new industrial revolution”.

Machine to Machine (M2M) or The Internet of Things, as it’s becoming more commonly known as, is no longer a niche technical term. It’s a driving force for innovation in our cities, homes, cars and workplaces.So you’ve probably come across M2M-enabled devices already, but what exactly does it mean for the public sector? Your Ready Business spoke to Adam Armer, Business Development and Innovation Manager at Vodafone UK about why local government should start thinking about implementing M2M to improve services for their citizens.

M2M can help bring efficiencies and improve the quality of life in many areas when applied by the public sector. Here are just a few examples.

Keep traffic flowing

A significant share of congestion, particularly in towns and cities, is caused by drivers searching for parking spaces. For example it is estimated that 30% of all traffic in the City of Westminster is caused by drivers looking for spaces, and that 15% of its 12,000 parking spaces remain empty because drivers don’t know where they are.

M2M helps keep vehicles moving – tracking empty spaces and guiding drivers to them. Add traffic lights, signage, parking meters and enforcement cameras, and you have a smart traffic system that can reduce delays and even improve safety.

Improve public transport

Public transport is a core community service, but delays and cancellations are hugely disruptive. By connecting buses, trains and trams with M2M tracking solutions, digital displays at stops and stations can be kept up to date, enabling passengers to plan their journeys and keeping them informed about delays. By adding M2M Wi-Fi at these stops and onboard your transport too, a city can drive up the productivity of its citizens, keeping them always connected while improving their transport experience.

Cities can create a unified public transport system, which can carry greater passenger volumes while delivering a seamless experience from end to end.

Simplifying street lighting

People take it for granted, but there’s a huge cost and effort involved in keeping our streets well lit. Energy bills run into the millions and there are also costly maintenance visits.

M2M-enabled streetlights can speed up maintenance by automatically alerting engineering teams to faults. They can also drive down electricity bills by accordingly adapting lighting to traffic volumes, weather conditions and the time of day. If connected or smart streetlights were rolled out to all 7.5 million streetlights in the UK, this could drive savings of £52.9 million on energy costs and £161.9 million in maintenance, equating to total savings of almost £215million.

Better serve vulnerable citizens

According to Age UK, 11 million people are over the age of 65 in the UK, and this is expected to rise to 16 million by 2030. Caring for the infirm and those with chronic conditions puts a huge burden on social care and healthcare resources.

Connected devices worn or installed in the home can monitor motion, enabling carers to check that all is well without having to visit, and raising the alarm automatically should there be a fall or other problem. Connected healthcare devices can enable people to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and other key health indicators around the clock in their own homes so they can avoid trips to the clinic or hospital for routine check-ups.

Drive waste out of bins

People soon notice if the roads aren’t swept or gritted, if health or social care services stop, or if infrastructure isn’t maintained. Yet these, and countless other services, are costly and labour intensive to deliver. M2M can help local authorities in many ways. Take bin collections, for example. Overflowing bins look unattractive and can be a health hazard, but it’s a waste of public money to send out crews and lorries too frequently. M2M-enabled bins can report on how full they are, so you can optimise collection rotas and routes and cut unnecessary journeys, while maintaining standards of cleanliness.

For many authorities it will be some years before all public services are truly connected, but it’s important to  remember that M2M can produce dramatic results in simple ways. Connecting up bins, buses or buildings can:

• Give you better control

• Help you cut costs

• Significantly improve core public services

With your first M2M applications in place, you’ll begin gathering new streams of data from devices all over the network. It’s this big data that enables services to be improved, processes to become more efficient and cost savings to be made.

Big data gathered by M2M solutions can guide policy and planning decisions.

It’s a future the public sector can’t ignore

As David Cameron’s ‘new industrial revolution’ gathers pace towards everything being connected in 10 years’ time, all those in the public sector would be wise to look to M2M. Our environment, our economy and, of course, our quality of life will depend on it more and more as we move forward.