How policymakers can embrace the wider social, economic and environmental benefits of the cloud-enabled Internet of Things
Much of the discussion about digitization has focused on the economic benefits and efficiencies it brings to big business, the “fourth industrial revolution”. But what about the broader socio-economic impact of cloud computing, smart data and intelligent technology?
A new study by Forrester Research highlights some of these wider benefits, as identified by early adopters of cloud-based IoT. For example, an enterprise architect for a leading British university who was interviewed for the study cited the impact that adding sensors to their streetlights had on campus: “It helps with reducing energy [cost] savings, but what people notice is the improvement in safety.”
Throughout the study, unexpected and additional benefits were consistently mentioned among interviewees from a variety of sectors. Whether it’s hospitals or doctors using remote monitoring to cut costs and allow patients to remain comfortable at home, or supermarkets using sensors to increase the shelf-life of produce and cut food waste, all the interviewed early users of cloud-based IoT reported improvements and efficiencies in their business operations, as well as some kind of larger socio-economic or environmental value-add.
With the General Data Protection Regulation and Network and Information Security Directive close to formal adoption, the European Commission is looking at the next chapter: modifying regulation to eliminate barriers to digitization. Legal issues are being looked at related to data ownership, liability, and the use of public and private data, while considering new scenarios created by a combination of sophisticated sensor usage, intelligent processing and autonomous decision-making.
So how can we create the right framework conditions to foster the positive impact of IoT while safeguarding against potential risks? In other words, do we create regulatory conditions based on pre-cautionary principles or with innovation in mind?
Focusing on bringing the benefits of smart data to all will be an important first step. Central to this will be to give everyone equal access to data insights – companies (big, medium and small), public sector bodies, academics and civil society organizations.
This will also require us to think more about the use rights for data combined from multiple sources, machine-to-machine data, public and private data as well as what data reveals and how it will be used. The balance between privacy rights and wider social benefits, ethical considerations and underlying governance structures will become central to this debate in the future.
And yet, over-regulation may lead to unintended consequences. We need a principle-based approach defined by values. Further harmonization of standards and protocols is essential to prevent fragmentation. Recognizing existing international security standards, such as ISO 27001 and ISO 27034, is important to raising levels of confidence while we undergo this process of digital disruption across all sectors and society as a whole.
Policymakers must also continue to make concerted efforts to address Europe’s digital skills deficit (projected to reach 825,000 unfilled vacancies by 2020) if we are to field the kind of highly skilled workforce needed to take advantage of the opportunities cloud-based IoT services can bring. This means modernizing education systems and rendering them fit for the digital age by establishing computer science as a curriculum cornerstone across EU member states.
As the Forrester study reveals, IoT technologies can help us achieve significant benefits beyond economic efficiencies and business transformation to tackle global challenges such as reducing food waste, creating better learning conditions or improving healthcare provisions. When defining IoT policies, regulators are advised to look beyond risks and the more obvious benefits to industry. Laws and policies need to be adapted to the digital age, defined by principles that allow us embrace new opportunities through technology without betraying the values we hold timeless.