The government’s chief scientific adviser has released his long-awaited review on the internet of things (IoT), which was commissioned by the Prime Minister earlier this year.
Sir Mark’s Walport’s review is comprehensive and authoritative. It provides welcome recommendations on how the UK can seize an opportunity worth trillions of pounds. The report has three particularly laudable qualities:
First, its focus on how practical applications of IoT can deliver benefits to key areas such as energy, healthcare, agriculture, transport and buildings. By doing this, the review avoids all the clichés usually associated with IoT - connected fridges, etc - in favour of focusing on the revolutionary improvements it can deliver for major aspects of our day-to-day lives.
We hear great detail, for example, how IoT can enhance aspects of NHS service delivery, as well as how it can help transform our country’s energy and transport infrastructure. This is a welcome shift in the IoT narrative and one that must persist if we want to see implementation of IoT at scale across the UK.
UK a world leader
Second, the report rightly stresses that this is an area where the UK boasts a comparative advantage. Our blossoming tech startup sector is brimming with expertise in many of the areas that make up the IoT. We are world leading in M2M (machine to machine) solutions, chip design, and data analytics to name just three areas. Tech clusters in Cambridge, London, and Liverpool, among others, are awash with IoT expertise.
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Third, there are the recommendations themselves. The report makes 10 recommendations that cover eight areas - all of which TechUK strongly endorses. There are clear calls for government to take action in a variety of areas including: a strong leadership role on IoT; facilitating the creation of open, interoperable standards; the development of a roadmap for IoT infrastructure; encouraging public bodies to make their data open and available for real time analysis; and encouraging flexible regulatory frameworks in those domains affected by IoT so they can keep pace with technological developments.
Of the 10 recommendations, those pertaining to commissioning; skills & research; trust; and co-ordination are especially welcome.
On commissioning, we are delighted to see the report make special reference to the role the public sector can play in being a leader in adopting IoT products and services. The IoT represents an opportunity for government to invest smartly, while extracting maximum value for citizens.
The report’s skills and research recommendation centres on the need for the maths curriculum to focus more on problem solving, while also encouraging academia, businesses, and government to work together to produce more data scientists. Both recommendations complement similar points made in TechUK’s manifesto released in September.
Security by default
The chief scientist also places major emphasis on the need for the IoT to be secure, recommending that CPNI (the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure) and CESG – the IT security arm of GCHQ - should collaborate to make sure that privacy principles based on “security by default” are inherent to IoT development. Privacy and security are absolutely fundamental to IoT’s future success. They are central to ensuring that citizens are on board and at ease with its development. This recommendation is therefore most welcome.
Finally, the report’s recommendation that the Digital Economy Council should create an internet of things advisory board to aid coordination is one that TechUK strongly supports. The Digital Economy Council is chaired by TechUK with the Departments for Culture, Media and Sport, and Business, Innovation and Skills, and it is already making significant strides towards helping government and industry work better together to create the best possible environment for the tech industry in the UK to flourish. It is very much the appropriate place for the UK’s IoT development to be coordinated.
In all, we are delighted the chief scientific adviser has drawn up such an astute list of recommendations. If they are adopted by government they could really help the UK seize the opportunity presented by the IoT. Of course, the key thing now is ensuring the recommendations are taken on board and implemented in a timely fashion.