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There is enormous growth in the number of 'things' that incorporate sensors to capture data, photos and video and that can interact with people, IT systems and other things directly using Internet connectivity. The potential benefits and risks that arise have resulted in the Internet of Things (IoT) emerging as a critical area of interest to policymakers. Additionally, consumers have a growing awareness of the connected devices and sensors that are a part of the IoT, mainly through their domestic equipment, such as smart TVs and Internet-accessible home security systems and control systems for heating and lighting. It is evident that the IoT holds the potential for major economic opportunities across a wide variety of consumer and industrial sectors; however, there are important policy issues that affect the adoption of the IoT across these sectors.

RAND Europe carried out a study (commissioned by IoTUK and BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT) to support a process for policy feedback that will inform the development and adoption of the IoT in the UK. The study team used a bottom-up approach to gain a better understanding of what is happening 'on the ground' in the UK through insights from businesses and informed users of technology. The findings from the research present a number of opportunities and challenges. The research also generated a set of themes for action for further discussion by the policy community in the UK. While the topics for discussion and questions that follow from the findings are primarily aimed at the community of policymakers, the implications of these findings seek to provoke discussion across policy communities, including government policymakers (national and local), innovators, industry, academia and the public.

Key Findings

The findings from the research present a number of opportunities and challenges for the development and adoption of the IoT in the UK.

Opportunities from case studies of IoT implementations

  • Clear, unambiguous and standardised processes for personal data governance are considered to be prerequisites for linking up systems and for making them interoperable and trustworthy.
  • Non-technical factors, such as collaborative networks, organisational capabilities and culture, and citizen engagement, were identified as being important enabling factors for businesses.
  • The public sector as a strategic purchaser of new technologies could drive the uptake of the IoT. However, it would need to ensure that the small and medium enterprises (SME) leading IoT markets can participate and are assessed appropriately in procurement processes.

Challenges from case studies of IoT implementations

  • Creating both trust and confidence in the security of the data and processes enabled by the IoT is not always aligned with businesses' objectives to innovate quickly and deliver value.
  • Market uptake and business model–related factors are highlighted as key challenges to the growth of the IoT market. In particular, the need to demonstrate a sustainable business model with a solid return on investment poses a significant barrier to businesses.
  • There are mixed perceptions among IoT innovators on the ability and level of impact of public policy to drive and accelerate the IoT market.

Opportunities from survey of informed users of technology

  • There is a perception that the public sector could play a stronger role in accelerating the uptake of the IoT in the UK, but that it should put citizens at the forefront of these efforts. The priorities for support are seen to be in ensuring interoperability, investing in people (e.g. through skills, training or education), and fostering multistakeholder collaborations (e.g. among businesses, universities and government).
  • More transparency among organisations collecting and using data, as well as increased user control and digital literacy, are perceived as key priorities to enable trust and confidence in data sharing and governance.
  • From the user perspective, increased environmental sustainability and improved efficiencies for organisations are seen to be the most significant benefits of the IoT.
  • The sectors viewed as most likely to benefit from the IoT are transport and logistics, energy and environment, home, and healthcare.

Challenges from survey of informed users of technology

  • Privacy concerns and security vulnerabilities from increased connectivity, especially the misuse of personal data and the potential to compromise the integrity of business networks, are seen to be key barriers to the wider adoption of the IoT.

Based on these opportunities and challenges, the study attempted to support policy communities through describing a set of wide-ranging policy objectives and associated priority topics for further discussion and exploration. Specifically, we identified four themes for action, aimed at:

  • Supporting research and innovation in the IoT ecosystem, by (a) focussing on non-technical factors that drive adoption and (b) sharing knowledge from previous IoT-related projects, helping researchers and businesses avoid reinventing the wheel.
  • Stimulating greater demand for the IoT to be adopted more widely, by creating opportunities to use IoT solutions at the core of the delivery of public services.
  • Strengthening infrastructure and framework conditions for the development and adoption of the IoT as a systemic innovation, by (a) promoting greater interoperability and information sharing across applications and (b) supporting the use of integrated IoT infrastructure across sectoral boundaries to help scalability.
  • Mitigating the risks of a pervasive IoT, by (a) supporting a trusted, people-centric IoT ecosystem and (b) addressing concerns about the potential risks of IoT technologies to critical national infrastructure.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by IoTUK and the British Computer Society (BCS), the Chartered Institute for IT and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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