Accelerating the Internet of Things in the UK
Using policy to support practice
Illustration by Jess Plumridge/RAND
RAND Europe carried out a study to support a process for policy feedback that will inform the development and adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the UK. The study team gained a better understanding of what is happening 'on the ground' in the UK through insights from IoT implementations and informed users of technology. The study generated a set of themes for action and further exploration by the policy community in the UK.
Connecting the physical and virtual worlds underpins the ambition of the Internet of Things (IoT). The enormous growth in the number of connected ‘things’ around the world today has resulted in the IoT emerging as a critical area of interest to policymakers.
Many countries, including the United Kingdom, now regard the IoT as a highly significant, even strategic-level infrastructure for economic growth. As a result, the IoT has been receiving considerable attention from industry, universities and government alike. Furthermore, consumers have a growing awareness of the connected devices and sensors that enable the IoT, mainly through domestic equipment (e.g. smart TVs and Internet-accessible home security and control systems for heating and lighting).
It is evident 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 development and adoption of the IoT across these sectors.
With a growing body of IoT projects and commercial activities in the UK, there is a need to use evidence from ‘real world’ IoT implementations to inform policy in this rapidly emerging area. Furthermore, the significance of involving consumers of technology in informing IoT policy and in decision making cannot be overestimated, particularly when key decisions are to be made which touch upon such issues as privacy, security and trust. Clearly, there are numerous challenges that will require integrated and consistent policy responses across government.
Against this backdrop, the central aim of this study, commissioned by IoTUK and BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, was to support a process for policy feedback that will inform the development and adoption of the IoT in the UK. The project team adopted a bottom-up approach that allowed it to bring together insights from businesses and individual users of technology. This enabled the team to get a better idea of what is happening ‘on the ground’ in the UK.
To gain a rounded picture of the potential policy implications of IoT developments in the UK, the project team adopted a mixed-methods approach to designing the study. Broadly, the team conducted the research in three distinct but overlapping phases.
- In Phase 1, the team undertook an in-depth examination of nine ‘real world’ IoT projects in the UK identified by IoTUK (hereafter called case studies) to extract potential policy implications of these implementations. This involved a focused review of background documentation associated with each case study, followed by key informant interviews with individuals closely connected to the case studies.
- In Phase 2 of the study, the team carried out an online survey of informed users of technology to gauge their awareness of and views on key policy-relevant issues related to IoT developments in the UK.
- Finally, in Phase 3 of the project, the team triangulated the evidence from Phases 1 and 2 against a rapid review of current and previous UK government policy actions related to the IoT. The team synthesised its findings to produce a set of wide-ranging policy-relevant topics and supporting questions for further exploration and discussion.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Topics for Policy Discussion
Based on these opportunities and challenges, the study attempted to support policy communities (including national and local government policymakers, industry, innovators, academia and the public) through describing a set of wide-ranging policy objectives and associated priority topics for further discussion and exploration. Specifically, the research 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.
The infographic shown below depicts each of the proposed priority topics for consideration, clustered by policy objective.