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Author's profile photo Marlyn Zelkowitz

Internet of Things: Unlimited Possibilities

The Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning are expected to transform both public and private sectors, probably in ways we have not yet imagined. A leading expert on the business of IoT, Bruce Sinclair of Iot-Inc recently discussed his latest book, “IoT Inc: How Your Company Can Use the Internet of Things to Win in the Outcome Economy” at an event hosted by Washington Technology.

Sinclair discussed some of the ways companies are using IoT to :

  • Improve operations
  • Improve maintenance
  • Make existing products better
  • Design new products

Included in new products are new business models and selling based on outcomes. Examples include Tesla’s software-defined car, charging agricultural producers based on percentage of crop yield, or shifting from a time-based to predictive maintenance service model to help customers have better outcomes.

How does IoT improve outcomes in public sector?

Improved outcomes in public sector range from public safety to citizen health to better use of scarce resources. A few of my favorite examples relate to water and air.

The Moundsville Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia used IoT to change its approach to treatment. Rather than fix a broken blower unit, plant managers decided to replace the system with a new blower, sensors to control air flow and two new tanks. Not only does this new approach keep citizens safe and free from harm, but it also saves the plant US$ 50-60,000 per month.


Another water-related example relates to urban resilience. These days extreme rainfall and storm are becoming more frequent worldwide. The City of Buenos Aires placed sensors in storm drains to better manage water. The sensors are integrated with the city’s back-end enterprise resource planning system, powerful analytics, and geographical information for context. The sensor locations are shown on a city dashboard showing storm drain locations and problems, so city officials can send maintenance to clear storm drains continuously. The city also monitors weather conditions and alerts citizens and businesses to hold their trash when severe storms are expected. Trash frequently causes clogged storm drains. As a result, despite recent record rainfall, there was no loss of life.

Health care and IoT could bring about better health outcomes. Imagine citizens as sensors for air quality. The City of Louisville, Kentucky provided smart inhalers to citizens with asthma correlating data from their usage with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and sensor data on air quality to explore the connection between asthma severity and air pollution. As a result, these citizens are help to crowdsource crucial information.

Analytics and security will be critical for the Internet of Things to drive better outcomes

Each of the examples above involve sensors in machines or devices streaming data that needs to be analyzed, contextualized, secured and protected. Consider the citizen data from inhalers. Combining information on asthma attacks based on inhaler usage with maps and possibly time series, government officials can detect an outbreak and gain insights into potential causes. This could involve fining a factory for violating emissions laws or requiring installation of screens to minimize the impact of small particulate emissions. Or the outbreak may be correlated with weather data, such as high pollen counts. In that case, officials can advise citizens to stay indoors when pollen counts are high. When using health data, it must be properly handled to insure patient privacy and compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) .

With the exponential use of devices and sensors in IoT, cybersecurity will be increasingly important. While it may be possible to install new secure devices, the cost to retro-fit all older devices for today’s cybersecurity standards may be too expensive for constrained state budgets. From a practical standpoint, for older devices and sensors that are not being replaced, CIOs may wish to use analytics at the edge, secure the perimeter, and selectively bring clean data into central systems.

Despite the risks, I’m very excited about harnessing the potential of smart devices and the data generated for economic and social good in future. We are only limited by our imaginations.


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      Author's profile photo Purbasha Garai
      Purbasha Garai

      Very comprehensive update on IoT, thank you!!

      Author's profile photo Marlyn Zelkowitz
      Marlyn Zelkowitz
      Blog Post Author


      Thanks for the positive feedback! Glad you liked it.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Marlyn. I'm glad that you addressed the concerns about privacy and security.  Both are requirements for future success, especially with our critical infrastructure systems.  Excellent summary.


      Author's profile photo Osvaldo Lopez
      Osvaldo Lopez

      Marlyn! Totally agree with you.

      I’m very excited about harnessing the potential of smart devices and the data generated for economic and social good in future. We are only limited by our imaginations.

      But., we need to be more “open mind” as a society.

      I can not get out of my thoughts the words one of the SAP judges told me – in SAP Labs Argentina’s Innomarathon last week: “your project is very ambitious” (speaking of a project combining the Internet of Things with Machine Learning, among other technologies from SAP Leonardo).


      Author's profile photo Marlyn Zelkowitz
      Marlyn Zelkowitz
      Blog Post Author


      Thanks, Osvaldo. Keep the faith!


      Ambitious <=> Visionary.