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Internet of Things & Bureaucracy​



With a trillion sensors embedded in the environment- all connected by computing systems, software and services-it will be possible to hear the heartbeat of the Earth, impacting human interaction with the globe as profoundly as internet has revolutionized communication

Digital India is now officially a flagship program which aims at ‘transforming India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy’. If Digital India has to effect a transformation of sorts, Internet of Things (IoT) will have to be given a central role in the vision and implementation of governance. While ‘Digital India’ has gained currency as a buzzword, ‘Internet of Things’ is a relatively new term for the discourse on governance in India.

As per the draft policy of the Government,the number of Internet-connected devices (12.5 billion) surpassed the number of human beings (7 billion) on the planet in 2011, and by 2020, Internet-connected devices are expected to number between 26 billion and 50 billion globally. The policy document asserts that Digital India encompasses many flagship initiatives such as Smart Cities which can succeed only if Internet of Things (IoT) can be materialized and leveraged. Under Digital India, IoT is envisioned to ‘help automate’ solution for problems related to agriculture, health services, energy, sercurity, disaster management etc with the help of ‘remotely connected devices’.

As per the vision of Digital India, Internet of Things involves three distinct stages:
1. The sensors which collect data (including identification and addressing the sensor/device)
2. An application which collects and analyzes this data for further consolidation
3. Decision making and the transmission of data to the
decision-making server. Analytical engines, actuators and Big data may be used for the decision making process.

The rationale provided in the policy document is to develop ‘connected, secure and smart IoT based system for our country’s Economy, Society, Environment and global needs.’

In economic terms, the government has envisioned to ‘create an IoT industry in India of USD 15 billion by 2020.’ For a digitally connected India, the government aims to increase in the connected devices from around 200 million to over 2.7 billion by 2020. The draft policy on IoT cites Gartner Report which states that the total revenue generated from IoT industry would be USD 300 billion and the connected devices would be 27 billion by 2020 globally. India, the document asserts, will have ‘a share of 5-6% of global IoT industry.’

Among the many things that ail the Indian masses, IoT will have develop products specific to Indian needs in the domains of agriculture, health, water quality, natural disasters, transportation, security, automobile, supply chain management, smart cities, automated metering and monitoring of utilities, waste management, Oil & Gas) etc.

At the global level, the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved with the convergence of multiple technologies such as wireless communication, internet and embedded systems and micro electromechanical systems (MEMS). In other words, the domains like embedded systems, wireless sensor networks, control systems, automation and others seamlessly come together to enable IoT. The idea of a network of smart devices was explored way back in 1982 in the form of a modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University which became the first internet-connected appliance.It was the first machine to report its inventory and the status of newly loaded drinks. Mark Weiser’s pioneering paper on ubiquitous computing in 1991 paved way for IoT.

It is not the ire of a lone critic but bureaucracy is the bane of India, its Achilles’ heel. Even the Prime Minister conceded it in the interview given to Time magazine where he frankly averred that‘the government systems’ work in‘silos’., operating in isolation and that we need to get ‘these silos broken down'.

From an ordinary citizen to the Prime Minister of the country, the narrative is the same -the bureaucratic roadblocks to process and endless delay for the simplest of permissions and procedures characterize Indian bureaucracy. In the draft policy for IoT, the Government has conveniently missed out as to how we shall change the mindset of the people who grace the public offices to work in a digitally empowered and connected fashion and how we shall educate them that we live in a world where there are no departments, no territories, no time for the characteristic bureaucratic delay. If Digital India has to succeed, Internet of Things will need to become an all encompassing phenomenon and bureaucracy will need to undergo rigorous training to cope with the challenges of a connected world.

The author is Senior Researcher, HP Labs. Views are personal.

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