INTERNET OF THINGS

Is the Internet of Things the right opportunity for you?

With Internet of Things increasingly becoming sought after by government agencies, many companies are positioning themselves for what is seen as a growing opportunity in the government market.

The major telecommunications companies in particular see IoT on the rise, and believe the time is now to move to play a part in an emerging area.

“We’ve seen it time and time again in the federal marketplace where the government will adopt technologies that have originated in either the enterprise or the consumer markets,” said Dave Young, vice president of sales for civilian, defense and intelligence agencies at Level 3.

“We believe we’re going to see the government adopt technologies in the Internet of Things just like they’ve adopted these other technologies,” he added, mentioning cloud computing as an example.

For the government, with its enormous number of sensors and machines, the opportunity for contractors is huge, and the number of IoT applications are vast. And there is still time to set up an Internet of Things strategy, Young said, due to the fact that the government itself is still observing how IoT is useful in commercial markets.

As easy way to visualize the power of IoT is to think of parking lot at a large shopping mall. Above each parking space is a sensor that detects whether or not a car is parked there. If it is, the sensor turns the light above the space red; if it is not, the light is green. These lights are easy to see when driving around, trying to find a space.

The sensors also enable the ability to count the number of open spaces, providing actionable data for shoppers coming to the mall.

Parking lots might seem like a low priority for the federal government, but it is a bigger opportunity than one might think. “Overall, the difference between all the users of IoT is not that great,” said Dan Feldman, director, Internet of Things Product & New Business Innovation, Verizon. In other words, a government agency might be just as likely to see a need in an efficient, IoT-utilizing parking lot as a state or local government.

This is especially true since the government is focused on reducing traffic. “We’re seeing more funds, particularly in congestion mitigation, where you have the government freeing up money, offering contests and grants for traffic mitigation,” Feldman said.

“The government just has extraordinary opportunities whether it be in fleet management, supply chain, the way we connect our cities, our businesses, our homes, our vehicles together, the government has a huge role to play in utilizing these services,” said to Chris Smith, vice president, Technology, AT&T Global Business – Public Sector Solutions.

“If you look at the latest GAO reports, the number of non-tactical vehicles in the U.S. federal inventory is around 450,000 vehicles, and if you start adding postal vehicles on top of that, that’s another 200,000,” Smith said.

“If [those 650,000 vehicles] were to use IoT capabilities, we could more efficiently and effectively use the fuel through smart and intelligent routing, saving large amounts of money,” he said. IoT would also assist in “the sharing of those vehicles, when they’re shared within an agency or across an agency—it could be better done knowing when the car is being used and when it’s not being used.”

Companies should also be aware of IoT opportunities in energy and water saving, waste removal, lights, transportation and fleet and vehicle tracking. Verizon's Feldman stressed that, again, many of the state and local IoT applications could just as easily be federal applications, particularly when you think of each federal building or military installation being like its own city.

“One [application] that is probably more federal than local is asset tracking,” Feldman said, referring to one of Verizon’s health care solutions that tracks the temperature of a storage unit housing a liver, for example, as it is transported from one place to another.

Verizon also has a number of IoT applications that involve video. One project the company has supports border protection by using a camera that stores video and has built-in analytics that trigger alerts when certain occurrences happen.

Verizon is also talking with law enforcement agencies about vehicle video or smart body cameras that are only turned on when an officer draws his firearm or begins to move at an accelerated pace, Feldman said.

For a company like Level 3, with its huge network business, the opportunity is in the background. “Although you might not see our brand directly contributed with an Internet of Things device or an app that gets developed, that Internet of Things device desires something. It desires an interaction with a network, and it’s going to be our network,” Young said.

Level 3 is partnering with companies that run the gamut from small, 8(a) firms to large defense companies. “Whether or not we find ourselves in a prime role, where we’re pulling those solutions together,” he said.

CenturyLink is also a big name in the IoT scene, but as opposed to Level 3, CenturyLink is going a slightly different route. Instead, CenturyLink is reutilizing products and services that it has already developed as part of its core services and applying them to IoT applications, said Tim Meehan, senior vice president and general manager at CenturyLink.

“We’ve got lots of connectivity products and data analytics products that, when we put them together, really do support some of the groupings of IoT and all of the sensors that would be associated with the physicality, whether it would be smart buildings or smart fleets [or others],” Meehan said.

In order to do that, though, you have to have hard evidence of how IoT can help your customer. “We’re starting to look at the correlations between what’s being developed specifically, and looking for opportunities to engage,” said Lisa Bruch, vice president of sales and marketing, CenturyLink.

But it’s not all about products, Meehan added. “In the early stages, this is going to be about how do you consult and utilize these technologies and put together those group of products, so [CenturyLink] is also looking at leading with consultative professional services to support the roll out of those product groupings.”

AT&T, too, is right at the forefront of this market. The company plays a big part in global shipping, said Chris Smith, with 280,000 containers being connected on AT&T’s network.  

And there are opportunities beyond the major telecom companies.

“Part of it depends on what you offer, as far as your product or your service,” said John Slye, advisory research analyst at Deltek. “But there’s probably a couple of key things that companies need to know.”

In this market, it is all about efficiency, functionality, security and privacy, Slye added. “You need to make sure things are secure, and it’s becoming more and more of an issue as more and more things get connected.”

This should be underscored, as the second a breach is made on one device or sensor, it could potentially affect every other connected device or machine. “Security is a major issue,” Slye said.

“Then it comes into interoperability—does it play well with other things that are on the network,” he added.

“Agencies are getting tired of customized solutions. They want stuff that’s open source,” he said, something that won’t “lock agencies into a 10-year sole source agreement just to get some of their basic computing needs done, so it has to be interoperable.”

Lastly, agencies are not just looking for data, Slye said; they are looking for tools to sift through the vast amounts of data.

No matter what kind of company you are, you can get involved in these IoT opportunities in a way that works for you. “If you’re looking at a security firm, it’s a little different, if you’re looking at a hardware firm, it’s a little different,” Slye said. But the opportunities are there.

Many of the big companies involved in IoT are open to partnerships with smaller companies, and many of them are already partnering, so the time to start the conversation is now.

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at mhoover@washingtontechnology.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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