Using connected technologies could help federal agencies save money and become more efficient, but poor leadership prevents the government from taking full advantage of the Internet of Things’ potential, according to a new report from the Center for Data Innovation think tank.
The federal tech community has done little to plan for the recent explosion of internet-connected devices, said the report, released Monday. Agencies are now stuck in the dark, “unprepared for how they will leverage the technology internally,” the report says.
“As of May 2016, we still could not find a federal agency that addresses how it will use the Internet of Things in its strategic plan,” the report says.
The report cites two separate surveys from this year that show federal agencies have been slow to break into IoT. In one, only 20 percent of respondents said their agency was pursuing IoT — a 10 percent drop from 2014. Another survey found just 14 percent of federal employees expected their agency to use IoT tech in the next three years.
“Unfortunately, overall adoption across federal agencies is still very low, especially when you look outside the defense arena,” Daniel Castro, the center’s director and lead author of the report, said in a statement.
The slow uptake of IoT is a missed opportunity, the authors say. IoT technology underpins advances like “smart buildings,” which use a large system of sensors to make offices more energy efficient and cheaper, the report said. IoT also can boost military capabilities, and improve communications and public safety systems.
But a lack of skilled data workers in government remains a barrier, especially as federal IT systems continue to change. Indeed, one of the surveys determined only eight agencies have full-time chief data officers. Authors also said IT departments may be “unable or unwilling to provide the backend IT infrastructure needed to collect, store, and analyze new streams of data.”
“As a result, office managers in federal agencies cannot even buy a ‘smart’ coffee maker for the breakroom without getting their IT departments involved,” the report says. “It is no surprise that agencies will tend to default to ‘dumb.’”
A lack of money is also tamping down the potential use of IoT. Since 2009, IT spending has had a 1.8 percent annual growth rate — and most of the spending goes toward maintaining legacy systems.
The current “rigid” procurement policies are also hurting agencies’ ability to research new technologies, the report found.
“Standard federal procurement practices are designed to purchase tested and mature technologies, not new and promising ones,” the report says.
The report recommends several strategies to address these problems — including setting up an IoT task force in the federal CIO Council, establishing an IoT action plan for each agency and hiring chief data officers. It also said the General Services Administration should establish an “IoT Corps” to take assigned work for high-impact projects. Authors also recommended the government create a “FedRAMP-style program” to test and certify the safety of IoT products.
The report also said federal agencies should establish special research programs that encourage state and local governments, and the private sector to develop new IoT technologies.
“The federal government needs to create a proactive strategy to accelerate adoption, otherwise it will continue to lag behind private sector adoption,” Castro said.
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