Improving people’s lives through digital transformation

By | 3 minute read | February 13, 2018

As a member of the German Bundestag, I often speak about how government can improve people’s lives through digital transformation. Unfortunately, talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence in general has a tendency to put people to sleep! Everyone has a computer and a smartphone, what else is there to say?

I’ve found it’s best to start with examples. For instance, the processors in today’s computers are about as smart as a mouse’s brain. By 2030 the capability could match the human brain, and by 2050 one processor could have the brainpower of the entire human race. This surge in digital power could surely change the world. But how?

Interestingly, one thing is growing faster than computing power – data from IoT sensors. Experts estimate that there will be 20.4 billion “connected things” by 2020.

The IoT spotlights traffic patterns

Here’s a current example of how the IoT can make life better. Every day 150,000 cars use the Autobahn 9 highway in Munich, almost all connected to the Internet through drivers’ smartphones. I drive the A9 every week, usually under time pressure, so I want to know what the traffic will be like.

Instead of listening to the radio, I now check Google Maps, which uses smartphone geo-tracking to calculate the traffic in real time more accurately than radio stations. Recently, when fire trucks drove past my house to attend to a road accident, Google Maps showed me where the accident was even before they reached the scene. That’s the Internet of Things.

Now consider this governmental example. On a busy road in a highly congested area, the government could ban diesel cars to improve air quality. But since we already know where the cars are, why not have engines switch to a low-emissions “city mode” in congested areas? This shows that innovation doesn’t always mean creating something new. It can come from combining existing technologies in new ways – we have the geo-tracking data, maybe we can process it to minimize pollution.

It’s easy to imagine other innovations that could improve people’s lives. Analysis of IoT data with ever-increasing processing power could help to optimize public transportation, reorganize traffic control, enhance public security, lower energy costs, target early healthcare interventions and much more.

Keys to successful innovation

A critical first step in digital transformation involves leadership selecting the right issue to focus on and setting clear objectives. Which citizen problems are most pressing? Where could predictive analytical insights most improve decisions? Which set of services could be organized or consolidated to most benefit citizens?

Once the big picture has been drawn, here are some keys to successful solution development:

Make it secure! To protect citizens’ sensitive personal information, solutions must be carefully secured against unauthorized access and external threats. Every IoT sensor or device is a possible point of attack, making security by design a core architectural principle.

Think big, start small. The government has a long history of large-scale IT projects that failed. Successful IoT projects do not have to start from scratch, they can integrate existing platforms, systems and data in new ways.

Be agile. Agile, design thinking and co-location methodologies are new ways of working that can lead to better solutions through collaborative and iterative design. These methods, which begin the design process with input from users such as citizens and employees, can bring innovations to market quickly.

Capitalize on co-creation. Government has much to gain by co-creating solutions with the private sector. As an example, IBM’s global Watson IoT headquarters in Munich is a beehive of innovation whose experts are ready to assist their governmental counterparts. The ideal team would consist of subject-area professionals knowledgeable about problems to be solved, engineers versed in the technical and executives who can assess solutions after seeing proof-of-concepts and prototypes.

Answering the right question

In all this, the question to answer is “So what?” It’s not about technology or connectivity for its own sake, but about real benefits. Digital transformation in government can help us make better decisions and create systems that will truly improve the quality of life for citizens in their communities.

Watch Dr. Reinhard Brandl discussing digital transformation in the video below:.


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