Realising IOT's Potential In International Cooperation
We have explored some of the most important areas where IoT applications can have a beneficial role in developing and emerging countries. Although IoT is still in early stages of adoption in these markets, it is rapidly gaining momentum: “[The Internet of Things] started earlier in developed markets but now it is another area [where] the developing world has overtaken the developed world,” says Anne Bouverot, GSMA’s Director General.
Growth is a start, but by itself it is not enough for the successful proliferation of IoT in international cooperation. Attention needs to be paid to how IoT infrastructure is rolled out and how projects are implemented in order to maximise the positive impact that IoT offers. Based on expert interviews and the impact mechanisms outlined above, we make three recommendations for realising IoT’s potential.
1) Supporting local innovations
IoT services and products should be specifically designed for the population group that they are aiming at. There are several reasons why a service might be developed for which there is no demand. It might be developed with insufficient consideration for the sometimes low levels of technology literacy and internet penetration. Alternatively it might be based on a misreading of the needs and desires of target groups and use business models that are not suited for the context. In the words of Erica Kochi, founder of Unicef Innovation:
“We’re looking for entries that are scalable and sustainable, with business models that work. We don’t want something that is a neat idea, but there’s no marketplace for it.”
One important strategy for avoiding this is to promote local innovation. Innovators who are close to and have an affinity with the target groups are better positioned to understand their needs as well as the constraints to the local infrastructure, environment, etc. And as The IoT Design Manifesto, a guideline for IoT innovators, stresses: “Value comes from products that are purposeful. Our commitment is to design products that have a meaningful impact on people’s lives; IoT technologies are merely tools to enable that” (IoT Design Manifesto).
Local Communities And Innovation Hubs
"The Development Of This Is Owed In Large Part To Hackers And Makers"
USAID (2014): Mobilizing "Makers" For A Better World
Communities of local innovators and “makers” already exist or are emerging in many developing and emerging countries, and involving these people in project development, as well as giving them the means to pilot their own projects, is likely to lead to better results, in terms of both social and economic impact, than a purely topdown approach. As described in the Technology Hubs Report, published by GIZ, new industries and technologies driven by the Internet require physical space in which to evolve.19 In countries where such industries are still emerging, Innovation Hubs can play a crucial role in fostering innovation and the exchange of knowledge and experience. Hubs can also create a contact point linking technicians with community organisations, development agencies, governments and investors.
2) Enabling Public Private Partnerships
Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are an important instrument for introducing IoT technology into public services in developing and emerging countries. If well managed, these partnerships create effective and efficient IoT solutions, ensure skill transfer and lead to national champions that can run their own operations professionally. As the main operators of public services, governments will be among the major adopters of IoT applications in the coming years. But government agencies often lack the technical expertise necessary to implement such projects, making cooperations between public authorities and private sector partners essential. This is already the case in many IoT projects: Every case study examined in this report is the result of a cooperation of private and public entities: between IT Company IBM and the City of Rio de Janeiro; between the telecommunications company Safaricom, UAP Insurance and the Kenya Meteorological Department; and between Ghana Health Service and a small local provider of IT solutions.
Avoiding Pitfalls Of PPPS
"Problems start where large, international IT-Comapnies negotiate contracts about IOT Projects with national governments when there is no scrutiny of the actual cost structure, continues where high-end tec is costly but not sustainable, or data is used without making customers aware of their value of privacy guidelines."
Rob van Kranenburg, Founder IOT Council
Avoiding such frustrations and failures in PPPs requires that the government partner has a good awareness of practical and technological pitfalls, so that it can make well-informed decisions in constantly changing circumstances. Given the rapid pace of technological change and the longterm and complex nature of many of these projects, it is difficult to identify all possible risks and problems that may arise. It is thus important to recognise the need for flexibility in the partnership arrangements if circumstances should change. “While some of these issues will be able to be addressed in the PPP agreement, it is likely that some of them will need to be managed during the course of the project”.
"Mentorship and acceleration programs enabling new partnerships between public and private sector will be crucial for the success of IOT innovations and their possibilities to scale. These knowledge-exchange platforms aren't there yet. The first movers, meaning the first IOT businesses, always need a lot of help!"
Jeevan Gnanam, CEO of ORION City, Innovation Park in Colombo
An international forum which brings IoT Industry leaders (Bosch, Cisco, IBM, etc.), together with governments and NGO could help building the necessary framework and create an exchange platform for efficient PPPs in IoT. Encouraging the adoption of open standards is also important – see next point.
3) Encouraging Open Standards
So far the Internet of Things is not one single system but consists of many separate smaller networks. Some of these can be accessed by all devices, but many of them are proprietary. This causes problems in terms of cost, dependency and interoperability.
Above, we described the benefits of governments partnering with private companies in the implementation of IoT projects. However, an important risk of such an arrangement is creating a dependency, if the government does not have the ability to maintain the system – or becoming “locked into” proprietary hardware and software.
This is a problem not just because it reduces the government’s future freedom to act and may tie them into unwanted costs, but also because it can make it difficult or impossible for two IoT systems to interact and be connected with one another. Particularly in an urban context where several systems overlap, combining them can be very valuable (see case study on page 18), and building IoT applications with interoperability in mind is desirable.
In the words of Rob van Kranenburg, founder of the IoT Council: “IT companies have been installing the latest and most recent technologies in developing countries (for example reading license plates in Karachi) with dedicated costly service contracts and proprietary software, offering so-called tailor-made solutions. These systems then fail because of lack of interoperability, new governments and lack of local expertise.”
Hence we would recommend the adoption wherever possible of open standards. This both helps to avoid the risks described above, but also allows greater adaptation and innovation, since the systems will be more accessible for all to work with.
There are already several industry and non-government initiatives that are promoting and developing open source technologies and standards, such as Oasis, Eclipse, the Open Interconnect Consortium and the AllSeen Alliance (see list on page 31). Supporting open standards would also be in line with leading companies in IoT like Bosch, IBM or Samsung; the latter is currently investing 100 million US-dollars to create an open operating system for devices and sensors. Uniting these different initiatives and bridging their various approaches would accelerate the development of generally accepted open standards in IoT.
"I consider opem source software as the only appropriate approach to develop IOT standards and protocols. There are no more viable arguments to not fund open source."
Rob van Kranenburg, Founder IOT Council
About the Authors
Franziska Kreische graduated with an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies and gained experience in German development cooperation while working as a student assistant at the KfW Development Bank. After her studies she lived in Uganda where she worked for various development projects.
Angela Ullrich holds a PhD in Economics and has worked in academia and as a financial analyst. Today, Angela works as a lecturer on non-profit sector economics and as a part-time researcher in the betterplace lab.
Kathleen Ziemann graduated with an MA in Politics and Cultural Sciences, and more recently trained as a Design Thinker at the Hasso Plattner Institute. After her studies she worked as an editor at Médecins Sans Frontières before joining the betterplace lab as trendresearcher.