The public sector and the Internet of Things. Could 2019 be the year when smart networks really take off in Scotland?

At the beginning of the month a new supplier framework was launched by the Scottish Government’s procurement and commercial directorate.

Released without fanfare, the new Dynamic Purchasing System is intended to build a network of suppliers for Internet of Things (IoT) products and services, for which there seems to be a growing demand among public sector bodies looking to take advantage of the coming wave of ‘smart networks’. The DPS joins three other tech-focused supplier frameworks within Scottish Government.

Whereas last year data and AI was the dominant subject in tech, 2019 will undoubtedly see more interest among central government and local authorities, in particular, in trialling and rolling out IoT services; as adoption levels rise, inevitably the conversation around smart infrastructure will move from the conceptual to reality.

Already, there are public sector bodies in Scotland that are either in the midst of early stage adoption or have begun to implement IoT systems. That was made easier by the launch this year of IoT Scotland – a private-public sector partnership which has committed to building the UK’s ‘most advanced’ IoT infrastructure in seven of Scotland’s cities.

The £6m network, based on 500 LoRa (long range) wireless gateways situated throughout Scotland, is part funded by £2.7m from the Scottish Government, with further support from Scottish Enterprise, Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and Boston Networks.  Part of that project, the recently-announced Glasgow roll out will provide the city with over 99% coverage via 22 gateways, which are being installed across the city – making it the most LoRa covered city in the UK, with potential to become the smartest. Capita, in conjunction with the SWAN Innovation Forum, is also rolling out an Internet of Things (IoT) capability across the Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN).

At a regional level there are other examples of IoT projects. Highland Council has recently contracted a supplier, M2M Cloud, to install sensors in six of its public buildings to monitor water quality. In that use case, sensors are programmed to flag up when the temperature of hot and cold water systems fall outwith recommended safety levels, making them susceptible to waterborne bacteria such as Legionella. In another example, Historic Environment Scotland has used 17 Eco-Visio counters at unstaffed properties, in order to monitor visitor numbers.

Dr Stephen Milne, Business Development Manager for CENSIS, the national centre of excellence for sensing and imaging systems (SIS) and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, says the recently-released DPS is evidence of a latent and growing demand from the public and third sector to begin using IoT-based systems to help improve a myriad of different services, from monitoring air quality, to reducing the carbon footprint of street lighting, to monitoring city footfall and traffic flows.

“We are seeing a growing demand from the public sector in IoT since the launch of the Boston Networks’ LoRA [Long Range] network,” says Dr Milne. “I expect it’s going to be the case that once a few applications have been proven, and are using network data, particularly that allows cities to gather intelligence on how a city functions, then that interest will only continue to grow. We are seeing the comms infrastrucuture start to scale up and, in that sense, the more infrastructure we have the better.”

Dr Milne mentioned the Highland Council project and also Historic Environment Scotland, where Wildnerness Sensors installed devices to capture data on footfall at the organisation’s properties; the project was part of CivTech 2.0 where firmware and hardware expertise was used to build a new Internet of Things visitor counter that could send back real-time visitor counts from their remote sites.

He added that IoT networks could be installed relatively easily with gateways bridging the communication gap between IoT devices, sensors, equipment, systems and the cloud. “Gateways are the size of shoeboxes which you can site on a rooftop, run off a cellular network or on fibre. You can also get an indoor gateway for building-level coverage; the price of gateways and IoT equipment is also coming down, which is helping drive demand,” he adds.

There are many more potential IoT use cases from detecting when bins are starting to overflow, monitoring air quality, damp in social housing, operating smart cameras which can measure city-wide footfall and traffic, to smart street lighting which can reduce a council’s carbon footprint – all of which can improve the way citizen services are planned and delivered at scale. But Dr Milne says he does not believe using cameras to monitor people at an individual level will pass the public acceptability test.

“We have seen a few cases where that has caused controversy in America,” he adds. “There’s going to be a lot of debate about that here as we move forward but I think we will see it used at a broader level – where the technology can monitor X number of people coming by that street on a particular day, or for exceptional events, providing realtime data and analytics around how many vans, cars or people there at particular junctions. That in turn will get a message back to a warning system,” said Dr Milne, whose organisation has produced a Getting Started with IoT guide.

Projects like the one at Highland Council has stimulated interest from other organisations. The NHS, the MoD, Foreign Office, Moray, Ayrshire and Glasgow Councils are all now looking into how the water quality IoT monitoring technology could benefit them.

A Highland Council spokesperson said: “The project is in progress and has been partially funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the Strategic Intervention ‘Scotland’s 8th City – The Smart City’.

“At least six full sites have been installed to date and the project has been a success thus far. It has dramatically improved water quality data, based on previous methods, as well as reducing monitoring costs and the carbon footprint associated with it.

“In addition, a number of external parties/organisations have shown interest – NHS, the MoD, Foreign Office, Moray, Ayrshire and Glasgow Councils have all expressed a serious interest in adopting the solution. The Health and Safety Executive have expressed interest in the solution as well. Furthermore, our project lead officer has presented at a number of conferences, to a very positive response.”

As for interest levels in the DPS, a procurement official we spoke to said a survey that the directorate had recently sent out had clearly demonstrated that there was a demand from public sector organisations for IoT services. With the register due to go live next month, it will be interesting to see which public bodies start to take advantage of the framework, and to what end.