There’s an increasing drumbeat of news about the “Internet of Everything” (IoE)— the confluence of people, process, data, and things that makes networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before.

IoE comprises the ubiquitous ways that billions of people and numerous devices on the Internet communicate and report on their status and location. This covers everything from the location of your smartphone, to where a package might be, to the rate of your pulse or your arrival on a street corner, to the condition of a highway.

The Internet of Everything isn’t way off in the future. Today, the number of physical devices connected to the Internet is already six times the number of people on the Internet, even though there are 2 billion of those people. By 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices.

These devices will come to dominate the “cloud.” Of course, the complexity of a global system that connects all these devices and people is mind-boggling. This global system has the potential for unpredictable and perhaps disastrous behavior. That alone should get the attention of public leaders.

Most of the advertising and news on this topic has focused on how corporations can use the Internet of Everything. Surely they can. Just think of any company that ships things and needs to know the condition of the shipped items and their locations.

But if you look at the “things” there are in the world and where they are, you will realize that companies are usually responsible only for their own office and manufacturing space (for the majority of companies, this represents millions of square feet at most).

By contrast, state and local governments are uniquely responsible for what goes on in a particular territory, which can be many tens, hundreds, thousands, or even millions of square miles. Eventually, all this territory will be covered by sensors, which will greatly outnumber everything else on the Internet. (Less often noted is that things connected to the Internet can communicate with each other without human intervention. We’ve only begun to think about the practical and fundamental issues this phenomenon will raise.)

On a practical level, people will need to manage this not through on-off switches or gauges, but through policies that can be operated at the same speed as the machines—not at the slow speed of human awareness and decision making.

The benefits for government of the Internet of Everything can be striking. Consider some examples:

  • Philips and Cisco are working to connect streetlights to the Internet. Connected public lighting allows cities, for example, to turn on or brighten streetlights automatically based on someone’s approach, enhancing public safety and maximizing energy efficiency.
  • A bridge whose sensors detect potential cracks in load-bearing columns can ask a streetlight to turn red to stop traffic, and also tell the police dispatch system to send a couple of police cars to redirect traffic.
  • Streets “observe” that a parking spot is not being used and make that information available to residents.
  • Minor sewer lines report whether they are getting backed up before this becomes a problem for the main trunks, potentially causing a toxic spill into a major river or lake.
  • Real-time knowledge of vehicle locations enables dynamic control of traffic, optimizing traffic flow.

And these examples—which primarily focus on the physical infrastructure of states, counties, and cities—are only the beginning. Further into the future, the Internet of Everything holds the promise of government being able to provide much more cost-effective human services and to create a whole new urban experience.

It’s time for government leaders to start focusing on the Internet of Everything as a policy concern, and as a tool for managing what goes on in their territory.

Stay tuned to the Cisco Government blog for the next installment of the cloud for local government blog series or click here to register and reserve your copy of the complete compilation of the blog series, including this blog as well as a variety of cloud resources, which will be available in May.

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