In a recent
article in The Sunday Times, Robert Colvile, Director of the Centre of Policy Studies (and author of the last Tory manifesto), made an interesting point:
"Something almost no one outside government appreciates is that the British state, like all its modern counterparts, is essentially a collection of databases. Throughout the pandemic, its policy successes have largely come where there are good databases, and its failures where there are not…Good data is also the secret sauce of the vaccination rollout."
The pandemic has placed a great strain on public and private organisations and how they operate. As we hopefully near the end of the crisis, it is becoming clearer which organisations handled the pressure of the pandemic well and those that did not. Like Robert Colvile, I would suggest that those companies, government departments, and local authorities that functioned best had the best understanding of and grip on their data.
For example, under immense pressure, supermarkets had to handle an unprecedented increase demand and had to switch to online deliveries, including special slots for shielding customers. The early weeks of empty shelves were through customers panic buying, not lack of supply, as logistics operations stepped up a gear. For years, big supermarkets have been investing in data collection and management to improve buying and delivery. This started with the Tesco Clubcard 25 years ago, and for supermarkets, the quality of data and the insights management teams can draw from it is vital for success. In a low margin business, every penny or second counts. Whether that is using data to organise delivery slots better, or to decide where new stores should be located, supermarkets have been leaders in data management, insight and action for years. This investment proved to be critical when Covid hit.
Conversely, care homes were hit hard in the pandemic, the authorities struggled to get PPE to the right places or get workers tested in part because the problem was the authorities did not always know where the homes were or who worked there. The hospital systems could not speak to the care homes mean there was little joined-up care as patients moved from one location to the other. It will not surprise most people to learn that care homes have not been at the forefront of digital transformation.
As Robert Colvile said, data is vital to delivering high-quality public services. One of the biggest proponents of data and tools like AI and machine learning was the controversial former adviser, Dominic Cummings. Despite his departure, maximising the use of data to deliver public services is a key Government priority. "Embrace data to deliver to the public".
One example of this approach is the Geospatial's Commission recent report on "Understanding the planning and housing geospatial data landscape". The Commission is an NGO, and the report aims to bring together multiple data sources to enable better planning decisions and speed up development as the UK looks to solve the eternal problem of limited housing supply.
For the world of IoT, this more significant focus on data is excellent news. Collecting data, analysing it, and actioning it is at the heart of what we do. Across our portfolio, we can see data in action. Whether that is for smart energy networks (e.g Metron), predictive maintenance (e.g. Senseye) or when to feed fish (e.g. CageEye) or cows (e.g. Connecterra). Together these companies can cut carbon, improve supply chains, create new business models, and improve efficiency.
A Government focused more on getting database management right will only speed up the adoption of innovation. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden referred to this in a recent Financial Times
article. He noted the following "Information Commissioner will not just be asked to focus on privacy, but also be empowered to ensure people can use data to achieve economic and social goals." This more proactive approach to data bodes well.
For example, AppyWay provides data from the kerbside to help drivers quickly find a car parking space and pay digitally. Carbon saved, and money in the bank for the councils. No more traffic wardens! The data is also being used to decided where to put EV charging points, speeding up the rollout. In the future, it can help support the adoption of autonomous vehicles.
A renewed focus on data is excellent for the IoT sector, but there is more to do. If we recognise the data has real value, perhaps national and local government should charge for its use, opening new revenue streams. Incentivisation could drive the IoT revolution even faster.