Public Administration and the Internet of Things

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Public agencies use IoT to deliver better services to constituents.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic these days. IBM defines the IoT as “the concept of connecting any device … to the internet and to other connected devices. [It] is a giant network of connected things and people ― all of which collect and share data about the way they are used and about the environment around them.”

IBM goes on to identify a number of familiar IoT devices, such as self-driving cars that use online map data for directions; wrist-worn fitness trackers that record and upload data about the user’s activity level, heart rate, and sleep patterns; and even footballs that communicate data about how far and fast they are thrown. Essentially, this type of IoT functionality plugs objects into networks that provide information about the world and improve our ability to function in specific areas.

These examples barely scratch the surface of the IoT’s uses and potential. Just about any object can be internet-enabled, linking it into systems that make it “smart” and many organizations, including government and nonprofits, are finding ways to leverage this ability to their advantage. Public agencies, from the federal to the local level, are using the IoT to collect better information so they can deliver better services to their constituents.

Anyone hoping to embark upon a career as a public administrator must have a solid grounding in current trends and technologies, including the staggering potential of the IoT in government. Programs such as Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration can help candidates understand how the IoT applies to the scope of public administration and prepare them to contribute in this area.

Two Key Areas

Although the IoT can be harnessed to improve practically anything, an analysis by professional services organization Deloitte suggests that two applications are particularly meaningful in the public sector:

  • IoT sensors have the potential to improve transportation in countless ways. In terms of public transportation, smart devices can track buses and trains to let people know how long their wait is expected to be. They can provide data on peak usage times, thus helping officials to plan services more effectively. Card-swiping devices can facilitate payment, making the public transportation process faster and more efficient for all involved.

Traffic management, too, can be greatly enhanced through the use of the IoT. Sensors can enable real-time traffic and road use data. This data could trigger automatic adjustments of traffic lights to improve traffic flow, depending on the time of day and the conditions. It could also display automatic messages on electronic bulletin boards to alert drivers about accidents, backups and other hazards.

  • Safety and security. Ensuring public safety and security is a major function of government, and the IoT can be enormously helpful in this area. Speed of response is one way that smart devices can help. Using data from the IoT, fire trucks and police vehicles can be automatically routed to avoid traffic congestion and other slowdowns. Vehicles can also be equipped with smart devices that alert intersections of the vehicle’s approach in advance, triggering traffic lights to turn green and making the trip faster and safer.

Enhancing police work is another way that smart devices can contribute to public safety. Devices currently exist that can detect the sound of a gunshot, pinpoint its location within 10 feet, and alert police dispatch services. Smart guns can report data such as when they are drawn from their holster and when they are fired. Remote drones can detect crimes in progress. Body sensors can monitor officers’ vital signs, precise location, and other key data. This type of information not only helps in the moment, it also provides feedback that can help police agencies better plan future responses.

Yet another way that IoT can enhance public safety is by monitoring the safety of utilities. Smoke detectors, for example, can alert the fire department automatically if a fire breaks out in a monitored area. Moisture sensors can report leaks in underground water pipes. Other sensors can report gas leaks and electrical issues. By alerting the proper agencies before these issues become serious, smart devices can play an important role in public safety.

Other Uses

Besides these two primary areas, Deloitte suggests a number of other potential uses of the IoT in government and the public sector:

  • Medical: Enable people to send emergency medical alerts with the push of a button; monitor the health of high-risk patients, such as diabetics, and deliver needed medications automatically; alert patients with electronic medical devices when battery changes are needed.
  • Tourism: Push notifications to cellphones based on a person’s location, such as information about a certain museum or historic location.
  • Environment: Monitor air and water pollution levels and trigger automatic warnings when necessary.
  • Administration: Use “magic wristbands” containing ID information to facilitate employee functions.

These ideas are just a few possible applications of a technology that seems to have no bounds. For the imaginative public administrator, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to implementing and reaping the benefits of the Internet of Things.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program

Ohio University’s online MPA program is dedicated to preparing professionals for a career in public administration. Through the university’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, students gain an overview of the scope of public administration and service while building skills in policy, finance, leadership, business, management and communications. The school occupies the No. 18 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2020 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking.

The program, which is 100% online, offers four concentrations: Public Leadership and Management, Non-Profit Management, State and Local Government Management, and Crisis and Emergency Management. Students can finish their degree programs in as few as two years. For more information, contact Ohio University now.


Recommended Reading:

Using Innovative Practices for Change in Local Government

Working in Public Administration

Capacity Building in the Nonprofit Sector



Definition and examples of the Internet of Things – IBM

The IoT in transportation – Deloitte

The IoT in response speed and utilities – Deloitte

The IoT in enhancing police work – Governing

Other uses – Deloitte