Warren Suss | The Internet of things

Another View'commentary

Warren Suss

GCN

Most of us in the federal information technology community think of Internet technologies as tools for improving the flow of information among people, computers and ' sometimes ' machines.

However, a parallel Internet universe is emerging where things can also talk with and listen to one another. It's time to begin paying attention to this so-called Internet of things ' a set of commercial technologies, standards and processes that will enable real-time global tracking and tracing of items at all stages of the supply chain.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Auto-ID Laboratory (autoid.mit.edu/cs) is working with seven top research universities on four continents to create the foundation for the Internet of things using radio frequency identification technologies, wireless sensor networks and the Electronic Product Code numbering system.

So far, commercial applications have been the primary shapers of the Internet of things. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers want better, faster and cheaper visibility into their supply chains. But supply-chain visibility is also important to the federal government.

The Defense Department is already implementing RFID systems for logistics. Senior DOD logistics officials are tracking the Internet of things closely because improvements in supply-chain visibility will not only enable them to mobilize more quickly for warfighting and peacekeeping but also save money and enable the reallocation of personnel from logistical support roles to frontline operations.

DOD isn't the only agency that could benefit. Agencies governmentwide need more powerful solutions for addressing the challenges of supply-chain management.

Here are some emerging capabilities associated with the Internet of things that deserve our attention.

Managing medical supplies and pharmaceuticals: The Internet of things holds the promise of better end-to-end supply-chain visibility to help manage inventories and ensure the availability of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, especially during a pandemic.

Emergency response: The Federal Emergency Management Agency and its federal, state and local partners face big logistical challenges prepositioning supplies and rapidly acquiring goods in response to disasters.

Widely accepted commercial standards, systems and processes associated with the Internet of things would improve interoperability, information sharing and coordination among governmental entities that have historically resisted top-down federal solutions.

Customs and Border Patrol verification of chain of custody for products entering the United States: The standards and processes associated with the Internet of things are designed to create a trusted chain of custody.

Their widespread commercial adoption could help the government work with shippers and manufacturers to verify that products entering the country really come from the stated points of origination.

Verification of aircraft maintenance records: Standards that support the Internet of things are designed to track, trace and maintain histories of individual items and components, including aircraft parts.

Working with the airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration could use these standards to check aircraft maintenance, for example.

Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls: Tracking and tracing capabilities could help the government and industry improve the speed and effectiveness of product recalls.

The Internet of things will likely follow a growth and adoption pattern similar to the Internet.

During Phase 1, federal agencies with specialized requirements paid a relatively high price to develop government-unique systems, standards and processes.

During Phase 2, where we are today, the commercial marketplace converges on common technologies, standards and processes. In Phase 3, the government aligns its solutions with the commercial market.

Phase 2 is when the federal community should devote the necessary time, energy and resources to make sure the Internet of things addresses our heavy-duty requirements for security, interoperability and privacy.

It's worth the effort because in Phase 3, the Internet of things will generate solutions for some of the country's biggest problems if guided correctly.

Suss (warren.suss@sussconsulting.com) is president of Suss Consulting.

About the Author

Warren Suss is president of Suss Consulting, a federal IT consulting firm headquartered in Jenkintown, Pa.

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