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Internet of Things Could Save Councils Up to £400 Million

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Mobile telco Vodafone claims that local councils are missing out on potential savings of more than £400 million from Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology. (They probably would say that, seeing how it means they’ll spend more with Vodafone) Is this true?

How important is data sovereignty? Will database technology be crucial to maintaining integrity?

What are the crucial disciplines involved, and the key technology attributes, that will help keep one secure version of the truth in safe hands?

Councils could save taxpayer £400 million if they could get their machines talking and working together

Will they invest it well? That is the ACID test

If you want to see how to make your money go further, you should observe the habits of the most tightly run organisations.

There can be few tighter organisations than the mobile telco Vodafone, which has very efficient tax arrangements. If anyone could expect a visit from three ghosts at Christmas, it would be the UK MD of Vodafone – but unfortunately Messrs Christmas Past, Present and Future would never get past Security.

However, Vodafone is contributing to society with some exciting money saving ideas which could help all local authorities save money on running schools, hospitals and local amenities. Which is useful, because it’s our taxes that pay for them.

Vodafone’s researcher – ComRes – found that, while the Internet of Things has become a reality rather than a buzzword, two-thirds of urban councilors in the UK has never heard of M2M. The other third expressed an interest, but they probably thought M2M was a controversial Detroit-based rapper. The ideal man to pay £25k for the ceremonial switching on of the Christmas Lights.

Vodafone doesn’t report on the reaction from its local authority interviewees when it told them they could save £402.3 million by adopting smart street lighting and smart in-building energy management systems in their buildings.

If my local council is anything to go by, they probably just shrugged their shoulders, tutted or mumbled something about European Union regulations. Before you dismiss this claim as ridiculous, that’s exactly the reaction I got when I tried to help my local council save power and money.

Kingston, the London Borough I pay taxes too, is constantly lecturing us about the environment. They use the greenhouse gas issue as justification for covering the entire town in CCTV cameras, which they then use to issues all kinds of punitive fines for everything from entering a bus lane to let a police car pass to putting the wrong bottles in our recycling bins.

However, they leave the external lights on, all day, in publicly owned buildings. By switching these thousands of lights off, they could cut their carbon footprint dramatically. This would lower their power bills dramatically too, as I pointed out in a letter to the council’s Environment Officer.

Eventually, she wrote back to me saying that the council was unable to switch off lights, attributing this inaction to “health and safety concerns”. She depicted a nightmare scenario where the folly of switching off some external lights, in daylight hours, would lead to thousands of vulnerable citizens tripping on pavements, tumbling down stairs and plummeting into open manholes. Would I really want that on my conscience?

So good luck Vodafone, in your quest to instill common sense saving.

Vodafone and I both overlooked one serious consideration. No, not the health and safety issues – that’s just a smokescreen. There is a nameless fear which haunts all heads of department everywhere, in both the private and public sector. “If I save money,” they think, “they’ll cut my budget.” Which, I’m sure you will agree, is a bigger motivation than saving the planet.

So how could councils spend the £400 million they save on smart power management?

I would argue that nothing would boost both productivity and prestige like a new database. Ideally one that can be installed free, initially, which would bring it in under the radar of the purchasing busybodies. But it would have to be both open and scalable. A system that could be distributed, without ending up “all over the place” – like most council IT projects.

This database should be an educational tool, which means it must observe the three Rs – Replication, Resilience and Reserve Capacity. It should satisfy the Compliance department with its integrity, cheer the Operations manager with its capacity for disaster recovery and pass the ACID test with IT by only having giving one version of the truth.

I suspect local authorities in the UK may be different from the US. I don’t think Americans would tolerate the way our governors tax and splurge. We let them get away with it, whereas the more assertive American taxpayer would soon be hijacking tea chests and dumping them in the harbour.

Hopefully, NuoDB is another Bostonian exemplar on how our money could be spent more wisely.

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