Connecting state and local government leaders

‘Internet of Things’ Brings New IT Challenges for State Governments

Michigan Department of Transportation via YouTube


Connecting state and local government leaders

As the number of sensors being deployed continues to soar, there are important data storage, security and analysis needs to consider. “Start the learning curve now,” says Michigan’s deputy chief security officer.

WASHINGTON — Engineers and planners with the Michigan Department of Transportation anticipate having over one million sensors deployed around the Great Lakes State by 2022, capable of collecting and transmitting data about a wide range of things, like traffic levels and bridge vibrations, according to a top information technology official from the state who spoke in the nation’s capital on Tuesday.

“These sensors are going out by the thousands,” Paul Groll, Michigan’s deputy chief security officer, said during a presentation at the National Association of State Technology Directors annual conference. While these sorts of devices promise to provide vast amounts of valuable information, they also stand to pose substantial new challenges for states in terms of cybersecurity and data management. “It becomes a nontrivial task for IT,” Groll said.

Transportation-related sensors are just one type of technology that falls within the rapidly expanding category known as the internet of things, or IoT. Aerial drones, and high-tech surveillance cameras and water quality sensors are a few other possible examples.

Groll pointed out that many new IoT devices, and the channels they use to communicate with computer networks are vulnerable to hackers.

“More and more these devices are rolling out into the market not very secure,” he said. “Manufacturers are winning by being quick to market, so they’re leaving out security features.”

At the same time, states are going to have to grapple with how to handle the massive volumes of new data IoT devices can generate. State police in Michigan, Groll noted, are required to keep video footage for three years. This is expected to result in an estimated, average amount of video that they will need to store totaling about 25 petabytes—or 25 million gigabytes.

Storing data is only one aspect of managing it.

Beyond dumping information IoT devices collect into so-called “data lakes,” state governments will need to have systems in place to access and analyze the data for it to be useful. Data that’s just stowed away on state computers, or on cloud servers, Groll said, is “not providing you any actionable intelligence, or value, until it goes through some sort of an analytics phase.”

Groll offered some tips for states looking to prepare for the oncoming wave of IoT technology.

Starting small is a good idea, he explained. So are pilot projects, as opposed to diving into full-blown programs. Partnering with vendors can also help. Groll cautioned that IoT technology is fast-changing. “Be very picky about which things you select and which vendors you deal with,” he said, “so that you get things that aren’t going to go out of life-cycle within months.”

A mistake in Groll’s view would be putting off IoT initiatives. “You are going to need to do this at some point,” he said, “so start the learning curve now.”

Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY Waze Can Now Warn You About High-Crime Neighborhoods in Cities. But Is That a Good Idea?