Why local data and local processing are key to giving better citizen experience

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Citizens moving about their daily lives are also generating lots of data. Governments at all levels can use that data to improve the digital services they offer, especially when the data is gathered and analyzed locally. In information technology terms that means edge computing. For more on what appears to be a growing trend, IDC Government Insights research director Shawn McCarthy joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Shawn, good to have you back.

Shawn McCarthy: Thanks, good to be here.

Tom Temin: And you’re bringing together in a paper you have written a lot of strains here. One, the use of edge computing, as opposed to the data center or the cloud. The fact of all this data generated locally by IoT devices, including people’s cell phones, geospatial, and citizen services. So tie it all together for us.

Shawn McCarthy: Sure. Well, a lot of people first heard of edge computing when they looked at the old retail with a branch office in every department store, or somebody like Akamai, who had locations around the country to help stream all sorts of data, including media in that. But in reality, edges become so much more, it’s become down almost to the block by block gathering of data that you see in smart cities. And as part of that, there are some new types of edge computing that are happening, that could be right at the edge, right down to the 5G Tower, or a telephone pole located near an intersection, those types of things, collecting data. Or it could be a hyperlocal, which is all the way down to people’s cable boxes in their houses. And it could be on your mobile device, and there’s a number of edge computing capabilities there, some of which do the processing right on your device, others gather data from your mobile device and offload it to some sort of edge location that might be near where you are. And there’s many different industry applications for that, but in government, what we’re seeing is kind of a blending of third parties, and government data that create all sorts of different solutions that people can tap into and see what the government has collected, and how it is affecting them. And in turn, how they can affect it by being part of the data collection process.

Tom Temin: Now government has a two edged sword here because it has to be highly mindful of privacy concerns, and the fact that they need to keep this data secure, and so forth, and anonymized. So how do they best go about getting data that could help deploy services in such a way that’s not creepy to people?

Shawn McCarthy: Well, with any sort of data collection, there should be the opt in options. And government tends to go for that, because they want to avoid the very privacy concerns that you’re talking about. You see it in other data collection services too, but obviously, sometimes that’s buried in the fine print six screens down and people don’t realize that. But government is doing that, for instance, they are they exchange a lot of data with Waze in order to help people understand what’s going on with incidents, road closures, understanding what’s happening in relation to events in that. So when you have your Waze fired up on your phone, there is a lot of government data that is actually being collected there. So that brings us into another realm which we call a mobile crowdsourcing, where people opt in for gathering data on their mobile device, and sharing it with whomever, whether it’s other users, whether it’s with the government, whether it’s integrating government data, and using that to kind of become an edge enabled service, edge enabled citizen I like to call it. Another great example, the FCC speed test, you can download their app and as you’re walking around with it, the speed test is auto sampling, bandwidth, all sorts of other details besides just bandwidth, the the level of connectivity people are getting, and it helps them create maps that are much more fine grained detail than what you would see when you just log onto a site and say, oh, there’s a cell tower in this area. It accounts for shadows of hills and buildings and all sorts of stuff.

Tom Temin: And you’re seeing, I guess, a lot of this organic growth in applications of this data happening at the state and local government level, correct?

Shawn McCarthy: Yes. What’s interesting is it while most — I mean, the old saying is all data is local data is where you collect it — but there’s layers of that. And so you start with the sensors that gathers the data, it sends it to some device, whether it’s your mobile device, or an edge computing capability that exists in a city. And then above that, what you have is these mobile crowd sensing participants that are helping both gather the data on their mobile device and then sharing it with the edge server, because ultimately, it becomes a national picture of local data. I mean, a great model to look at would be the weather forecasting obviously. Not only do I want to know what the temperature and wind speed is at my house, I want to know what’s happening five miles from me and heading my way, or 20 miles from me. And that type of picture can be created for all sorts of data sources. So you have your local view and you have your national map that is generated from that, and then edge enabled citizens get notifications back to their phone based on the larger national picture that’s created with their assistance.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights. And what are some possible federal applications of this? You mentioned weather, which is something that the government provides commercially and personally. I mean, the National Weather Source is the source of all of the weather service advisories for the most part — that could change with companies like Blue Origin, and so forth — but right now, the government kind of has a monopoly on that. But it seems like the government could reconstitute data from its own sources, but also from commercial sources, and maybe offer applications and digital services.

Shawn McCarthy: The edge enabled citizen is something government has a huge hand in, but really can’t do alone. And it’s nice to see these public sector-private partnerships that helped create this. One of the huge ones being undertaken now is autonomous vehicles. Communication between vehicles, you see that in China, you don’t really see it in any sort of large way here. But communication between the vehicle and infrastructure, and simply notifications going to the citizen as they’re driving around about everything from traffic to danger to emergency situations of all types that they might want to avoid. And government is playing a key role in helping coordinate the autonomous vehicle effort. So that’s one. Something like the FCC speed test that we talked about was one, too, and those types of things can be really leveraged in a lot of different ways. And we’re seeing other folks, we have gov alerts that will alert you based on your location. Amber Alert is certainly one of those it’s been around for a long time. But the ability to drill down for all sorts of things is becoming very fine grain. So looking into the gov-pilot gov-alert sort of applications is good. FEMA has some applications that will help them get to citizens in areas where everything has been destroyed, including maybe cell towers, so they can pop up as temporary cell tower, people with the FEMA app, they can download it, and they can see all sorts of things about where to get food, where to get shelter, all sorts of things. So the government has a key role to play in this edge enabled citizen effort.

Tom Temin: Yes, so it’s a two way street in other words, the data is flowing in both directions and it’s kind of gathered in both directions.

Shawn McCarthy: I think of it like a three legged stool that makes it work. You’ve got the government with a huge amount of data and the ability to notify people of things. You’ve got the citizen. And then you’ve got the app developers who obviously are key players too.

Tom Temin: And you mentioned this, I’ll read this statement from the paper, and it’s long: To succeed, governments need to build or tap into existing multi dimensional context aware social network architectures. And the IEEE has some documents about this, so it’s becoming almost an engineering field.

Shawn McCarthy: It is. It is an area that is evolving rapidly, you tend to have to rely on these full stack developers, because there’s so many different pieces, they need to understand the back end, the front end, how things are gathered. And the interesting things about apps is the automated data collection and distribution is two way. So it’s not just you collecting data and sharing it with somebody and you never see it again. Nor is it just getting data that you would like if you’re reading Google News or something, it is very much a two way element. And a good chunk of that data that you are seeing comes from the government and is shared with the government with your permission, in theory.

Tom Temin: And just briefly tell us what you mean by the concept of digital twin at the edge.

Shawn McCarthy: So digital twin is used to manage — think of a building, you can look at line items reporting on everything in that building from light switches to heating systems or whatever, a digital twin basically takes a graphic interface and lays it over there. So when you’re looking at a report about your building, the heating and air conditioning, it’s kind of icon driven, or it’s schematic driven. So you click on various devices, get reports on them, see what’s overheating, see what’s needs attention, etc. And digital twins are used in a lot of things, including a lot in the military, full renderings of airplanes, or rockets and things like that. So you can click in and get the information you want in a graphic way. So again, that digital twin concept can be used all the way up to all sorts of different edge devices. And basically, you have a way of interacting with that data, where you’re not just typing line item type of things.

Tom Temin: So it sounds like agencies need to get onto this trend and maybe look at what some of their sister agencies like FEMA, FCC, that you mentioned are doing.

Shawn McCarthy: Absolutely. Granted, you may not see the need for this for every agency, not sure exactly what the play might be for Department of Education, but Department of Energy, anything to do with the Interior, all sorts of different agencies could definitely use this, both the mobile crowdsourcing piece and just edge enabling citizens in general. It’s an exciting time to watch this.

Tom Temin: Shawn McCarthy is research director at IDC Government Insights. As always, thanks so much.

Shawn McCarthy: Absolutely, good talk.

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