Internet of Things

For Government And IoT, Moving Beyond Inertia To A Sprint

Embracing change is never easy, and never more so than for the government, which has proved resistant to trying new things, especially where technology is concerned.  As Sprint renews efforts to bring the cloud and Big Data — and the Internet of Things — to federal, state and local officials and agencies, VP of Government Solutions Chris Felix tells PYMNTS’ Karen Webster that the times may indeed be a’ changing.

Some institutions move slowly by design. Other institutions move slowly by force of habit.

When it comes to government, both forces are in play – and when it comes to technological innovation, inertia can be the result.

Yet inertia is no strategy when it comes to fighting off the bad guys – you know, the data-stealing kind – or making payments easier, or saving taxpayers their hard-earned dollars.

So it is that Sprint announced last week it is leveraging three decades of work with federal, state and local governments to bring converged solutions – over the Sprint network, naturally – to span wireless, wireline and the blossoming Internet of Things.

Along with the governmental push, Sprint said earlier this month that retired Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, newly installed as board member, would serve as security director. This comes amid efforts to add smart building solutions such as sensor technology, help federal workers speed up their tasks through smartphone use, and bring greater security of computing and communications through the cloud, among other goals.

All of this comes with the aim of improving the bottom line, so to speak, for these agencies, in terms of productivity.

Sprint is no neophyte in the IoT realm, with roots in the space that hearken back to the beginning of the millennium. It has developed IoT efforts across 20 verticals as people become even more connected, with an average of four devices in hand, as PYMNTS noted last year.

Sprint also has investments from parent company SoftBank Group to help fund these initiatives, and has said that it will use ARM chips in sensors and other devices.

In addition, the communications giant said in a release that OneWeb, a satellite-based service, uses low-orbit satellites to provide global coverage for tracking sensors and the Big Data that comes with IoT.

Chris Felix was named vice president of the firm’s government solutions. In an interview with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, he said that Sprint’s renewed focus comes from a history as recent as a decade ago, when the firm had been “wonderfully strong” with the federal government as a customer, with half a million federal liability customers in hand – but stepped away from those efforts as the company became majority-owned by SoftBank.

Various bidding (and NSA) requirements came into play that required investment to the point that “they knew then that they could not, in that situation, properly serve the group of customers that they’d always served well in the past” and made the decision to exit the market.

Felix said that more recently, when talking to departments and agencies, “every single penny of money that was funded to the government was honored by Sprint … we had people who were working around the clock who had other jobs … and managers managing the task orders … so that even to this day, there are still a handful of lines and services that are still active” from those earlier federal accounts. “That part makes the government and procurement officers happy,” he told Webster.

Felix likened his initial efforts, with just two months on the job, to “a field of dreams approach,” where he is focused on building the contacts, and the contracts, as demand swells.

And, he said “the IoT opportunity is huge,” as Sprint is taking an opportunistic approach, dialoguing with agencies “about a converged solution, what can we do for them on the wireless side, our value proposition there, and what we can do on the wireline side to bring it all together.” Felix told Webster that he “bring(s) in all the smart people I can to talk about things, whether it’s a smart office, and what can help them be more effective and efficient.”

He noted that the Department of Defense seems to be among the most enthusiastic of agencies eyeing the promise of these emerging technologies, with an embrace of mobile-focused offerings, including sensors and other data conduits.

But beyond the DoD, said Felix, the IoT can help every department from the U.S. Census Bureau to the IRS – “but we’ve got to get past that concern of not trusting the future path.”

With that (eventual) trust in place, it’s not hard to picture the Department of Interior or the United States Department of Agriculture monitoring cows and herds of cattle in Alaska, across the aforementioned OneWeb, with the aid of low-orbiting satellites for ubiquitous coverage.

“No matter how remote or rural,” these efforts may be, said Felix, “this is something no other carrier can do.” Felix also noted that the firm will operate on a 5G network, and has the potential to leverage blockchain and other technologies to manage supply chains.

Tackling all this is a big task, no matter whether it’s on the federal, state or local levels. Perhaps the Sprint efforts may even seem like an overwhelming task. Felix said Sprint is bringing on board the system, software and engineer people who have more than 100 years of combined telecom experience.

The enthusiasm may be building along even the most powerful corridors of power.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings with the current administration in the White House, and they are working on the technical and functional modernization of the U.S. government,” said Felix, with particular focus on the USDA and the NSA. The work done with those agencies will be used as an example for other agencies to follow.

Smaller government agencies are proving a bit nimbler with tech adoption. Felix offered the example of a police department in L.A. that is using “smart officer” technology, with bulletproof vests woven with sensors that are more resilient than traditional cameras.

Think of it as a testing approach where technology gets scaled (to larger agencies) once it is proven.

Progress seems promising – as Felix said, there’s been “a lessening of the resistance and fear of the reliability and what could happen … a lessening of the resistance to trying new things.”




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