The regulatory framework and new regulations governing the applications and use of new technologies is still restrictive and does not make allowance for Internet of Things (IoT) use cases that can improve efficiencies and benefit civil society, speakers at the IoT Forum Africa, in Midrand, said on Wednesday.
IoT network provider Sqwidnet CEO Reshaad Sha noted that the field of IoT was broadening rapidly as more organisations deploy proof of concept IoT projects and as more companies deploy IoT systems for commercial applications after learning about the use cases and economic viability of such systems.
Healthcare advocacy nongovernmental organisation Right To Care IoT head Paul Kankwende highlighted that most policy-makers in the countries the NGO operates in, including Zambia, South Africa, Malawi and Lesotho, do not make allowance for the use of digital technologies to overcome common healthcare and treatment problems.
“Our view is that there is significant scope to apply technologies to improve patient care. For example, regulators insist that a prescription for medicine be printed on paper – a well-known and well-regulated, but manual process that often leads to transportation problems for patients and slower access to medicines.
“These are the types of policy and regulatory positions we encounter in most countries. While understandable, there are some achievable benefits and improvements that technology can provide. Policies need to be updated and amended to allow, for example, the use of mobile technology to treat patients in remote areas.”
Sqwidnet CTO Andrew Heuvel said regulators and policy-makers typically develop policies that restrict the application of technologies to specific use cases and thereby prevent the innovation and incubation of new use cases.
“If we are to stretch the boundaries of the use cases of technology, we need space to develop the applications. We need space to fail. Currently, these systems and their applications are being developed and deployed despite an incomplete policy framework because if companies do not, they risk being left behind.
“As industry, we have the building blocks and the basis where technology can solve some of the problems facing businesses and society, if we are allowed to move forward. Regulations should not close avenues for development.”
Heuvel urged policy-makers to allow for incubation and development as a key feature of regulations. Policy-makers should ensure that they do not stifle the industry and innovation.
Further, complying with onerous standards increases costs, but standardisation is critical for collaboration and ensures the ability to scale up any commercially viable use cases and support the broad IoT ecosystem, he added.
Meanwhile, IoT projects and the broader IoT ecosystem benefit from scale, noted Sha.
“The true power of IoT will only be realised when there is broad adoption and use to glean insights from small pieces of data. Similarly, the scale of IoT projects often impact directly on the economics of their use,” he said.
Heuvel stated that standards reduce the agility of companies and their ability to develop and deploy new solutions. It might be suitable to develop policies and regulations that allow scale to be achieved before subjecting them to more stringent standards and regulations, as so often the commercial viability of IoT projects hinge on their scale.
Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa consultant and information technology profession veteran Adrian Schofield concurred and noted that a “light touch” approach to regulation, which conforms with global standards and protects the rights and interests of individuals, is necessary to ensure that the benefits of IoT can be unlocked and grow the economy and society.
He also highlighted the importance of the regulation of data flows and ownership as a crucial part of IoT policy.
“Data flows will be ubiquitous, as the IoT ecosystem and digital economies develop, and will have a significant impact on individuals, governments and companies. Policies need to be coordinated across the continent, or local regulations must be modified to allow for transition across international boundaries.”
Consent to the use of data is the most important element in the management of data privacy and ownership. The next issue is data residency and cross-border flows, which will impact on collaboration, service provision and the use of cloud systems, said Heuvel.